Our great fantastic world is fast becoming a global village. Just look around your surroundings on any given day.
It was my birthday in the early 1990s, and a group of my college friends and I went to Chinatown in Lower Manhattan to celebrate. We had our appetites set to gorge on the fabulous spread our favorite Chinese restaurant off Canal Street was known for.
How disappointed I had felt when we showed up and the restaurant was closed for renovation. My friend, M’Shell, suggested that we go to a Thai restaurant instead. I resisted her recommendation to no end.
After all, who could blame me? My only exposure to Asian food then was limited to Chinese. With much prodding, I finally relented. But I will forever be grateful to M’Shell for allowing me entry into the greater Asian food world.
It took me many years after that birthday to go back to a Chinese restaurant. I couldn’t get enough pad thai and satay and green curry with coconut milk from Thai restaurants.
Prior to moving to the Pacific Northwest, I had never had Korean food. My first exposure to it was eating kalbi (barbecued short ribs) at a posh shindig at Microsoft six years ago.
I have since graduated to eating mouthwatering bulgogi (sliced grilled beef), chanpong (spicy, stick-to-your-ribs soup), and various kinds of kimchees.
And what would I do without my aromatic roasted corn tea? Don’t mention Korean pancakes chock full of seafood, green onions and other vegetables.
My wife and I have gone out of our way to visit H-Mart every chance we get. This store, at S. 312th Street and Pacific Highway South in Federal Way, is fast becoming a mecca of sorts — not only for Koreans, but to people from India, Japan, Nigeria, Brazil and Jamaica, just to name a few countries.
Let it be known that I am not here to do a puff piece for H-Mart. I am simply making a connection with the various ethnic groups sharing in this confluence of cultures.
H-Mart has the potential to unite Federal Way in myriad ways. We go there primarily to shop, but the other pastime is to people watch and to engage the peoples of those lands in conversations. It is very enriching.
It is not uncommon for us to walk up to a stranger with a “strange” vegetable in his or her cart and ask how to prepare it.
Oftentimes, the respondent is delighted and flattered that he’s been asked to share his recipe, like Peruvian purple potatoes with leeks. We soon added one more dish to our menu list at home to share with family and friends.
We strive to always have a basketful of fresh fruits displayed on our dining table. And visitors, more often than not, have mistaken it for figurine or fake fruits.
After touching and smelling, we know what their next question will be: “Where did you get these fruits?”
As a result of our friends going beyond their comfort zones, they have become experts in choosing exotic fruits like mangoes, durians, jackfruits, guavas, persimmons, papayas and mangosteens, all purchased from local ethnic stores.
I know quite a few people who would send back a plate to the kitchen should the steak be touched with rice or vegetables. While for protocol sake that would be applauded, I love to see some things get stirred up every now and again.
Federal Way is growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s high time we stop and take a look at our city for what it is and what it is becoming. The hardest part of change is to part with the things we hold dear to our hearts.
But if we were to change our routes every now and again, and mix up things a bit, we would see that it wasn’t so hard to embrace something new without jettisoning the things that are precious to us.
How about dining at a new restaurant for a change? Better yet, find your own “H-Mart.” May it be at your nearby Indian, Italian, Ethiopian or Ukrainian bazaar.
Let’s not shortchange ourselves in gaining a groundswell of benefits. Let’s become proactive by reaching out to others in our community who seemingly are different from us.
In the long run, we have the same aspirations and dreams to live our best lives in this great universe – I mean village.