Out to Lunch—November 28, 2006

By Joann Chen

The holidays generally remind me of how much my childhood deviated from the American norm. I can’t remember ever eating apple pie, and my holiday turkeys are usually stuffed with Chinese sticky rice rather than the traditional American stuffing. While I am excited that my family has begun to embrace the turkey and yams, I would be devastated if my grandmother did not make her incredible Eight Treasure Rice dessert to top it all off.

Despite the looks of sheer astonishment I get when I say that I’ve never had pumpkin pie, I rather enjoy having a compromise between Chinese and American traditions at Thanksgiving and Christmas. A deep-fried turkey and my mom’s Chinese sticky rice meatballs competed for my attention at Thanksgiving this year, and I am eagerly anticipating the next bizarre family feast.

And so I present one of my family’s culinary traditions, a Chinese shrimp lettuce wrap, in hopes of spicing up your holidays as well. This is one of my grandmother’s most requested dishes, and it is surprisingly easy to make.

The textures of this dish are perhaps its best quality. The crunchy Chinese you tiao (ñ˚ ûä), or long sticks of fried dough, the crisp peas and lettuce, and the chewy shrimp and chicken blend together to form a flavorful appetizer that will sustain your family until the holiday ham is ready.

If you want to make the dish authentic, go to a Chinese restaurant that serves breakfast or a Chinese bakery to get the you tiao. (You can just show them the Chinese characters, and they should know what you’re talking about.) If this is a little too much work for an already action-packed holiday, find something else that is fairly crunchy. The best substitute that I can think of is overdone toast. Make sure to butter it well to get a flavor that resembles that of the greasy, and delicious, you tiao. Toasting a couple croissants might work as well, since they also have a lot of oil and will create a similar taste.