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Posted on Sun, May 1, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

The power of pancit: Try something new during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

My children recently had steamed broccoli for the first time.

Confronted with an entire head of soft green mush, they did not really know what to do with it, so they smiled politely and pushed it around on their plates.

One of my daughters confided in me later, “Now I know why other kids don’t like broccoli.”

As a child, I never understood why other kids did not like broccoli either. Or spinach. The first time I had spinach that had been cooked to death, I remember grieving, “What did that poor spinach ever do to anybody?”

I was embarrassed and felt like such an oddball for being the only kid in the world who wished her mother would make broccoli or spinach more often — crisp and bright, stir-fried quickly in just a shimmer of oil and a splash of salt.

Those other kids had no idea how lucky they were to have mere broccoli and spinach as their foes, when I knew the real dishes to face down were suen (bamboo shoots) and xue li hong (red in the snow preserved vegetable), which my mother once cooked every night for a month until I learned to love them (or at least swallow without grimacing).

This also reminds me of the time Italian friends came over for dinner years ago and I made an extra “sure-fire kids’ food” dish of stir-fried broccoli, baby corn and wheat glutens. It never even occurred to me that other children might stare in cold horror at the “little trees” my children loved so much.

I was even more surprised when their mother asked apologetically for some plain white rice and butter for her picky children to eat instead. Butter on rice? I had never even heard of such a thing. (Nor could I find any butter in the house — not a staple for me).

The same foods read and resonate so differently for each of us.

My children are used to going with me to all sorts of lectures and receptions at the university. Unlike other children in other towns for whom a visit to a real college campus might be a big deal, my children are pretty blase about it, having practically grown up on the University of Michigan campus. When I ask if they would like to go with me to hear a poetry reading or see a film, they only ask, “Will there be food?”

I also like for the children to attend their siblings’ special events like soccer games, crew regattas, and band and orchestra concerts. When they were little, they had no choice. However, as they get older, it gets more and more difficult to convince them that this will be fun. Really.

So I was grateful when Hao Hao announced that two moms would be making Filipino and Korean food for Saturday’s crew regatta.

I only had to ask her siblings once if they would like to go watch their sister’s regatta — even when that meant waking up sooo early on a Saturday morning (11 a.m.?), parking at the far end of Bandemer Park and hiking through the deep woods, spending the day after Earth Day along the Huron River with no Internet connection.

We spread a picnic blanket and spent the afternoon together eating too much good food, catching garter snakes, reading in the sunshine, only occasionally looking up, “I think that’s Hao Hao’s race … maybe.”

Niu Niu went exploring and reported back that all the other schools only had “boring food” like sandwiches and salads, whereas Huron High had cool pancit and kimbap!

Ahhhh, the power of pancit.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Try a new Asian or Pacific Islander dish (or twist) today!

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at