My dad was born in mainland China and spent his adolescence in Taiwan, where authentic Italian food did not exactly abound. But along the way, perhaps when he was a PhD student in Iowa or maybe later as a teacher at USC, he came to learn (or concoct his own) spaghetti recipe.
He starts with Chinese noodles – longer and slightly thicker than traditional spaghetti – and cooks them until they are done. Not al dente done, but Chinese chow mein done. Not “to the tooth,” but more like, “easy on the gums.” Then it’s canned tomatoes, both chunks and paste, plus canned mushrooms, pre-sliced, along with some ground beef. All of this goes into a big wok, which my mom may have used to cook fish in the night before. Then comes the seasoning, which I think my dad feels is his secret ingredient but is really just packaged Lawry’s seasoning powder readily available at the Ralph’s (once an Alpha-Beta) a few blocks away from home.
Something is missing though, right? Of course. The cheese. There isn’t dairy in Chinese cuisine, so cheese is something that my dad first tasted when he was in his twenties as a bright but poor exchange student. So to top off the meal, my dad takes out a slice of Kraft American singles, peels off its plastic wrapper, rips it into a few slender strips, and mixes it into the spaghetti until the orange shreds become reddish swirls embracing the soft noodles.
My dad’s spaghetti isn’t authentic. But it is delicious, and I appreciate it more every single time.