Words Without Borders: Cheesy Porridge

When my in-laws occasionally make the trip from rural China to visit us in Beijing, they find my behavior around the house an endless source of fascination. My brother-in-law once found the sight of a baked potato so entertaining that he posted a photo of me eating it on social media. One of the other exotic dishes I occasionally enjoy in their presence is a bowl of porridge (the Chinese version of porridge, zhou, is a watery congee made from rice), and sometimes I like to eat my porridge savory, with a pinch of salt and black pepper, and a generous handful of grated cheese. I remember my mother-in-law watching me preparing this breakfast in the kitchen one morning, an expression of mild curiosity on her face. “Hmm,” she said, thinking out loud. “So foreigners put cheese in their porridge.”

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