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This Side of Rice

A Chinese-American's
(Ideal) Kitchen Table

By Jenny Zhang

Growing up in two cultures can mean choosing sides. The choice between soccer practice or Chinese school. English or Mandarin. Shumai or chicken wings?

Why choose sides when you can have both? The only side I want to choose is a side of rice.

“In the States, you can buy Chinese food. In Beijing, you can buy hamburgers. It's very close. I feel the world become a big family. A really big family.”

Here are some of my favorite foods and favorite memories. We're family. If Jet Li says so, it must be true. Keep your stomach, mind, and heart open.

Ready to share a meal?

Sesame Balls

My favorite thing in the universe is the first bite of a sesame ball.

My second favorite thing is the second bite.

Doughy and crunchy.
The red bean paste inside is warm.

As a food group, I'd say it's a dessert snack, like ice cream or cookies.
The best treat at Wai Po's (Grandma's) house. And like ice cream or cookies,
I always want more...

In the morning,

I like waking up
to eggs.

Some days I want them scrambled or on toast,
but some days I'm really craving steamed egg.

Steamed Egg

It's fluffy,



and hot.

Top with green onion, soy sauce, and a cold, cloudy morning.

The simplest feel-good comfort food.

The Chinese diet consists of many leafy greens, but my favorite is

Dou Miao

My brother and I took turns washing the dou miao. After, my mom would cook it in a wok with just garlic, oil, and salt.

Really similar to how you'd prepare rainbow chard or green beans:
super easy.

Every culture has that easy, staple veggie dish.

Dou Sha Bao

Craving dessert snacks again?

Veggies are great, but I'm really feeling dou sha bao with red bean paste sometimes.

Sweet. Chewy.


Some mornings, I'll have a dou sha bao if I'm feeling celebratory.

Kind of like starting the day with a scone or cupcake.

Pork Shumai

Speaking of celebrations, shumai are quite the party.

A dim sum staple, I kept my eyes peeled for the cart with the little roe-topped dumplings. The Sunday brunch priority.

They're just as tasty and satisfying as chicken wings  or  baby back ribs.

Always  savory

and so, so


Chinese food can be savory, sweet, chewy, warm, and delicious.

One thing it's not, however, is a fad.

Forget trendy, forget exotic. Chinese food came to the United States with my parents, by boat, by plane, through customs and not knowing the language. Chinese food came through night shifts, through homesickness, through just wanting what's best for the kids. Through what it really means to be American. Through missing sunsets on the Yellow River and rice with every meal, America has Chinese food because someone's mother missed the smell of garlic and sesame oil in her kitchen back home.

Respectable, complex, and engrained in tradition just as much as homemade chocolate chip cookies or barbecued chicken wings. This is the meal I want to share with you. This side of rice.

A home,
a family,
a kitchen table of memories.

We are very lucky to consume and experience so many sides of the world in America. Let us respect them. We're family. Keep our stomachs, minds, and hearts open.

Written and
Illustrated by
Jenny Zhang


New Year!