How long is a long bean? And who was General Tsao? These are questions you might ask after you visit our Stars and Stripes Cafe during the month of May. In celebration of Asian Pacific American heritage month we are featuring Asian-inspired dishes. I tried the long beans and fried rice today, and the beans are at least 12 inches long. They are delicate string beans, lightly stir fried.
When we wanted to infuse our cafe with interesting Asian food, we went straight to our Chef William Bednar. Chef William never disappoints, and this was no exception. He was undaunted about serving Asian food to thousands of unsuspecting visitors. We gave him some ideas of popular and authentic Asian dishes, but that was really not necessary. Chef comes with years of skills, knowledge, experience, and his own wok.
Our idea was to have something at each of our food stations. The barbeque station that serves hot entrees would be pretty easy. Chef took it beyond easy when he offered smoked duck and shredded duck with a raspberry hoisin glaze. He created Asian chicken salad sandwiches and lettuce wraps for the sandwich board and had wakeme (seaweed) salad and cold sesame noodles in the salad bar. But pizza? I thought that would be a stretch but the pizza with an Asian plum sauce was actually delicious.
Chef even created exotic Chinese desserts. “Almond Lake” looked like white triangles of tofu, but it is a mixture of almonds, sugar, water, and agar agar. (A thickening agent.) To be honest, not many people tried it, but I did and liked it. There was also “Forbidden Black Rice” a sweet and sticky rice dessert. Here chef took some creative license, as the “real” recipe calls for purple rice. The food supplier we use drew the line at purple rice, so he defaulted to the black. I still loved it.
I was curious if everyone was as intrigued with our specialties as me, admittedly a brave eater. Turns out that our visitors enjoy the dishes they are most familiar with—egg rolls, fried rice, and General Tsao’s chicken. Museum staffers, frequent patrons of the cafe, have been very pleased with the new additions to the repertoire and have embraced these unfamiliar specialties. Some of their favorites are the seafood dumplings with the chef’s homemade mustard, nappa slaw, and vegetarian spring rolls. The kitchen staff is enjoying this break from routine as well. They have enjoyed cooking with different ingredients and recipes, and eating it as well.
The month is not yet half over, so there are many more chances to experiment and enjoy. On the chef’s menu is pad Thai, spare ribs braised with pineapple, and beef with broccoli. I am hungry for my next lunch.
And who is General Tsao? I don’t know, but he had a great recipe for chicken.
Kathy Sklar is the business program manager at the National Museum of American History.