California Wok {restaurant} – Please Excuse the Oriental

california wok, los angeles, ca - barbecued sparerib, spring roll, won ton
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I hate my Asian self. Actually, it’s not that I hate being Asian. It’s just that after more than 20 years of highlighting and roll-straight-ing my hair, scotch-taping my eyelids, and pinching up the bridge of my “Oriental” nose every night before bed, I’m still getting used to loving myself and being proud of my heritage. I’ve been in California now for more than 10 years, but we all know that years of damage that was done in Texas, Michigan and Ohio will take twice as long to un-damage. It always works that way. You know, like, if you mentally tortured yourself by dating someone for 8 months, it takes 1 year and 4 months (that’s 16 months, for you non-Asians) to get over him/her? Something like that.

So, I don’t really hate being Asian, but I do make fun of my Asian self a lot, which is a habit that will have to be broken as part of this whole therapeutic healing process. It started, I think, because it was a way to pre-empt the mocking that I foresaw coming from school “friends” who would ignorantly point out my strangely flat face (other “flat” parts of the body were not unusual at the time – we were in elementary school), chinky slits for eyes, and jet-black, stick-straight, very coarse hair which, incidentally, isn’t even jet black. Dammit, I can’t even be stereotyped right! I have unusually light, wispy fine hair for an Asian.

My sisters and I even now call ourselves “oh-wee-entos,” picking on horrible fobby ESL pronunciation that slaphazardously swaps “l” or “w” for “r,” or eliminates it com-pweet-wee. Instead of saying “thanks,” we always say, “sanks!” The Korean language (I’m not sure about other Asian languages – I mean do you really think I’d go off and teach myself every dialect of the language that will soon take over the world?) has no equivalent for “f” or “th,” so when speaking English as a recent second language, Korean people often susbstitute “h” or “p” for the “f.” And not only are they “h-rench h-ries,” but suddenly the words have one or two additional syllables. They are “who-rench who-ries.” It’s so horrible that I totally make fun of my own people. Alright, so it’s not really making fun of anyone. I just wish I could, but unfotunately, Dad speaks perfect English, so I can’t even make fun of my own immigrant father. *sigh*

Now the question of the day, which has absolutely nothing to do with ESL, is, why do I hate being Asian? Why am I so embarassed by my own Mongoloid ancestry?

Because there are restaurants like California Wok representing Asian cuisine. Cornstarch-thickened, red food coloring-dyed sweet and sour deep-fried cream cheese and crab Chinese food that isn’t really Chinese food. It’s embarrassing.

Or is it?

It’s supposed to be embarrassing for me, but it’s not. As an Asian girl, I should be embarassed that such a restaurant as California Wok is representative of “Chinese” food to the dining world. I should, instead, be touting the glories of regional Chinese cuisine that can be enjoyed at various holes in the Great Wall in the San Gabriel Valley. But I’m not embarrassed. For goodness’ sake, I ate at California Wok.

The sad thing is, for the embarrassment to Chinese food that it is, California Wok didn’t taste good. I mean, if you’re going to do it wrong(ly), you may as well go all out and make it so utterly deliciously wrong that it’s right. Let’s start with California Wok’s $9.95 Assorted Appetizers. The spring roll wasn’t all that bad, but I do have to ask for my own edification, what is the difference between an eggroll and a spring roll? I know what a summer roll is, that’s Vietnamese, and not all Asians look alike, okay?! *whoa* Right stereotype, wrong post. Anyway, someone please explain why there is no such thing as an autumn roll. TIA!

california wok, los angeles, ca - eggroll and fried wontons
eggroll. or spring roll. i don’t know!
california wok, los angeles, ca - gift wrapped chicken
it’s like a little gift of grease

Deep fried won tons had hardly a filling that I had to wonder if they were just won ton chips that I should dip in this here sticky gloop of sweet and sour “salsa.” It was just sugar, cornstarch and water, with hardly a pucker of sour, and it was trying to be authentic by not being red!!! How dare California Wok leave out the red food coloring from sweet and sour sauce! I’m glad we didn’t order sweet and sour pork, because if they had also left out the canned pineapple chunks, I would have had to bust out my inner Bruce Lee on them.

california wok, los angeles, ca - barbecued pork
today’s barbecued pork is tomorrow’s flied lice
california wok, los angeles, ca - spare rib
spallib from adam to eeb

The other assorted Chinese delights on the Assorted Appetizer platter were a “paper-wrapped” chicken that was attractively gift-wrapped in aluminum foil to catch the grease that I didn’t know chicken had, very dry barbecued pork which was to come out on our appetizer platter tonight, or into tomorrow’s Yang Chow Flied Lice, and barbecued spareribs, also very dry. The only saving grace was that there was, indeed, suspiciously bright redvelvet-esque sauce drizzled over the pork and spareribs and a spare sprinkling of sesame seeds. Pretty! I think the appetizers were worth the 95 cents and the aluminum foil and sesame seeds were $9.

No sweet and sour pork, but we did order the Spicy Bean Curd. For all the Americans, that’s pan-fried tofu with shiitake mushrooms. I’m pretty sure everyone, even 88-year-old Aunt Dorothy in Wichita knows what tofu is, so I don’t know why California Wok has to call it something as nast
y sounding as bean “curd.” Anyway, the tofu was shimmering with glossy cornstarch sauce as expected. Each time I chopstick-lifted one from the plate, long, slimalicious tendrils of the sauce reached out in one final hopeful quiver, like a mother in a last good-bye grasp of her fleeing son across the railing of a boat bound for freedom. Actually, it wasn’t that dramatically endearing. It was kind of gross. I was slighly disappointed that the tofu was nowhere near spicy.

california wok, los angeles, ca - spicyy tofu
bean curd is such a nasty word
california wok, los angeles, ca - fortune cookie
i didn’t win the lottery

I’m embarrassed that I’m not embarrassed that I went to California Wok, though for what is tasted like, I wouldn’t go back. I’ll just go to some other Americanized Chinese chain that really knows how to make a mean Moo Goo Gai Pan. But maybe I should order it for delivery and answer the door with a blonde wig on.

I like California Wok. But I don’t like it. It confuses me, as I try to move on from my Asian hating self because my tramuatized elementary school self wants to hate it because it’s oriental, but I do like it because that’s the kind of Chinese-American food I ate when I lived in Detroit and it makes me all nostalgic for moon boots and cider doughnuts, but I don’t want to like it because now I am supposed to be proud of being Asian and any self-respecting yellow girl would be embarrassed by the worst kind of ketchup and cornstarch representation of Chinese food ever. But maybe I like that kind of ABC Chinese food because that’s the kind of “Chinese” food that all the other pretty, tanned, blonde white American girls eat. *sigh* It’s just too bad that California Wok doesn’t even really do Chinese so wrong that it’s American right. I’m confused. We’re confused. Asian Sarah and I-hate-my-eyelids Sarah, we, are confused.

I should teach myself a lesson by forcing myself to eat Panda Express for five days.

California Wok
12004 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310.479.0552

** a year ago today, a commenter gave me attitude about my attitude about the attitude at ma’kai **

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