Home sweet home: an example of my dad’s cooking

This weekend we suspended the Challenge because we went out of town to see a friend. I stayed with my dad, who was the first person to teach me how to cook. He’s been cooking since he was 7, and, having survived post-WWII China, he knows way more about being thrifty and deprived than I will ever know. He simply laughed at me when I told him about the Food Stamp Challenge.

Mung bean soup

There’s nothing like chilled mung bean soup, lightly sweetened with rock sugar, to cool and refresh you on a hot summer’s day. It can be thick or thin, depending on the ratio of water to bean you use – for the refreshing kind, I prefer very thin. But sometimes I want it a bit heartier, so it can serve as a more substantial breakfast.

Mung bean soup with tree ear and tapiocaMy dad made it medium-thick, and he added tree ear (black fungus) and tapioca to it. Note that these two ingredients add slippery and chewy textures, respectively, and may not be to everyone’s taste. The Chinese palate is very much attuned to textures and mouthfeel, and what the Chinese consider pleasing and enjoyable may not be for others.

Also note that here I use the term ‘mung bean’, but you will often see it as ‘green bean’, because that’s the literal translation from Chinese.

Beef stir-fry

My dad didn’t make anything fancy for me, just a very typical, simple stir-fry.

Beef stir-fry - julienning meat

The beef was originally cut as a steak, so my dad is julienning it. Notice how small the pieces of sliced meat are – this size is expected for Chinese stir-fry. The small size allows the meat to cook very fast and also to be eaten in one bite (which is why Chinese people get away with using only chopsticks and not knives at the table).

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Leeks are not traditional, I guess, because my dad doesn’t even know their name in Chinese. But he’s never been afraid to try new things, and he found he quite liked them once he tried them.

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Notice the pieces of tofu here? This is a special kind of Shanghai-style tofu, and it’s the only tofu I actually like. I can eat this cooked or uncooked, cold or hot, and it’s always savoury and delicious. My dad let me bring a package back home, so I can show it to the owners of our local Asian grocery store and ask them if  they can possibly stock it.

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My dad commented that he put in too much meat this time. I have to agree; by the end of the meal, all the leek, tofu and garlic was gone, but there was still a substantial pile of meat left.

What I don’t understand about my dad’s cooking is why his stir-fries always taste better than mine. They just have an extra quality of deliciousness that mine always lack. My mom’s cooking, too, possesses this quality of ‘extra’, although it tastes different from my dad’s brand of ‘extra’. Whatever they have, I don’t. My cooking does not have extra anything. (And this is why I let Hide cook while I clean.)

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