Growing up in a Chinese family in North America was a mixed blessing. I hated it when I was still living with them, but now that I am older and wiser, and with years of hindsight to guide me, in many ways, it was a boon. For example, Chinese people are way more sensible about foods than North American white people. As recently as 50 years ago, China went through a period of terrible famine. Many Chinese people who are alive today, my parents included, lived through it. As a result, they developed a very valuable food philosophy: if it’s chewable and won’t make you sick, you can eat it.

Chinese cuisine, and that of most countries in Asia, contain ways to cook anything imaginable: the fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves, and roots of any plant that grows there and isn’t poisonous; cows’ tripe, lambs’ intestines, pigs’ ears, chickens’ feet… dogs? It’s not generally considered very economical to raise carnivorous animals for slaughter (hence why Chinese people don’t really eat salmon), but if you were slowly starving to death and there happened to be a dog around, wouldn’t you eat it, too?

Eugh, gross, I’ve heard so many times from white kids at school when they saw what I was eating. Yeah, well, I think your oil-sopped pizza and can of caffeinated aspartame are gross, too, so I guess we’re even, except that I’m not rude enough to say it out loud without provocation. Oh, and also I will live longer, be healthier, and have nicer skin. I think I got the better deal.

Here is one example of something that made the other kids say “gross” : watermelon rinds. To most people, watermelons are just the pink part in the middle. You eat that and throw everything else away. But some hungry Chinese person looked at a watermelon one day and thought, “Hey, that white part’s chewable, though somewhat tough. It doesn’t make me sick, but it’s not very tasty… I wonder how it could be made more palatable?” And so the watermelon rind became a real food in Chinese culture.

Pickled watermelon rinds

a small watermelon, with the pink innards all eaten
2 cups water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
optional: 2 tsp chili flakes

To prepare the watermelon, the thin, dark green, tough outer skin should be removed and discarded. The paler, thick part of the rind should be cut into slices. The thinner the slices, the faster it will pickle.

Add the other ingredients into a bowl and leave alone for 4-8 hours. If the watermelon rinds are still tough to chew, it needs more pickling time.