As a first generation Chinese American, I had a difficult time getting in touch with my roots. Between running around in the backyard and fulfilling the typical elementary school responsibilities, I never really took the time to explore my family background. I believed that the lives of my grandparents were complex and difficult to understand and thus left them as a mystery.
One particularly rainy day in December, my grandma, hands caked in cracked layer of flour, beckoned me into the kitchen. Propping me on a tall stool, she placed a smooth sheet of dumpling skin in my palm followed by a dollop of minced meat. Carefully, she guided me through the next few steps — a ribbon of water around the perimeter of the sheet, folding and pleating it until it took on a half moon shape. Over the course of two hours, we folded four plates of dumplings to the tales of her upbringing and adult life. She told me of innocent tales of playing by the brooke, the loss of her brother in the Korean War, and of the cancer that almost stole her life.
Food for my grandma has always harbored her feelings. If she was upset or frustrated, her dishes would either be unbearably salty or ridiculously spicy. And if she was in a good mood, her food would take on new delicate flavors never experienced before.
On that particular rainy day, those freshly cooked, steaming dumplings tasted different. In the meat, I felt the warmth of the riverbed where my grandma played. In the juice, I felt the heartache of the family’s loss. And in the velvety skin, I felt the soft sheet of the hospital where fought for her life.
Since then, cooking has been an activity to share stories and connect with family over. With each new dish, I’m able to dig deeper into my heritage and share the things I’ve learned.