try /trī/, v.

The more time I spend in the kitchen or just reading about different foods and their histories, the more eager I am to try new things, whether it’s going to different restaurants or making different dishes at home.

In recent months, I’ve ventured out to try caviar and ceviche. (Just so everyone realizes how big of a deal this is: I am not a seafood person.) At home, I’ve cooked clams and made three (or four?) cheese gnocchi, as well as baked challah, sourdough, and soufflés. These relative success and positive experiences made me feel like I was becoming fairly adept in the kitchen and I felt a little more confident in my familiarity with food.

This weekend, though, was none of that. And the great irony of this slightly-less-than-positive experience was that I was trying to make Chinese and Taiwanese food with Candle Boy. Again, to provide you all with that nice reference point, Candle Boy and I are both Taiwanese American. (Yes, I know.)

Photo by Courtney Cheng

Obviously, I did not take photos of the aforementioned attempted meal, but we tried to make two stir fry dishes — one with eggplant and ground pork, the other with Chinese broccoli and beef — as well as a scallion pancake.

The dishes were acceptable. They were both definitely more than just “edible,” but something just felt a little off about them. I’m not sure if it was the way we cooked them, if we’d combined the spices and sauces in odd proportions, or if it was something else entirely? They were just off and not what I’d come to generally expect out of Taiwanese/Chinese food.

As for the scallion pancake… American breakfast pancakes are very different from scallion pancakes, and maybe the very short ingredient list of the scallion pancake recipe I found should have tipped me off, but I decided to give it a go anyway. The final product didn’t turn out well. It was far too doughy, the taste wasn’t great, and I had to bake it after frying it, which is never a good sign.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

I hadn’t thought we were being too ambitious when we first found the recipes for this meal. Because I’d grown up watching my mom cook Chinese and Taiwanese food at home, and because I’d made Chinese and Taiwanese food by myself in college, I had assumed these recipes wouldn’t be too difficult.

Hindsight is 20/20.

My confidence in my cooking abilities got a little bruised after this attempt, and I’m definitely not about to overestimate my cooking abilities again anytime soon, but I’m still glad I tried to make these with Candle Boy.

We got plenty of laughs out of the whole process, learned how to better cook eggplant and discern if recipes are actually worth trying, and left with a newfound appreciation for the food from our cultural backgrounds — and our parents and families for having always made us such good food over the years.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

P.S. Food photos in this article are obviously not my food failures, because no one wants to see bad food in bad photos especially when people on the Internet are plating fast food so well it looks gourmet. Now that’s what I call talent.

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