Monthly Archives: June 2011

Examining the Mixed Up Minds and Palates of Third Culture Kids

In her book According to My Passport, I’m Coming Home author Kay Branaman Eakin describes a Third Culture Kid as, “someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture.”

Educators and psychologist who study Third Culture Kids (TCKs) have found that, among other things (really I’m only sharing the good stuff), they have a lower divorce rate, communicate well, and tend to be more welcoming and understanding of other cultures. TCKs are more likely to earn a college degree in their 20s, and many go on to earn advanced degrees. However, after graduation it is unlikely that they will enter the same career field of their parents (which tends to be missionary, military, or government).

My siblings and I are all TCKs. We have a Canadian father and a Filipina mother. Two of us were born in the Philippines, one in Macau, five in Japan and two in Taiwan. I’m the only one who speaks Japanese, but two of my brothers can understand a bit. Four of us girls can flip to Chinese if we ever want to gossip about you in front of you. But our youngest sister is the only one who can say anything in Tagalog that isn’t a cuss word.  Only the oldest two (my older brother and I) have ever lived in the Philippines. Interestingly, we are also the only two who have never lived in Canada.

The 3rd culture we’ve created is a mix of Japanese and Chinese culture, with a sprinkling of Canadian-ness here and there. In other words we remove our shoes when we enter the house but there aren’t tiny slippers designated solely for the bathroom (I am not exaggerating here, Japanese really do have a set of slippers used just inside the bathroom). We can’t spend two nights together without pulling out the karaoke machine and belting out cheesy 90s ballads, our song choice reflecting the slightly dated Americanized pop culture we were surrounded by while growing up in Asia. In the late 80s-early 90s the most popular English songs sung in Japanese karaoke bars were the hits of the 70s sibling duo The Carpenters. So the song choices could be worse. Although perhaps I’d prefer my 11-year-old sister know the lyrics to Touch Me When We’re Dancing rather than enthusiastically sing along to the salacious I’ll Make Love to You by Boyz II Men.

As for sports there’s really no debate—here Canadian-ness shifts from a mere sprinkling to a heavy dousing—hockey is king. When hockey season is at its peak my family living room is filled with shouts, squeals, nerves, tears, jubilation and disappointment on par with the backstage of a Baby Beauty Pageant. While my brothers dabble with other sports, true worship takes place at the altars of Mark Messier, Joe Sakic, Jaromir Jagr and Markus Naslund.

Perhaps one day I will pay a shrink thousands of dollars to dig around in my TCK head. No doubt he/she will tell me how my childhood is to blame for my taste in music, my incessant need to de-clutter my apartment and why I struggle to select cheese at Western grocery stores—seriously why does there have to be 150 different types? But that is not now, and definitely not here.

Here, I will focus my linguistically and culturally confused brain on doing a little experiment involving TCKs and food. Specifically, if nostalgia plays a key role in a person’s perception of what constitutes as “comfort food” then did growing up in various countries influence each of my siblings’ tastes differently?

When I feel ill, all I can think about is a big bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Sibling #4 craves Chinese congee. While sibling #3 told me that his idea of comfort food is buttered toast dipped in milk. (I shudder to think how many loaves he’s consumed trying to ease the pain of his beloved Canucks losing the Stanley Cup Final last week.)

I have asked each of my siblings what they crave when they are sad, sick, or just looking for something that reminds them of “home”. Over the coming weeks, I will share their answers on this blog, as well as a recipe for each dish. I fully expect to be cooking up a lot of Taiwanese street food, but I’m also ready for a possible poutine or tuna casserole from the more Canadian among us.

As for the toast and milk request from my younger brother—maybe I’ll write a post on how to milk a cow… ‘cause that’s a hell of a lot more interesting then a piece on how to turn on a toaster.

Kara-age: Japanese Fried Chicken

I have an insatiable appetite for fried chicken. If I spot it on a menu, at a street fair, or night market it’s just a matter of time before it ends up in my mouth. I’m not overly finicky about how it’s prepared, but I do have one rule: don’t strip it of its skin and fat. I want a brown crackling exterior and juicy meat that tastes like it spent some time soaking in good brine or marinade. In order to accomplish this you essentially need two things—skin and fat.

Japanese enjoy this simple fried chicken with their after-work beers, alongside a bowl of ramen, or tucked inside a bento box. Traditionally potato starch is used for coating the chicken but I find that when used alone it can be a bit powdery on the tongue. Rather, try using a mixture of flour and potato starch; you’ll get a crisp exterior without the dusty flakes.

 

Once I debone the chicken thighs I like to pound each piece until it’s an even inch across. I do this so that each slice has a good skin-fat-meat ratio. You can cook the thigh as one uniform piece, or cut it into strips before dredging and frying.

My hubby believes that food is simply a vessel for sauces, so I serve this chicken with Japanese mustard and a spicy mayo (a mix of sriracha and Kewpie mayonnaise). But the traditionalist in me is satisfied with a simple squeeze of lemon and a cold Kirin beer.

 

Ingredients
6 chicken thighs, deboned with skin on
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. mirin (or sake)
1 Tbsp. grated ginger
1 cup potato starch
1 cup flour  
1 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. salt
White pepper for dusting
Lemon wedges

  • Place the boneless chicken thighs between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound till about one inch across. Cut into one-inch strips.
  • Mix the soy sauce, mirin and grated ginger together in a bowl. Add the chicken. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but no longer than 45min.
  • Place a pan (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat and fill two inches deep with neutral (sunflower, peanut, canola) oil.
  • Mix the potato starch, flour, curry powder and salt together in a shallow dish. Coat the chicken in the mixture. Shake off any excess.
  • When the oil has reached 325° gently lay the chicken into the pan, taking care not to overcrowd. (If you don’t have a thermometer test the temperature with a little piece of chicken. You want to see tiny bubbles quickly rising with the meat. The oil should not be smoking)
  • Cook for approximately 5 minutes per batch. If you’re frying the thigh as a whole piece rather than strips cook each side for about 4 minutes.
  • When the chicken is a deep golden brown remove and drain on paper towels.
  • Dust with finely ground white pepper and serve with wedges of lemon.