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Just eat it!

by Debbie Carini

In the movie A Christmas Story, there’s a wonderful scene where the family goes to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner because their feast has been ruined by a neighbor’s pack of marauding dogs.

At the Chop Suey Palace, they experience Chinese “turkey,” a dish widely-known in the United States as Peking Duck. The bird is presented in full form—the dad looks at it apprehensively and says to the waiter, “It’s smiling at me,” at which point the waiter picks up a meat cleaver and swiftly dispatches the offending head.

My family has laughed at this scene for as long as the movie has been in existence. Today, I had another kind of chuckle when my son, who is living in Shanghai, China, for a semester of study abroad, described his most recent food adventure in his new home. 

“Mom,” he said excitedly, “I ate duck’s head this week!”

As I was swallowing this information, he followed up with, “The brains and all! Plus, the duck’s neck and duck blood soup!”

We were talking via Skype so I could see his happy face as he was describing this culinary quest and I thought to myself—this handsome young gourmand was once the little boy who would audibly gag, and often cry out, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” in the middle of a restaurant if a waitress were to put a steaming bowl of broccoli on a nearby table.

The same thing would often happen at home. He wouldn’t eat vegetables (except raw carrots with ranch dressing), his basic food groups were waffles, pancakes and macaroni and cheese—basically, anything white. He would feign fainting lest he catch a whiff of egg salad.

Sometimes we thought he must have been switched at birth, our family’s food proclivities are so diverse—though, of course, with his red hair, and love of Ms. PacMan (me) and the New York Yankees (his dad) we knew he was ours.

My husband loves all food, especially lobster, and often coaxes me into restaurants with a grade of B by explaining, “B just means they use special ingredients!” Or another favorite, “That’s how you build-up immunities!” (a p.s. to readers: this is not true and, despite his mother’s deepest wishes, my husband is not a doctor nor does he play one on TV).

I, on the other hand, will eat most anything that comes from a questionably-reliable source, including hot dogs from the swampy waters of a vendor’s cart. Hey, load me up sauerkraut too, please! So, how did we end up with this kid?

As they say, the years passed quickly by and the spindly-kneed picky-eater sprouted to young manhood. A summer trip to Spain at the age of 15 introduced him to the wonders of Mediterranean cuisine and he continued to expand his dietary horizons. In addition to the varied duck parts, his adventures in China have also included chicken feet, a donkey meat sandwich, bull frog in spicy chile sauce and fried beef topped with vanilla icing and sprinkles. At that last, I thought, “Well, what doesn’t taste better with vanilla icing and sprinkles?”

And I smiled, because he’s definitely a chip off the old block.

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