You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Nov 28, 2010 : 1:12 p.m.

Sharing lunches, friendships, and leftovers after Thanksgiving

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

wang sandwich swap.jpg

"Sandwich Swap" by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan

Six-year-old Little Brother and I have been reading “Sandwich Swap” over and over again these past few weeks. Ten-year-old Niu Niu leans over to read with us after discovering that this book is written by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan. They are amazed that this true story told by a real queen is one they have lived as well.

From the book jacket:

"Lily and Salma are best friends. They like doing all the same things — jumping rope, drawing pictures, playing on swings. And they always eat lunch together.

Sure, they don’t eat the same lunch, Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus—but what’s that between friends?

It turns out, a lot. And before they know it, it’s a food fight."

Of course, the friends in the picture book eventually make up and become best friends again once they stop feeling hurt and angry and actually taste each other’s sandwiches — together on the count of three. They discover that what each had thought looked so gross and disgusting, “that icky chickpea paste” and “that gooey peanut paste” that each feels so sorry her friend “had to eat,” actually tastes delicious, heavenly. However, first they have to trust the other’s point of view and risk trying it themselves.

There are so many differences between any two people, I often think that it is a wonder that any of us manage to be friends at all. Sometimes friendships are easier with fewer differences (i.e., women’s friendships with other women, friendships with people who speak the same language, friendships with people from the same culture or religion), but even within one family where everyone has the same background, there is no guarantee of fit. Yet, once a year, we all manage to sit down at a table together, share our food, and give thanks. If not at Thanksgiving, then at the Mid-Autumn Moon festival, Chusok, Diwali, Sukkot, Eid, Octoberfest, etc.

This Thanksgiving weekend, families and friends across the country have put their personal, philosophical, cultural and ethnic touches on their Thanksgiving meals (not to mention their leftover meals — my favorites are mu shu turkey burritos and Laotian turkey lap, which is shredded turkey salad with lime, cilantro, fish sauce, roasted rice) making both the meal and this holiday theirs. I love that.

When I was a child, I always took a turkey or ham sandwich to school for lunch, like everyone else. One piece of Wonderbread folded in half, two slices of lunchmeat wedged inside, a little mayonnaise in the center. Plus one piece of fruit and one Twinkie.

My own children’s lunches look courageously different. They bring inari sushi, spam musubi, dumplings, falafel, hummus, rice and curry, etc. Their friends drool and fight over each others’ lunches. (Whenever I run out of either food or ideas and make them a sandwich, all four sandwiches come home uneaten.) I always have to pack extra Spam musubi when I make it because I know it is Samantha’s favorite (and I know her mom packs extra when she makes Hao Hao’s favorite).

One mother called me once because her child went home and said it was “not fair” that my daughter M had dumplings for lunch “every day” and she “never” had dumplings for lunch. She demanded that her mother start making her dumplings for lunch too, whereupon the desperate mother called me for help.

This year, the week before Thanksgiving, I received three requests for my friend Linh’s mother’s Thai pumpkin custard recipe (including from Linh!) and one request for my friend Rich’s roasted pumpkin recipe. I am just the go-between.

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 editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. 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