Chop Suey & Table Fellowship: a meditation
Love welcomed me, but my soul receded, Guilty of dust and sin.
But love swift, watching me let go from my first entry,
Approached me, questioning me softly
If I was missing something.
“A guest,” I replied, “worthy of being here”;
Love said, “You will be him.
“Me, the villain, the ungrateful?” ah my darling,
I can’t look at you.
Love took my hand and the smile responded,
“Who made the eyes except me?” “
“The truth, Lord, but I spoiled them; may my shame go where it deserves.
“And don’t you know,” said Love, “who bore the blame? “” My dear, then I will serve. “
“You have to sit down,” Love said, “and taste my meat.” So I sat down and ate.
On Sunday Jan and I spend the night with Jan’s mother in Tujunga. From time to time I cook, but most of the time we have dinner in restaurants. A little treat for all of us.
While she has lived in the LA area for well over seventy years, like most of us, her preferences formed long before she came to SoCal. Mom’s food tastes were formed growing up in the white working class in Detroit and then in high school in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Jan and I come from a different generation and grew up in California in the midst of a culinary explosion. Our taste buds have been sharpened by the variety. Without forgetting the fresh ingredients …
So finding places that work for all of us is a bit of an adventure. Add to that that we are not that far from mum’s house, and, well… We mainly eat a variety of Middle Eastern food, widely served in Armenian, Mexican cuisines, mostly in a modest family restaurant nearby. , and then the strange elsewhere, sometimes going to Eagle Rock, where mom raised her family, to eat where she first tasted lasagna, and against which she has never found an equal for her.
This week, we took risks and opted for Chinese. Turns out I’m a bit of a family problem in this regard, as I seem to have some opinions on what constitutes acceptable Chinese cuisine. Not particularly knowledgeable, but that didn’t stop me from having some views.
We ended up in a beautiful location in Montrose, well within our normal geographic area. They offer what looks like hipsters who have grandma’s recipes. And I suspect the full bar is part of their deal.
As we were trying to find dishes we would all agree with mom who said “I love chow mine and Chop Suey.” Immediately I said, “We don’t eat Chop Suey.” And it was there. Too late to recover.
A little inconvenience on the table. (I’m not even going to speak for Jan …)
She chose the chow mein. What’s interesting was the least successful of what was otherwise pretty good. Definitely a return to the restaurant.
Later, settled into our room at Mom’s, I went online to read what Chop Suey really is. It has quite the story back. And, absolute uncertainty as to its origins. Which, well, is something I tend to like.
Wikipedia offers a fairly comprehensive review of the origin stories. Perhaps its origins can be found in Sino-American kitchens from the turn of the 18th to the 19th century. But, variations are offered across the diaspora including, but not limited to, the Philippines, Canada, Germany, India, and Polynesia. Lots of Chop Sueys out there…
There is a Chinese dish made with bowels that could be a distant ancestor. There is a great mythical story where it was made in honor of a visiting Chinese dignitary, Li Hongzhang, in order to offer a dish that would suit Chinese and American tastes. Wikipedia, however, informs us that he traveled with three chefs just to make sure he didn’t have to deal with such things. But, it made a good advertising copy for local Chinese restaurants.
Among the most plausible origins, still according to Wikipedia, “the anthropologist EN Anderson, a specialist in Chinese cuisine, traces the dish back to tsap seui (杂碎, “miscellaneous remains”), running in Taishan (Toisan), a county in Guangdong province, home to many early Chinese immigrants to the United States. They offer a second source confirming this.
But hey, who knows?
For me, Chop Suey is a mixture of vegetables and meat sautéed, then mixed with a viscus sauce and poured over rice. I have vaguely unpleasant childhood memories of this sauce that hurts my tongue.
Corn. Beyond my reactive snobbery, I violated a main rule in my life. I don’t judge people’s food. And if that’s what they want, I try to eat it. What if it is possible to say something nice. And it’s almost always possible to say something nice.
Perhaps for me, the source of this for me is a holdover from my native Christian upbringing, and more specifically from “communion at the table”.
Christian history is filled with examples of Jesus eating with any elderly person. They are often disreputable characters. Even the bankers. He seemed to have no criteria.
The central commemorative act of Christian churches is the reconstruction of a meal.
It is endlessly fascinating to me that a turning point in the divisions of the emerging Jesus movement was the communion of the table.
Who eats together.
Who eats together?
As is always the case with such things, it is more complicated. In some ways. Other ways, well, bread is god, rice is god.
I, although I don’t believe in the religion about Jesus that Paul and them started, I believe in fellowship at the table. Along, I don’t mind adding, a whole boat of things that we saved that Jesus seems to have said.
You eat what you are served.
Never insult, laugh at, or lower someone else’s food tastes.
You praise it. And you praise the people who made it and the people who served it.
I’ve failed. And, I regret it.
If we’re going to do that as a species, I guess it’ll be when we’re ready to sit down with other people and eat together. Each of us worries that the other is having enough, having fun and being happy.
My plan is next time we go to this restaurant as my choice will be Chop Suey. A bit late. But we are doing what we can.
Table of camaraderie.
The path to inner and outer peace.
And… As long as we mentioned the Filipino Chop Suey, there you go…
The image above is from Guadalupe, California on the central California coast.