Culture through Basil Eggplant

This week marks the end of my month of clinic. It has truly been a treat to not only have met families coming from DC and the surrounding area, but also countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. I feel simultaneously ecstatic and terrified to be identified as the primary doctor for such a diverse bunch of kiddos and their families. I am a far cry from a polyglot. My Spanish is rudimentary at best. My Mandarin is rusty. But one thing I try to do for any patient who speaks another language is at least greet them in their own language (and joke/apologize for my own inadequate language skills) before calling an interpreter. I feel like even this small effort indicates an appreciation and respect for another culture and background that is different from my own.

Sarah and I really enjoy watching Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre Foods. He is one of my food heroes. As much as I love watching him eat things that would make the average person squirm, I think I enjoy his show much more for the respect and deference he pays to the culture and the people of the country. He never lies if he does not enjoy eating something, but he is also never disrespectful and always appreciative. You often see him smiling and laughing with a group as they share a meal.

I wrote a little before about my struggle to balance the culture and identity of my country of origin with the customs and traditions  of my new home without completely assimilating. One of my favorite occasions in college was getting together with one of my best friends, Jim, and going to dinner at our favorite Berkeley restaurant with gaudy, bright purple facade in Berkeley, Taiwan Restaurant. It was an opportunity for us to spend the evening flexing our language muscles by conversing purely in Chinese over pots of steaming tea and good food. While our dinner selections often changed, we always made sure to order the basil eggplant.

Basil Eggplant

Eggplant soaks up oil like no other so oftentimes the rendition you find in restaurants have been initially deep-fried to get the right texture. I do not like using that much oil so substitute water instead to soften the texture.



  • Asian Eggplants                                          4, sliced in half long ways and sliced on the bias
  • Garlic                                                              5 cloves, chopped
  • Water                                                              1/2 cup
  • Oyster sauce                                                 3 T
  • Black bean chili paste                               1 T
  • Thai basil                                                       1/2 cup of leaves

Add 2 T of oil to a pan with a lid and put on medium high heat. Add garlic and chopped eggplant and saute for 5-10 minutes until eggplant is slightly browned. Add water and cover pan. Let steam until eggplant softens (usually 10-15 min). Add oyster sauce and black bean chili paste and toss until eggplant is uniformly coated. Take off heat and add basil leaves and serve.


Food and people are similar. Existence in a vacuum outside the scope of culture, history, tradition, is bland. But with the slightest effort, I often find comfort in what was initially uncomfortable and appreciation through the differences.



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