Growing up hapa (of partial Asian or Pacific Islander descent) in San Francisco, many of my earliest memories are of my grandparents’ pristine home, including my first encounters with chocolate. My popo and dede-grandmother and grandfather in Chinese-came to the US in the 60’s, working as live-in help for a wealthy family. This photo is of them celebrating their 50th anniversary of immigrating to the United States. Both wonderful cooks, my grandparents’ food quickly became popular among the affluent households of the Houston neighborhood. The dinner parties they catered were coveted events, and my grandfather even began offering cooking lessons to Texan housewives. With my grandparents now living in San Francisco, my childhood was often spent reaching up to their high granite counters to sample the same expertly made traditional dishes my mom grew up with in Texas. I happily munched away on foods with names my American mouth has never quite mastered.
In this house full of plastic-wrapped tv remotes and surfaces so white you’d go snow blind if it weren’t for the dim lighting (to save money on electricity), my mom struggled to keep my toddler messes contained; the biggest challenge was my undying love of chocolate. At the end of every healthy, beautifully prepared feast of Chinese food, I would beg my mom for a jumbo chocolate-covered ice-cream bar. Happily biting into it, I would promptly shatter the chocolate coating,melting it all over my face, hands, hair, and tummy.
This all-American dessert was sharply at odds with the preceding meal. Traditionally, Chinese desserts are practical and only lightly sweetened compared to sugary American treats. My relatives often prefer a bowl of grain-based desert soup or a light fruit pastry. While I now love many Chinese desserts, I was never satisfied with these lighter options as a child; maybe my dad’s upbringing in Mexico was passed on to me. Sunday morning spiced Mexican hot chocolate was a special treat for me and my sister. Wherever my sweet tooth comes from, there is no denying that chocolate has always been my first dessert-love.
Every meal at my popo and dede’s came with a full body clean up. Before I was allowed to leave the table, my mother would preform a “rice check,” picking off the tiny grains of rice I had somehow stuck everywhere, and most importantly, she would wipe chocolate off my grinning face.
It looks like I’ve come full circle. My early years were spent in my grandparent’s jade-decorated home, perpetually a chocolate-coated toddler mess. Now, after my first year away at college, I’m back in San Francisco getting to work with my favorite dessert at Jade Chocolates through the Business Pathways internship program, albeit a bit less messily than my earlier chocolate encounters.