Inside China Canteen, a restaurant in a nondescript strip mall in Rockville, Md., novelist Lillian Li digs into her preferred Sichuan dish: braised beef intestines in blood.
This changed into one in all her circle of relatives’ favorite restaurants when she was developing up in Montgomery County, where Asians comprise 15% of the population. Li becomes uncovered early on to the intensity of Chinese cuisine, including Shanghai specialties Taiwanese noodle-save dishes. But that does not suggest she understood it.
“For a long time, I notion of Chinese food as food that I needed to devour — that I had no desire in eating,” she says. “I didn’t even recognize precisely what I was ingesting. I assume that it turned into only once I got old sufficient to order off the menu myself that I commenced being capable of select up that Chinese meals aren’t simply this meals that I don’t have any information of.”
Li’s experiences eating at Chinese eating places in Bernard Law Montgomery County, Md., and working at one in northern Virginia helped encourage her first novel, the story of a fictional Rockville restaurant she calls Beijing Duck House. “Number One Chinese Restaurant,” which comes out in paperback this month, charts the intergenerational conflicts that arise when the son of the restaurant’s founder strikes out on his personal to open a present-day, pan-Asian restaurant in Georgetown.
A deep dive into the emotional and physical toll of working at a Chinese restaurant, Li’s book focuses on the non-public lives of the restaurant’s overlooked, difficult-operating team of workers. In reality, in an early draft, she so successfully specific the industry’s blood, sweat, and tears — not to mention salt, warmth, and grease — that her editor wondered about her love for food. In response, she sprinkled in a bit more of the joy that goes into feeding others.
But her intention changed into a larger one: to write a unique that “felt effects and organically Chinese American,” she says, and to reveal that resilience — a word frequently utilized about immigrants — is twofold. “Even as my characters shape the surroundings of the eating place to find pockets of connection and dignity and appreciate, they’re additionally irrevocably fashioned with the aid of the surroundings as well,” she says.
Li’s own stint operating as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant became short. It turned into in 2013, the summer season before she would head to the University of Michigan’s MFA program. She lasted a few weeks earlier than she quit, exhausted bodily and emotionally. She could not say which eating place inspired the fictional restaurant of her novel. However, Peking duck is its signature dish. Different similarities would prompt readers familiar with the Washington region’s dining scene to assume the inspiration was Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church.
In her novel, the immigrants of Beijing Duck House are brand new in a protracted subculture of Chinese immigration to the USA, starting with the Gold Rush of the 18th century and broadening with the 1965 passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. As a result, what was visible as “different” ultimately became incorporated into the American meals scene. In contrast, Shun Lee Palace became the first Chinese restaurant to receive a four-superstar assessment from the New York Times in 1967.