I mentioned on Monday one of the benefits of returning to visit one’s old life/self is the opportunity to see things about yourself you might not other wise know.
Prior to the trip, if you asked me (and basically any foreigner who has lived or visited China) what their favorite Chinese food is they would probably say gan bian dou jiao (the green beans dish) or gung bao ji ding (Kung Pao Chicken).
A friend made banana bread for us to have. It was the most Chinese food I ate during the trip. It was also the most memorable.
Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Neither did I.
Every morning I’d heat water for tea on this two burner stove. I had one just like it in Chengdu (so does almost every apartment around the country, so no real news flash here.). It used to be the only way for me to get hot water in my apartment. We only had hot water one hour a day – oh the JOY at 9:00 p.m. when we’d hear it rattling in the walls! But the pipes were broken in my apartment so I went to my teammates apartment for about three years to bathe.
To have hot water in my apartment, I’d boil it and store it in thermos and then use it to wash dishes or cool down for drinkable water.
And then I ate some banana bread and felt connected with China. How was it banana bread, something I grew up eating in America, tied me so closely with China, but those delicious green beans didn’t?
After probably too much thought given to this question, I see though I love, love, love to eat the green beans and they ARE my all time favorite actual Chinese food they tied to too many places and therefore, anchored to none in me. I ate them here, I ate them there, I ate them with these people, and those people. I ate and ate and ate them.
But banana bread, she is tied to three special places in my heart.
1. We only had a small toaster oven, but it held a bread pan! So it was a taste of home when almost no western food was available. Banana bread evokes comfort.
2. Banana bread was a way I could offer myself and my culture. Many loaves have been baked with students and we played uno while it baked. Many loaves have been made as gifts for Chinese friends and colleagues. Banana bread evokes sharing.
3. My dad enjoyed banana bread and I haven’t eaten it since he died. Not intentionally, I hadn’t even realized this until I ate it and thought of my dad. It was strange to be in Beijing and have memories of my dad. Prior to this trip, if you asked me to list off foods and my dad, truly banana bread would not have been on the list. Banana Bread evokes memories.
I wonder what else I don’t know about myself :). It it’s as deep as these banana bread insights, I know I’m not missing much! Ha. But I’m glad to know this and to be reminded that maybe what “should” be obviously significant —the green beans of our lives— aren’t always and it’s OK. And that which may seem out of place — banana bread evoking memories of China— doesn’t have to be understood by others. We can be quirky without it making sense :).
This is day 4 of A Trip In Review Week: what it’s like to revisit your old life. You can read the full series here.
Nita Kulesa says
I do get the “banana bread memories!” I spent many years in 4-H. Every August, I would bake banana bread to exhibit at the fair. If it wasn’t perfect (rich brown, nicely rounded top with a crack down the middle, but without a depression in the center,) I would have to try again! My Mom and I baked MANY loaves to get the look, texture, and flavor that would earn a blue ribbon! One time, we exhausted our banana supply and had to drive to town for more, and both grocery stores only had unripe bananas! i don’t even remember how we solved the problem! Every time I bake banana bread, I think of my Mom and we “judge” each loaf as it comes out of the oven!t
Mark Allman says
I think that is a great memory.
Nita, love this!! I read it out loud to Mom. So fun to see how much banana bread has meant to many :)
Susan Gaines says
I smiled all through the read. Thank you. I would love to share the best banana bread recipe I’ve ever eaten with you. Email me if you’d like it.
Mark Allman says
You should share your recipe.
Ah, good idea! I have it memorized, but will go and check with the hand written one in Mom’s recipe box. It comes from a neighbor of my grandparent’s in small town Michigan. Genevieve Troubridge, we thank you!
we can be quirky without it making sense, love it. thanks for the reminder & thanks for making me feel a little more normal with myself that doesn’t always make sense! haha ;)
Ha! :). Maybe not all quirky people are interesting, but I’ve noticed that most I think are interesting are quirky in some way!
Amy, loved this post. One of my roommates in Portugal used to bake banana chocolate chip muffins on occasion, so I now associate those with Portugal, even though they aren’t Portuguese at all. :)
And now I love this comment! Who knew banana bread/muffins could be special for so many :).
Amy L. (formerly F.) ^_^ says
There is something about baking a wee loaf in a wee oven (I called mine my “Easy Bake Oven” – remember those? – because of it’s size. PB&J also took on a whole new meaning for me in China. It was also great to have my students make. “C’mon, you have to add MORE peanut butter than THAT!” ^_^
Made with the ‘butter in a bag’…this post made me smile.