Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meet "Banana Foster"

My name is Mary Foster.  But don’t let the name fool you.  I’m a banana.  You know, yellow on the outside, white on the inside.  Further translation:  first generation, 100% Chinese offspring, born and raised in Seattle in a predominantly Caucasian/non-Asian world.  Growing up in our house, my traditional parents spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese, but I answered back in English.  For eight years, I attended a Catholic grade school where the only other Chinese students were my two older sisters and brother.  In my college sorority, there were 120 girls in the house.  How many Asians?  Seven.  And that included Jane, the cleaning lady.  So I guess that really makes six (but they were all bananas, too).  My traditional Chinese parents would consider the self-acclaimed banana statement to be downright disgraceful…shameful…embarrassing!  They always taught my siblings and me to take pride in our culture.  To preserve the traditions.  To marry a nice, smart Chinese husband or wife to further strengthen our undiluted Chinese lineage.  Oops, I guess the last name “Foster” tells you that didn’t happen.

Circa 1968, my parents surrounded by a bunch of bananas.  That's me in the middle.

But where I let my parents down in the family lineage department, I’m hoping to make up for in the kitchen.  Despite how it may sound, I am very proud of my heritage and ethnicity.  It was just challenging to fully immerse myself in Chinese culture while growing up in such non-Chinese environments outside of our home.  However, a great deal of cultural pride and tradition was instilled in us inside our home.  More specifically, around our big, round dinner table with the spinning Lazy Susan, just like in the Chinese restaurants.  Here,

our family of six would gather for a delicious Chinese dinner that my mother would whip up every single night.  Platters of soy sauce chicken, beef and broccoli, stir-fried bok choy, spicy ma-po tofu with minced pork.  It wouldn’t be unusual to have four or five courses like this every night.  Nor would it be considered indulgent to consume three different types of meat in one sitting – chicken, beef , pork...  Yup, Carnivores-R-Us!  My Caucasian friends eating Hamburger Helper just didn’t know what they were missing. 

Over the years, I did take these Chinese feasts for granted.  I really didn’t know how good I had it until I left for college, and then was suddenly craving mom’s lo-mein noodles after a week of bland, fattening, unhealthily prepared meals at the sorority (our cook at the Pi Phi house would “season” a turkey by spraying Pam Non-Stick Cooking Spray all over it – I know, scary!).  I would go home every Sunday and chow down on one of mom’s great Chinese dinners (and do loads of laundry – double bonus!).  After my siblings and I got married and started having our own kids, we were able to milk the Sunday Chinese dinner ritual for several years.  But now that the headcount of the immediate family has topped out at 17 (10 adults, 7 grandchildren), the weekly dinners have thinned out, I’d say…roughly to (boo-hoo!) quarterly gatherings.  It's just too many people, and therefore too much work for my dear, petite mom.  Her dedication to feeding her large Chinese family has certainly been a labor of love.  She has put in countless hours slicing, dicing, poaching, frying, marinating.  Mom’s tired, and it’s time for someone else to pick up the slack.  To carry on the tradition.  To host the family gatherings.  To honor my mom.  And to ensure her legacy continues.

So that’s the background of my goal:  to share my mom’s wonderful Chinese recipes for all to enjoy.  The problem is….there are no recipes.  All these years, my mom has cooked from the heart, from her head, from her experienced sense of taste and visual measurements of “that looks like enough oyster sauce” or “put in one more handful of green onions.”  Nothing is documented.  Until now.  I am ready to step up to the wok and produce these recipes for you.  For me.  For my family.  For anyone who can appreciate some damn good Chinese food.  Also, to show you that if you’re in the mood for Chinese, you don’t need to order take-out or venture down to Panda Express anymore.  These soon-to-be-documented recipes are simple, healthy and very do-able.  I know because I have mastered them.  To the degree that my husband and two kids have thought they were eating my mom’s cooking, when indeed, it was my own.  But, up to this point, I have only replicated her dishes by carefully following my mom’s verbal instructions, and with her assistance either by my side or via numerous phone calls to her while I’m in the kitchen.  But now I’m ready to measure, record, test, taste, re-test (and repeat, as necessary) each and every recipe, with mom’s help, of course.  All that, my hungry friends, will take place in the Dragon Lady Kitchen.

Dragon Ladies (me and mom), taking a break from the kitchen.


  1. Mary I can't wait to try your rescipe's! love the blog and your family picture, such a cute toddler you were!

  2. I just found your blog. I am definitely making the spring rolls on Saturday. I'm looking forward to more recipes. Can't wait for the lo-mein.

  3. Thanks for sharing these receipes. My story is similar to yours (substitute Toisan for Mandarin in my household). Now that I am in my mid-30s, I find myself longing for my grandmother's and mother's "recipes". I cannot wait to try your versions.