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  • This is a photo of my mother I took on my iPhone in a Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, near my office.

    My mom lives in Chicago, in the West Loop. She was in town visiting me for Thanksgiving. She's visited me three times now in the past year, since I moved to LA. During each visit I've made a point of taking her out to eat at different "ethnic" restaurants, places she wouldn't otherwise go without my suggestion. Even though she herself is "ethnic." You'd think "ethnic people" would be predisposed to eat at each others' restaurants. That's not necessarily the case. My mom is Filipino. My mom likes Chinese Food, Filipino Food, and Spanish Food.

    It is worth mentioning The Philippines was a colony of Spain for 500 years, and is neighbors with China.

    My mom is particularly unenthusiastic about Mexican Food, Japanese Food, Italian Food, and French Food. She also refuses to eat spicy food, although she claims to like Indian, Thai, and Korean Food. She cites gastrointestinal sensitivity as the reason for abstaining from kimchi, curry, and anything with chiles in it, no matter how slight.

    I, however, DON'T BUY IT. She's bluffing and I know it.

    She can down a glass of hot calamansi juice in a wink, which if you aren't familiar, is a traditional Filipino drink made from a tiny citrus fruits that look like kumquats but taste like vinegar. And it's even worse served hot. That shit'll kill you. And if it doesn't kill you, it'll at least make you gag.

    Don't talk to me about gastrointestinal discomfort, MOM.

    Eating out is always a bit of a conundrum considering her ever-increasing, self-imposed dietary restrictions:

    "I can't eat anything grilled. It will give me colon cancer."

    "I can't eat anything pickled. It has nitrites in it." Then, "It will give me colon cancer."

    "I can't eat anything fried. It will clog my arteries."

    "I can't eat fish. It has mercury in it."

    "I can't eat red meat. It will give me a heart attack."

    "I can't eat raw vegetables. I will contract Hepatitis A."

    "I can't eat anything spicy. I am too old, I cannot handle it."

    Always, for emphasis: "I CANNOT!"

    My mom is only 65. She's not "too old." But she is too afraid to try new things. Especially foods. And she's particularly susceptible to alarmist articles regarding the carcinogenic effects of certain foods. Being a doctor and all.

    However, just because she's a doctor, and just because she knows about carcinogenic foods, doesn't mean she eats healthily, or well, or even often. She's a workaholic, and she often comes home late to an empty West Loop condo too tired to cook, too tired to think, and too tired to eat. If she does eat, it's usually some sort of prepackaged "healthy" snack food. You know, like pita chips.

    So I try to take my mom to interesting restaurants to broaden her palate, balance her diet, and stimulate her imagination:

    Where does this food come from? How is it made? What is it made of? How are you sposed to eat it? Etc.

    But often times, after staring at the menu for 10 minutes, she just gets The Chicken.

    I've taken it upon myself to start ordering on her behalf, in order to ensure she gets something OTHER than The Chicken.

    The Vietnamese restaurant in this picture is called Blossom, which I love because they specialize in Phở, which is delicious and - yes - authentic, and they make a point of using locally sourced, organic ingredients. I also love the ambience of the place. Huge glass windows, lots of natural light, very minimalist. I mean, look at that photo; it's a cell phone photo. When was the last time you were able to get such a well-lit shot on a cell phone in a restaurant? This place is SO GREAT.

    Right, mom?

    I was surprised to learn that my mom had never, in all her 65 years, tasted Phở. It's not as if she's never had the opportunity. She's lived in Chicago, New Orleans, Kansas City, Louisville, Cincinnatti. She's traveled to New York City, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles (previous to my having moved there), Denver, probably scores of other places I've forgotten. I am certain at least one if not more of these places has Phở.

    Anyway, the difference between me and my mom is that it's really hard to get a good candid photo of her. She always poses for them. And so she always has the exact same expression: "Cheese!"

    In fact, she is literally incapable of posing for a photo without saying the word, "Cheese!" during the taking of the photo. She'll say it over and over again until you bring the camera down from your face to indicate the photo was successfully executed, and is now concluded.

    I like this photo because not only isn't my mom posing in it, she's actively engaged in something off-camera, probably looking out the window behind me at some interestingly-dressed passer-by. I can't remember. I was too busy trying to get the iPhone aperture to click quick before she noticed and could turn to face the camera directly to say,

    "Wait, let me put my sunglasses on! I want to look like Imelda Marcos. Cheese. Cheese? CHEESE!!"

    Don't even get me started on the Imelda Marcos thing.

    I think she thought she didn't like this photo until I put it up on Facebook and all of my friends liked and commented on it:

    "That IS a great photo" typed a friend from Brooklyn. (Which comment my mother proceeded to then "like.")

    I also think she thought she didn't like Vietnamese Food until I put a steaming bowl of Phở in front of her and forced her to eat it.

    "Hey!! NOT BAD, haha!" She exclaimed, slurping it up.
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