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American Food

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

“What’s an American food?” Bing asked me.

Good question. Never thought about it. Hot dogs? Hamburgers? Turkey at Thanksgiving?

In the Philippines they were very proud of their food and always asked, “Ma’am, do you like our food? Have you had lechon? Pancit? Lumpia? Adobo – adobo anything?” Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I liked them all, later, loved them all. Some were challenging, like Durian, a fruit whose smell defies description. But then, anything banned in hotels and airplanes probably is questionable.

But back to Bing’s question – what is American food?

I floundered as I answered. Hot dogs and beer at ballgames. Hamburgers and potato salad at picnics. And the standard, for some anyway, turkey and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. But is this “American”? and is it American for me?

A lawyer’s answer: yes and no.

Yes, hot dogs, hamburgers and turkeys seem to be American food. But in my world, so are dumplings. Not white dumplings, but grey ones. Concrete colored lumps that come from grated potatoes mixed with flour and baking soda, dropped in boiling water, scooped out when they rise to the top, and set out to cool. Soft, mushy edges that harden to be sliced and fried in bacon and served on the side at Thanksgiving, then mixed with scrambled eggs the next morning for breakfast.

For you see, my mother was Bohemian, and these are Bohemian dumplings. Like so many other Americans, my American food is my parents’ food from another country, even if for me that is only dumplings.

So, Bing, in answer to your question: my American food to me is the world, just as America is. I love Italian and Thai and Japanese and now, Filipino.

And yes, I still love those dumplings. I don’t make them anymore, but my niece continues the tradition. Grating and mixing and simmering to grey funny lumps. Then draining and drying and slicing and browning in bacon fat and serving with gravy. Probably on the heart attack hit list, but then, only once a year. And how can that be bad? Once a year to remember and honor a heritage I never knew except for this funny little dumpling.

My family. My comfort. My memories. Yes, my American food.

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