We all know the expression “show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are,” but what if we could apply this same principle to our free time, our thoughts, the way that we spend time with ourselves? Over Spring Break, I had the opportunity to discover an entirely new side of myself through an afternoon across the East River. Although hesitant to take the frigid trip alone from Midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn to visit the Museum of Food and Drink – a new all-time favorite of mine – I fought any anxiety and boarded the J train into uncharted territory. When I got off at Lorimer Street, I felt a bit lost. I had been to Brooklyn before with friends, but now, with an unfamiliar dusting of snow and no one to accompany me, I was left to navigate the way by myself.
I have always felt that cities inspire a certain confidence and harnessed this through my trek.There is an amount of independence required to live in a city that accompanies an incredible sense of freedom to be exactly who you are. Scouring every street for the museum, I finally found the entrance tucked away between two buildings; upon entering I instantly felt transported. There were machines puffing scents of strawberry and licorice, a fortune cookie machine, a wall of Chinese food takeout boxes, and restaurant menus from as early as the 1900’s, featuring General Tso’s chicken and chow mein. Despite how small the museum is, it is simple and well-curated, taking each visitor through the economic, social, and political factors that shaped Chinese-American immigration. It also highlights the entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity of Chinese immigrants in starting Chinese restaurants that quickly flourished across America.
At the end of touring the gallery, there was a “chef’s table” that visitors could sit at, enjoy a small meal, and talk with the chef. The tasting menu included hot herbal tea, gyoza, savory pork lo mein, and rose, coconut rice pudding that simply could not be passed up. Hesitant at first, I sat on one of the high stools in between a pair of friends and a couple on a date. I consider myself to be an extroverted person, however, today, I felt comfortable to engage just as a listener. Sitting at the table, I felt quite far from alone, but part of a shared experience.
One of my favorite qualities of a meal is its ability to unite those around the table. Everyone may have different preferences or styles of eating, but, essentially, everyone is savoring the cuisine as a collective. At the chef’s table, I learned about different regional styles of lo mein and wok techniques, but also about the weekend plans of those sitting to my left and the favorite dishes of the couple to my right. Swaying from one discussion to the next, I was a silent participant in every conversation. At this moment, I was apart of the table, I was apart of a community. Looking back on this day, I remember it with great fondness and significance. Had I chosen the safe path of familiarity, I would have never discovered the wonders of one of Brooklyn’s best-kept secrets as well as my more subtle qualities, such as my boldness and acute attentiveness, had I not taken a chance – a chance on myself. So take the leap, you never know what or who will be waiting for you on the other side.