A craving for ethnic eats made me want to cook—and made my family concerned for their gastronomic welfare
Growing up in a small town didn’t exactly lend itself to frequent multicultural meals, but I gave it my best shot. For example, as a kid, each year on my birthday I insisted that my family travel to Charlotte’s Olive Garden so I could indulge in authentic Italian fare—unlimited breadsticks, for example.
One summer, when my hometown got its first Mexican restaurant, I saved my allowance and rode my bike there with a friend for lunch. I don’t know if you’ve ever considered biking two miles in ninety-degree heat immediately after eating a chimichanga, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
While an annual Alfredo fix and the occasional burrito binge were satisfactory then, on visits home as an adult, I wanted something more. A few years ago, my brother and I were visiting our parents at the same time. We each offered to make dinner on separate nights. My mom was thrilled to hand over the kitchen duties. My dad expressed concern, recalling that I’d once made a meal for him that consisted of hot pasta, salt, and lettuce—mixed together. I’d considered it an inventive dish, but he’d been certain I was trying to poison him. This difference in opinion has resulted in some trust issues when it comes to my cooking.
I assured him that he’d enjoy my dinner because I’d be making Pad Thai. After all, this dish is traditionally prepared on street carts, so how hard can it be? Turns out, very. Things began to go wrong when I dropped my frozen, raw shrimp on the floor and the family dog promptly ate them. This proved the theory that dogs will eat anything. Later, when I served Pad Thai that was made with angel hair pasta and smelled like a wharf from overuse of fish sauce, I proved my theory that my family will eat anything.
Initially, I was concerned my brother’s upcoming Mexican creation would show up what I’d come to think of as my Tuscan Fish Sauce dish. But then I happened to walk into the kitchen while he was cooking. It appeared as if someone had ransacked it. I became alarmed when he turned to look at me and I noticed his bloodshot eyes and the sweat dripping down his face. I was even more disturbed when seconds later, he plunged his head into a massive bowl of milk.
I considered backing away slowly from the chaos, but curiosity won out and I demanded an explanation. During his preparation, he’d squirted jalapeño juice onto his forehead and it had begun dripping down his face toward his eyes, burning on his forehead as it spread. Water wasn’t doing the trick so he went with the milk. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad about my fish noodles. They may have been an insult to the entire country of Thailand, but at least I wasn’t showing up for dinner with dried milk in my hair.
These days, boiling ramen and blending margaritas is about as far as I’m willing to take my exotic adventures in the kitchen. I prefer to leave the ethnic-inspired creations to the experts. Lucky for me (and you) Charlotte has plenty of those. And if any of them happen to offer unlimited breadsticks, so much the better.