By Jennifer 8. Lee | December 28, 2007
I was out with my friend Robin the other day for lunch in Chinatown when she started talking about her experience with sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers have this soft chewy jelly-like consistency. Robin had eaten them in Chinese restaurants and had never know they were moving creatures like the one above until her brother sent her a picture and she was then horrified at what she was putting in her mouth. “It never crossed my mind it was anything but a cucumber,” said Robin. “I think it’s a flagrantly misnamed Asian delicacy.”
To be fair, sea cucumbers are not called “sea cucumbers” in Chinese. They are called haisheng (æµ·åƒ), which is kinda like “ginseng (äººåƒ) from the sea.” It is only in English that these creatures are named after a garden vegetable. That wouldn’t have been a problem except that the Chinese like to cook the little suckers. That is where the misleading name comes into play.
The Institute for Traditional Medicine has a good summary on the perception of sea cucumbers in Chinese cuisine and medicine — specifically how, like shark fin and birdâ€™s nest soup, sea cucumber is seen as being a disease preventive and longevity tonic. For reasons that are pretty obvious, sea cucumbers are seen as having, um, natural Viagra properties.
My mom said at dinner last night, that among Chinese American parents, it’s a mark of pride to have kids that eat sea cucumbers. Because other parents think it’s a sign of having been “raised well” (å®¶æ•™å¾ˆå¥½, jiajianhenhao) by their parents. In other words, if you are willing to eat the squishy things, you are sufficiently “Chinese.”
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