Soup for thought
(Abalones, especially dried abalones are a Chinese delicacy. Its essences provide a rich flavor. This shellfish must be cooked for a long time before it reaches a firm, chewy texture some find addictive.)
My father instilled in his family a love of good food. Although his family business in Hong Kong was construction and he studied civil engineering, when he decided to emigrate to Canada, he trained with the top dim sum chef at the Miramar Hotel. It was common knowledge that for a Chinese to make a living abroad, cooking was your only meal ticket. Indeed, Jackie Chan once considered being a cook in Australia before making it big. My father could carve carrots into exquisite phoenix.
Cooking was my father's expression of love. Director Ang Lee's second critically acclaimed film (after The Wedding Banquet) was Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. I saw the film in Tokyo and encouraged my father to watch it and upon doing so, he triumphantly declared, "That's me in that movie." In wikipedia, it is summarized as: "Since the family members have difficulty expressing their love for one another, the intricate preparation of banquet quality dishes for their Sunday dinners serves as a surrogate for the spoken expression of their familial feelings."
The one meal my father made that I will never forget was the one before my sister's wedding. His brothers from Hong Kong and Los Angeles were there. My husband and I am were there. And so rarely was everyone he loved at the same place, so he pour his heart into preparation.
I still remember standing over the sink scrubbing the abalones with brand new toothbrushes he bought specifically for this occasion. He had watched over the soup from the day before, the stock made of one whole chicken (not just bones thank you) and two lean pork tenderloins. Then the abalones, then the shark's fin on the morning it was served. He wagered each serving was about $50 in cost alone. He made 12 bowls for only his side of the family. There were sauteed greens and creamy garlic lobster, but never have I tasted such wonderful soup and never will I do so.
My father loved making soups and eventually I did too. Soups are the most miraculous of dishes. When you throw in the meats, the vegetables and the seasoning, there is absolutely no taste in the beginning. But as you wait, the simmering draws out the best in all the ingredients. You wait some more, and it becomes tastier and the more you wait, the more flavor you get back. It can be just bone scraps and wrinkles veggies, yet with time, you have created the most marvelous concoction. I am not a patient person by nature, but making soups made me realize the importance of just giving things time. In raising my children, I often remind myself about the miracle of making soups.
My father has now passed away and while he has left a legacy of appreciation for good eats, his love of cooking has not quite passed onto his children, none of us really enjoy cooking the way he did.
In popular culture like Ang Lee's movies and the exquisite Like Water for Chocolate, cooking has been elevated to a higher realm, yet we all know that the daily chore of it can be most tedious and unrewarding. My husband and my children are expressive and loving everywhere else except at the dining table. Picky eaters all of them, each with a set of distinct dislikes. But right now something in me is trying to reach out to them through more homemade dishes. To get everyone on the same plate. To get everyone to expand their palates. To get everyone taking turns and appreciating each other's efforts. As my kids get older, I sense that doing this will keep our family closer.
In the 1970s, my mother's friend and a popular Japanese writer published a trendsetting book called "The Good Cook is a Wise Woman." At a time when more women began entering the workforce, Yoko Kirishima argued that a housewife who cooks well is creative, expressive, has wonderful fine motor skills, has a good sense of economics by budgetting well, knowledge about nutrition, etc. But no need to elaborate because I think we all here know that already! Bon appetit. And see you in the kitchen!
Labels: food for thought