As we enter this season of extracaloric extravaganzas, it's interesting to note how ethnicities have crept into my holiday recipes over the years. As much a product of my restless palate as the result of 25 years of constant immersion in new cuisines, the subtleties never escape me. I wonder when it was that I first discovered that a few drops of sesame oil in the melted butter made the skin of the turkey a tad sweeter without imparting any Asian flavor. When did I first curry the carrots accompanying a Christmas Day ham? And when on EARTH did I ever figure out the desserts made possible with the once unheard-of Mascarpone cheese?
Adrian Ho is assistant editor for the Wall Street Journal's Leisure and Arts page and on December 11th, he wrote an incisive commentary entitled "Dude, Where's My Dumpling?" In it, Mr. Ho, a Toronto-born Canadian of Chinese heritage, lamented the comparatively unimpressive Chinese fare he finds in New York City, having gotten used to extraordinarily good Chinese cuisine in his hometown. He begins with the dumpling comment, but cites one specific example near and dear to me:
"The modest steamed barbecue-pork bun is, in my view, the pinnacle of Chinese culinary achievement. At its best, the meat is slow-roasted, glazed with rich honey sauce and tucked into a sweet, pillowy white bun. That the bread is fashioned like a fluff of cloud only beckons you closer to heaven. Yet here in New York, most steamed pork buns are red-dyed remnants of swine stuffed in a soggy sponge."
Sounds an awful lot like the pork buns I've found in Miami. Which is all the sadder given that, IMHO, New York's Chinatown offers the best Chinese food in the Continental U.S. outside of San Francisco. It certainly BLOWS away the Chinese food I've found in South Florida. Which begs the question: WHY is this the case?
Mr. Ho posits an intriguing theory: "The problem is that wealthy immigrants - Chinese or otherwise - have far easier options than to seek U.S. citizenship." Essentially, he suggests that the creative base of ethnic cuisine fans out from the homeland and forms a diaspora, seeding new places with the best and brightest culinary creations...for the most part, outside of the U.S. He points out that to qualify as an "entrepreneur immigrant" in Canada, for example, an investor need only shell out some $284,000 and commit to start a new business. Three years later, that Canadian residency gets you a Canadian passport.
That, it appears, would explain Vancouver...eh? (Sorry...couldn't resist.)
He says that in 1994, when Yours Truly was slogging back and forth 22 hours at a time on Delta between Miami and Hong Kong for a paltry few EB-1s and L visas, over 44,000 Hong Kong immigrants moved to Canada...and 13% of them were classified as "entrepreneurs! Another 12% qualified as "immigrant investors". Although the investment threshold is 25% higher today in Canada, it is still a lot less than the $500,000 required from an EB-5 Regional Center investor. But, then again, we are talking U.S. residency...and that is still the sweetest prize in the basket, right?
Mr. Ho points out -- and we must agree -- that not all or even most of those Canada-bound Chinese of the mid 90s established restaurants. However, it is that educated echelon of any given culture which most demands -- and appreciates -- excellence in their ethnic dining establishments. In other worlds, an an entrepreneur class craves the best of their cuisine, even if they can't boil water. Show me a San Francisco dim sum joint packed with Chinese businessmen -- say The Four Seas -- and I guarantee you the food will be excellent. (The culinary antithesis, of course, explains why you so rarely see educated Mexican professionals wolfing down Triple Stack Nachos and a Chalupa at the local Taco Bell.)
If I was an immigrant looking to move my family to North America today, as much as I love Canada, it wouldn't be even close. Knowing what I know and living what I've lived, if I had the funds and qualified as an EB-5 investor, I'd find a way to get my family into the U.S. Unlike the Hong Kong businessmen who in the mid 90s flocked to Australia and Canada, pooh-poohing the logistics and relative complexities of a U.S. Intracompany "L-1A-to-EB-1" maneuver, today's foreign investors can get the best bang for their buck, I believe, by securing permanent residency in the United States of America via one of the solid EB-5 Regional Centers created just for them.
The momentum, of course, speaks for itself. I am a man on an EB-5 mission and, one day soon, I will be able to find that Perfect Steamed Pork Bun... somewhere right here in Dade County.
Merry Christmas to everyone! Jose