Asian American Comfort Food: Chinese Sausage

The Chinese Sausage

It's our version of bacon. It goes with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Actually it is breakfast, lunch and dinner. Packed full of sodium, soy sauce and nitrates, it's a salty sweet dried sausage that you know is bad for you, but you can go through a pack a month or more, depending on your relationship status. Being single means a simple meal of rice and Chinese Lap Cheong. The Thais have their version as well, the kun chiang. In Vietnam it is the lạp xưởng. In Southern China, where it is used in many family dishes, there are variations made with duck, duck liver and red chili done Sichuan style. The variations of the sausage can go from soft to rock hard, depending on the brand and make up of fat to pork to salt.

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Walking through the markets in Hong Kong, you will see strands of Lap Cheong strung like Christmas ribbon from bamboo poles out in the open air. Here in the states, it's nicely packaged and labeled with the ingredients. In Hong Kong, you just take their word that its pork or duck, but since it is family owned stores, the trust goes deep.

The quickest and easiest way to eat Lap Cheong is to throw a couple into the automatic rice cooker to steam with the rice. Once its done, you fry an egg and mix it all together. It's our version of dorm/comfort food. But eat enough of it, you will start bloating from the sodium and get a bit chunky from the rice. Another way to serve it is to fry it with vegetables and rice. Just like bacon, if you use your imagination, the sausage can go anywhere and with anything (except chocolate, which bacon goes surprisingly well with).

As part of Asian American culture, the Lap Cheong holds a warm spot in the heart. It is the go to meal for a busy mother, or a poor student. Just the smell of it cooking brings back memories of dinner at home and watching my mother put the food on the table as we waited patiently for our father to start the meal.

Home is Where the Lap Cheong Is

There are foods that every culture hold dear, foods that evoke emotions that can take you away from that stressful moment, back to a time of comfort and simplicity. In every Asian American dorm room you will find a rice cooker and a small fridge with a package of Lap Cheong; you can leave home but you can also bring a small part wherever you go. Now whenever I make Lap Cheong, I become my mother, making a meal for one or four and I enjoy that moment of childhood bliss.

Image: My Mother

Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog

About the Author

A true multi-tasker: illustrator, designer, teacher, networker and writer of short blasts of pent up hot air.
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FWIW, the official language of both China and Taiwan remains Mandarin, which would make 臘腸 "la4 chang2".

Furthermore, in most provinces, la4 chang2 describes a very specific sausage (that is cured, and not necessarily sweet), and the proper generic translation for "Chinese sausage" would be 香腸 (xian2 chang4). A more fitting translation for lap cheong would be Cantonese sausage.

Didactic for sure, but it's an important difference to those who aren't Cantonese/Chinese. Continued reliance on dialect transcription serves only to obfuscate the non-speakers further. Imagine if Shanghainese dishes are also being transcribed directly from Shanghainese?

Korean doesn't suffer this, hence kimchi/bibimbap/soju are always just kimchi/bibimbap/kalbi/soju. All those are now commonly recognized food names with uniform spelling and definition. In order to further the cause of Chinese cooking, linguistic uniformity is desperately needed. After all, there are still people calling xiao long bao, soup "dumplings".

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hi SinoSoul, thanks so much for the clarification. At the dinner table at home, I just ate it without discussion because it was my favorite dish from my Mother. And as for my non-speaking friends, they just say "that dish your Mom makes", which is enough for me.