I was not always the accomplished gastronome you see before you.

Heck, sometimes I’m not even sure about “accomplished”.

As a child my favorite thing in the world was McDonald’s and Pizza, not necessarily in that order. My parents favorite thing, on the other hand, was to join my Godfather, Chang Char Tu, in his near-weekly romps to the openings of any Chinese Restaurants in the D.C. area.

Tu was born in Tsingtao, China. He knew that the custom (or marketing hook) for a new Chinese Restaurant in the D.C. Area (where he spent most of his life) would be to bring in a Chef from the mainland for the first couple of weeks of its opening, to get the ball rolling as it were. Once the kitchen was set up properly (and the Restaurant’s rep firmly established) said Chef would return to the mainland.

It goes without saying that the food for those first few weeks would be spectacular.  Somehow my Godfather was always in the know of where and when these Chefs would be in town.

But what do you do with the five year old Godson who wants nothing but Hamburgers and Pizza?

Well, you start him slowly. You start him off with the easy stuff, eggrolls and spare ribs. I mean, everyone likes spare ribs and egg rolls.  Then every time I’d see him, he’d try to expand my palate a little.  It would be, “why don’t you try this?” or “have you ever tried that?”

It took years, decades even for all this patience and teaching to take hold. Then, one night, while I was away at Grad School; a bunch of us decided to go into New York’s Chinatown for a proper Chinese meal. There were about a dozen of us that night. Eugenie Chan was teaching one half of her table how to properly eat Peking Duck, and I was teaching the other half.

And that’s where it hit me. Tu had totally gotten to me.

We lost Tu early in 2012. I was able to go to his funeral, and pay my respects, as well as the respects of my Father and all the classmates he had at his Alma Mater, Rice University. I talked about all the things my Godfather taught me. It was so much more than about food ways, but the food ways were important. Afterwards, we all sat down for a massive (and a massively wonderful) Chinese meal, where thanks to him, nothing that was put before me was alien or strange, just wonderful, and more importantly…now it was a part of me.

Thus, in his memory, I continue to spread the good word, and help other people stay in the know.


Malcolm Johnson
March 24, 2012

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