Kristen Gaerlan

Kristen Gaerlan is a writer and native New Yorker. Her roots are in the Bronx, and the roots to her roots are in the Philippines. Her writing has been featured in The Rumpus, Bustle, McSweeney’s, and other publications. She’s currently working on an essay collection about Filipino-American identity. Follow her on Twitter @gaer_said.


"When I was younger, I used to worry what people would think if they knew I was a girl who ate shrimp heads. My reluctant half slurps made me taste more air and less umami. Shame got in the way of a perfectly good meal, so I refrained from Asian foods often described as gross, weird, and foreign."  

My mom and I eat shrimp with piles of shells stacked between us. At our table in the middle of the eatery at 99 Ranch, we rummage through the mounds of tails, legs and antennas that litter our cafeteria tray. The orange color of the ­­­stir-fry marinade has made its way onto every corner of the Styrofoam container we share. This seemingly desperate act would mark the end of the feast for most but not for us. Mom and I uncover the best part of the meal: the shrimp heads.