Chinese food rap

萨其马, 鸡蛋糕,不够吃的有面包。
Banana, apple, pear,
Canned pineapple, orange.
Lima beans, sunflower seeds, if you want a cool drink, there’s soda.
Want to eat candy, chocolate, Shandong special candy,
Sticky dough cakes, fluffy egg cakes, if you don’t have enough there’s also bread.
Eat dumplings, fried yuanxiao (sweet or savory soup balls), Shandong spicy mustard green wild rice.
[Untrans. — the rest of the rap is said at a steady pace, and then it speeds up dramatically during the final lines, which according to my father, are about different types of clothing]

My father grew up in 西门外 (outside the West Gate of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China). When he was 7 or 8 (he is currently 55), all of the neighborhood kids, a group of about 20-30 all close in age, passed around this “food rap” as a communal joke, something that they could chant together. It wasn’t popular in the larger district area, just within that group.

Because my father lives on the East Coast, I called him to ask him about the rap. In addition to describing his feelings about the rap, he also actually did the rap — recording pending.

At the time, Chinese living standards were very poor — in his words, “Beijing was a very backward city at the time.” The foods and clothing he and his friends rapped about were considered luxury items at the time; in the modern context, things like bananas and canned pineapples are generally considered accessible goods, but for him, any fresh food was considered a special treat. It’s no surprise that so many of the items in the rap are sweets and candies, since it was created by children.

I grew up listening to him rap this song and other silly, lewd street songs. My mother berated him for sharing them with me and my sister, but we always thought they were hilarious. Now that I know the background behind the rap, I think it’s touching and sweet that my father retains this connection to his childhood, and am humbled by the story of my father’s upbringing.