The Menu and the Message (#101)


IMG_5038My new in-laws, Sunny and Jay, insisted on a Chinese Wedding Banquet a month after our traditionally western wedding. They took us to beta test the restaurant two days before the banquet. It went…poorly.

Sunny and Jay found a new banquet location the very next day. As neither in-law sought my opinion on anything ever, I was shocked when Jay sat down next to me with a menu.

“What courses you like?” Jay asked.

I shot my new husband a suspicious look: Is this a trap?

Andy shrugged: Uncharted territory. Can’t help you.

“Well,” I told Jay “I like hot and sour soup. A lot.”

Jay grunted. “Shark fin soup good luck!”

I protested. “But you know it’s inhumane, right? They pull the sharks out of the water, cut off their fins, and throw them back to die.”

Jay grunted. “What else you like?”

“Trunk fun! I love the trunk fun we get at dim sum!”

Andy stifled a laugh. “You mean cheurng fun.”

“Whatever has fat noodles wrapped around beef patties with savory sauce. I like that.”

Jay grunted some more. “What kind of fish?”

“Ummm…I’m not really a seafood person. I don’t like fish.”

“What about crab? Shrimp?”

“No, I just don’t like seafood. The only crustacean I’d ever like would be Andy. If, you know, he got run over by a cement truck.”

Andy and Jay gave me identical blank looks.

I explained. “Cuz then you’d be a ‘crushed Asian!’ Crustacean? Crushed Asian? Don’t you get it?”

Andy rolled his eyes. “How long have you been waiting to use that one?”

“Three years.”

Jay ignored my brilliant pun. “What about dessert?”

“Jin dui! It’s my favorite. I mean, unless they make cake.”

Jay scowled. “All dim sum, not for banquet.”

“Oh. Well, I like noodles. Any kind of beef and noodles is good. Just not seafood.”

Jay scowled at me, made some notes in pencil. I tried to read them over his shoulder. They were indecipherable Chinese characters. Taking Spanish in high school suddenly seemed a stupid choice.

Jay trundled off without another word.


Two nights later, at our Chinese Wedding Banquet, the first course was served: shark fin soup. I tried not to think of all the poor, dead, fin-less sharks. I failed. I ate one bite.

The second course was served. I brightened and whispered to Andy, “Yay! Noodles!”

He gave me a pitying look. “Jellyfish, honey.”

I did not have the jellyfish.

Next up, fried oysters. Followed by:

Cold shrimp with walnuts.

Scallops in a taro basket.

Whole fish.

Then crab.

I fed most of my food to my husband. The guest thought it was adorable. Or maybe they were “oooing “ over the white girl using chopsticks.

My stomach grumbled. Andy stopped devouring crab long enough to pat my leg under the table. He whispered, “We’ll get you a burger on the way home.”

“Isn’t there dessert? Seriously, I’d kill for a lame-assed orange.”

Dessert wasn’t oranges.

It was mango pudding.


Message received, Jay. Message received.

IMG_5143 2
Actual mango fish from banquet. Jay was so impressed he took pictures. I did not take pictures. But I did eat the mango pudding.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

35 thoughts on “The Menu and the Message (#101)”

  1. I can just say that I feel really sorry for you.
    I have also been to restaurants in HK were the family ordered extra fine dishes for the Austrian girl. And I only could eat white rice and broccoli. 🙁

    1. Oh, yes. I wish there had been broccoli. I can’t remember rice at the banquet, but there must have been rice. I mean, it’s not a Chinese meal without rice.

      Did the family think you were rude?

      1. I don’t know if they thought I was rude, but it was really awkward and embarrasing for me. Back then I was still picky about Chinese food, and when they offered me the chicken head and heart because I was the guest… I couldn’t stand the situation anymore.
        I tried really hard to adjust to the whole situation in my three weeks in HK, tried to handle every situation as appropritate as possible. But it would have been nice if they would have meet me halfway and went more easier on me, at least in terms of stange Chinese dishes. ヽ(●゚´Д`゚●)ノ゚

          1. They didn’t even ask. I think it’s difficult to understand how different a culture from the other side of the planet can be if you’ve never been there. Or at least I hope so.
            It looked like they were so proud because they picked such a high class restaurant. And then I didn’t est and ended up to look like the picky one.

  2. First off, sorry you were starving at the banquet.

    Otherwise: AHAHAHAAHAHAHA! 🙂

    I’m not laughing at your discomfort (although it was kind of funny). This was just a really funny post.

    Crustacean = crushed Asian. Nice. 🙂

    And it must have been really cute watching you feed Andy. Definitely true love.

    1. Thank you! I love the look of cyber laughter. 🙂

      Andy will eat anything for me. Except the awesome candy cane/ chocolate chip meringues I just made. Because he hates mint and chocolate together. Jellyfish are no problem, though. Weirdest taste buds EVER.

      Cute? Maybe. Or maybe they were waiting to see if I’d mishandle my chopsticks and dump a scallop in Andy’s lap. Probably the suspense kept them watching. “Ooo, those scallops are slippery little suckers, this one’s gonna be close!”

  3. I hope Andy kept his promise on that burger and added french fries to your order. This is hysterical…really, there’s no other way to look at it and not swear at your in-laws. 🙂 Of course having an ocean separate you probably helps, too

  4. Haha leave it to the Chinese to order all seafood only! If it’s not seafood it’s not worth it.

    Poor autumn! Was the mango jellyfish good at least?

    For the record, I LOVE hot and sour soup! You have excellent tastes 😉

    1. Andy taught himself to make an amazing hot & sour soup after the banquet. He even makes the stock from scratch. Soooo good.

      Yes. Seafood in Hawaii, and nothing but!

      I think the mango pudding was pretty good. But that could have been because I was starving.

        1. Andy hates mango also — it’s the only food besides chocolate mint he can’t stand. Did you grow up with the mango tree in your backyard also??! Meanwhile, I think mango lassis are to die for.

          I think Andy averages 1 post a year. I can’t even get him to comment anymore. But maybe he would do a cooking interview. Get your questions ready!

          1. I didn’t grow up with a mango tree, thankfully. But my grandma, aunties and uncles did. And so did practically everyone else in Hawaii back then. That meant a gazillion mangos during mango season. It was sick. Every mom, grandma, and auntie made mango bread–to give to some other person. I remember my parent’s freezer was half full of other people’s mango bread! And then people would just leave mangos in boxes or paper grocery bags with a sign, “take as many as you like”. :/

            I loved your description for cheung fun though–“fat noodles wrapped around beef patties with savory sauce”–kind of like describing a Chinese version of a Big Mac.

            1. LOL on the mangoes. Andy’s dad bought a machine that vacuum seals food specifically for the mango bread. I guess mangoes are ubiquitous in Hawaii.

              Like oranges in LA or zucchini on the east coast.

  5. Oh man. You married into the wrong kind of Chinese family… the kind that lives close to the ocean and eats seafood like Americans eat chicken. XD Chinese from less coastal areas would probably still have the fish (the symbolism, you know), but they’d probably have other foods you probably could’ve actually eaten.

    Did you guys have to tour and toast the tables? Did they try to get you guys drunk?

    If it makes you feel better re: shark’s fin soup, a lot of it is just imitation shark’s fin these days due to the inhumane fishing of shark’s fins. I don’t know if it was the case at your wedding, but in many countries where sharks fin soup is banned, people can still order it at restaurants, but they’re probably just eating fake shark’s fin.

    I don’t know how anybody could hate mango! I grew up with a massive old mango tree in my front yard! It was amazing. We were giving away mangoes for days. And not just one or two mangoes per person. We were giving away entire baskets of mangoes to people. Mangoes in the US just don’t taste the same as the ones fresh off my childhood tree…

    1. I KNOW! I love mangoes. Philippine ones are to die for. It was my favorite food when I went to Hawaii.

      No, not so much with the drinking. Or maybe just not compared to what my family can drink. I might be jaded.

      I am very glad to hear that shark fin soup is all synthetic now. Poor sharks.

  6. I hate seafood, too. And I got a lot of shocked looks for it ’cause I’m from Hawaii and all, but bleh! It smells bad and I love the animals of the sea. We should be adoring them, not eating them. Fish is alright – I can handle, but I don’t like to eat my pets…feel ya, girl, feel your pain.

    1. Thanks! Well, I would say you are definitely from Hawaii. Just with a different perspective.

      By all rights, for as many times as I got stung by jellyfish at Rehoboth Beach on the East Coast, I should have eaten some of those jellyfish. Vengeance, you know.

  7. Yikes…. seems like Jay only inquired about your preferences, so he could order everything you didn’t like. Ugh!
    ‘Crushed Asian’, Crustacean! Hilarious. Lol.

  8. Sometimes I wonder if they like you. Is it a culture of not trying to please a guest? Back east pork is big in Chinese food along with the seafood choices. I love mangoes and the best I’ve ever had were in Hawaii!

    1. AH, but I am not a guest! I am family. And female. And it is expected that I will do as my mother and father (in-law) tell me.

      They should perhaps have interviewed my parents first to see how obedient I was, rather than worrying about how smart I might be or how many children I might bear.

      1. I dated a Polish guy for a while. He was from the Chicago area and we went there for Christmas one year. His Mom made all the traditional dishes. I think I ate the mashed potatoes. There was duck and blood soup and some other stuff that I had no idea what was in it. They had a pizza for me!

      2. Feel sorry for you Autumn,

        First you couldn’t eat much at your wedding reception, and then you starve at the Chinese wedding banquet.

        But the Chinese wedding banquet is more for Sunny and Jay’s family/guests. Putting on the show, you know.

  9. Been there, and my girl knows I’m not big on entrails or stewed fish heads. Was not impressed. Only option, drink more, hey I wasn’t driving.

    1. Did you at least get some edible mango pudding? Fish heads — oh, no, they still stare at you. But at the same time, in a country with a massive population and not enough food, it does make sense to use every single part of the animal. Very efficient.

      I think the son-in-law gets a little more leeway than the daughter-in-law. I am sure they love you and blamed themselves for not being more aware of your dietary preferences. At least, that’s how they are with my sister-in-law’s husband. Future post! 🙂

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