I’m no Ali Wong, but what we share in common makes us kindred. I spent my childhood born and raised in the Bay Area, now living in Southern California. So to watch Always Be My Maybe at 12:05 a.m. on a Friday brought up some hella good memories. And while I almost went down the rabbit hole of critiquing all the restaurant references in her film, I felt more connected to the first 30 minutes. So here are my Asian-American (more specifically, Pacific Islander/Filipino) experiences in a nutshell.
Spam and Rice
Rocking glasses since I was 10 and being a latch key kid since my second day of kindergarten, the opening scene of this movie was a true Flashback Friday. Young Sasha/Ali is seen fanning slices of Spam and garnishing a perfectly rounded serving of rice. Regarding most things starch and protein as a child, my cooking prowess was limited. However, I was a firm believer in fried rice. Scramble up some eggs on our electric range, then get a sear on last night’s rice while rummaging the fridge for leftover meat to toss in. Douse in soy sauce that wasn’t low-sodium, and warm all the way through. Hello, afternoon snack. Spam was normally reserved for the weekends, when my mom would slice it up and dip in egg before frying.
Marcus walking over to offer his family’s Korean “thermos” soup, a.k.a. kimchi jjigae, reminded me of how cool neighborhood kids were. My childhood friend Kristine was in the same grade, and she lived seven downhill houses away. When I would get locked out (or even when I didn’t), she’d invite me over to hang and have a hot meal. Kris was a pro at making stir-fry. I almost never saw her mom, as she was usually working at the family store. My mom didn’t get home until after 4:15, so there was always time to talk about boys and school.
Cooking with Scissors
Judy Kim stated that Koreans use scissors for everything. Other than opening shrink-wrapped packages from Costco, my upbringing didn’t show an extensive use of scissors. However, 1) I’m a lefty, and lefty scissors growing up were the worst. 2) My mom, being the resourceful nurse that she was, always had a surgical pair lying around. So I grew up using surgical scissors thinking this was the norm. Presently, I rotate between three pairs in our kitchen’s junk drawer for anything from scallions to perfectly knotted plastic take-out bags.
Friends and Snacks
Later that evening, Marcus and Sasha are seen out on the town on a Friday night, snacking while riding a cable car and laughing on a bench with a backdrop of the Golden Gate. While I lived just beyond city limits (Daly City, to be exact), our eating habits shared similarities. In lieu of Pocky sticks, we’d walk to our local Phil Mart for sour power– priced by the piece. We rode BART trains and SamTrans buses, and chowed on paper plate-sized, pepperoni pizza slices with Coca-Cola across from the bowling alley.
Dumplings and Kings
The final scenes of adolescence show our duo in uncharted territory. But first, home cooking! Korean-style potstickers known as mandu are the focal point when Judy and Sasha share another mother-daughter-like moment. For me, the parallel is definitely lumpia. Mom typically made a batch in preparation for get-togethers. However, my grandma in the Sunset made the best. Grandma would freeze them in batches and dole out as needed. The welcoming aroma would greet us when we’d walk upstairs. Grandchildren knew the drill: Hug, kiss, bless, ask for lumpia. I remember the importance of using fresh wrappers and consistently rolling them to a uniform shape before that dab of water to seal all the contents up.
When it came to fast food, I lived relatively close to two McDonald’s. Burger King played second fiddle at the mall; third if you counted the Taco Bell. Besides, McD’s fries set the bar for all other deep fried sides. Going out for Filipino food was the OG Goldilock’s, and dim sum meant Koi Palace. Living along the peninsula meant my options weren’t as diverse growing up, unless I hopped on public transportation or bummed a ride from my parents. Food wasn’t quite as prominent in my life then as it is now, but I still crave Spam and miss grandma’s lumpia.
Always Be My Maybe stars Ali Wong and Randall Park. It was released on Netflix May 31.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.