Dim Sum

Flash
Alicia Zhang


Photo Credit: Meng He/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The shrimp dumplings called to her.

For days, she had dreamt about those little packets of joy, teaspoons of savory shrimp wrapped in translucent skins. Although the closest dim sum restaurant was an hour away, John had agreed to drive, parrying her excitement with amused patience as they sped down the freeway.

So, here they were, surrounded by rickety carts piled high with rice, sesame, and tradition. She breathed in deeply, relishing the umami air. As a child, she had spent countless Sunday brunches at restaurants like these, fighting with her brother over the last dumpling and spilling tea on ratty white linens.

But it wasn’t quite the same as before. John’s mop of blonde hair shone in the sea of black, just as his English broke through the murmurs of Mandarin and Cantonese. No matter—she brushed off the sideways glances and plucked her chopsticks from their paper blanket, motioning for John to do the same.

A cart rolled up to their table and John’s eyes widened as he took in the miscellany of bamboo steamers and stainless steel pots. She began explaining the intricacies of each dish, drawing an exasperated sigh from the waiter.

“You order,” John said with a smile.

She hesitated, then asked for the classics: spring rolls, pork buns, and of course, shrimp dumplings. Briefly, she considered ordering the turnip cake, but decided that the strong flavors of dried shrimp and fatty sausage might confuse him. Maybe later.

As the cart began to pull away, John pointed at a plate. “What’s that?” he asked.

She looked suspiciously at the fried brown sticks glimmering in a sticky sauce. “Want to try it?”

A few exchanges in Chinese later, the plate rested on their table. John picked up a stick and nibbled at it, his eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement.

“It’s chicken feet,” she said. A pause. “Do you like it?”

A kaleidoscope of scenes flashed through her mind: her ex-boyfriend mocking her for eating pasta with chopsticks; her elementary school friends wrinkling their noses at her lunch of short ribs and bok choy; her own hands throwing away the tofu that was out of place in her dorm room refrigerator. While her mother had always emphasized the importance of food in Chinese culture, all she knew was that the entrees she savored at home had to be hidden in public.

She watched him closely.

John swallowed. “Not bad,” he said, reaching for another.

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Alicia Zhang is a college student studying Applied Mathematics. She sometimes questions whether or not she chose the right major, but consoles herself by writing fiction and political journalism in her free time. Email: zhang.alicia.a[at]gmail.com