Despite it being my second year as a Terrier, I still find myself longing for home-cooked food. Don’t get me wrong, the food here in Boston is great. The cannolis in the North End taste heavenly, and the banh minhs in Dorchester are some of the best I’ve ever had.
But I miss cupping my hands around the blue and white porcelain bowls with carp swimming around the rims. I miss wrapping my fingers around smooth wooden chopsticks to pick up a glistening bok choy or a piece of spicy stir-fried pork. I miss not having to hold a knife and fork in an awkward position to saw pieces of dry meat into edible chunks. I miss not having to force myself to swallow overcooked and over seasoned vegetables. I even miss the dreaded slices of carrot my mom would force my brother and me to eat.
There’s just an irreplaceable comforting feeling about sitting down on a worn chair and eating with my family at our old wooden dinner table.
Taiwanese food is all about balance. The smallest of imbalances can prompt a series of health issues. Too many nuts translate into pimples popping out from your skin. A stomachache is the consequence of eating one too many pieces of bean sprouts. Everything is shared during meals so that everyone can eat their fill and that no one overeats.
Dinner almost always consists of a vegetable dish, a protein dish, and small side dishes to ensure everyone has a nutritious meal. They are more than your average Kung Pao chicken and vegetable lo mein from your local Chinese takeout. No two dishes at one meal are made the same way. From stir-frying to steaming to braising, there are countless ways in Taiwanese cuisine to prepare food.
My parents may not be classically trained chefs but they’re able to cook dishes that make even the blandest pieces of tofu burst with flavor. With the help of Taiwanese YouTube cooking videos and her Instant Pot, my mom makes dishes that fill me up with love and comfort, like mouthwatering braised beef noodle soup topped off with homemade chili oil and fragrant stir-fried pork bits with tofu. She’s not just a great cook, but she loves to bake as well.
Growing up, I always remembered opening the snack cabinet to boxes of homemade gingerbread cookies and jam thumbprints. My dad’s seafood noodle soup that takes three hours to make is always a treat whenever he makes it. Fresh bamboo shoots, homemade fish balls, and squid make the soup rich and savory while the noodles have a nice chewiness and texture to them. My parents always pour their energy and love to put a delicious dinner on the table, even if they’re making something as simple as waffles on a Saturday morning.
My mom’s homemade bread and braised beef
Photo Credit: Ann Chang
But no matter how many elaborate and delicious dishes there are on the dinner table, no dinner is complete without a bowl of steaming hot rice. Rice may seem to be just another carb to some, but for me, it’s something I can’t imagine living without (to the point where I wrote a diamond poem about it for my sixth grade Spanish class). Cooking rice isn’t as simple as dumping cupfuls of white grains into boiling water. Rice comes in all different shapes and colors, from the skinny purple rice to the plump sticky rice.
Each family has their own preferred ratio of rice, mixing together different kinds of rice to add an extra oomph to the texture and flavor. My mom likes to mix together sticky rice with white rice for the rice to be what the Taiwanese call “QQ” or a chewy, mochi-like texture. Because rice doesn’t have much flavor on its own, it acts as an anchor for my tastebuds, adding texture and toning down flavors to the dishes to make them even more delicious.
My mom’s homemade flatbread with scrambled scallion eggs and braised beef
Photo Credit: Ann Chang
While the food at home is simple and plain, I miss it as much as I miss my family. Food always brought my family together. When dinner time came, everyone would sit down on old rickety Ikea chairs and around the dinner table that my dad made from scratch. If a friend called asking about the homework during that time, they would have to wait until the last grain of rice was scraped clean from our bowls. It was a time when the family could come together after a long day of work or school. We would joke around with each other, complain about schoolwork, and just be ourselves as we ate. It’s moments like these that make home truly home.
Before I left for BU, I took home-cooked meals for granted. Now, plates of my parents’ food are more than just things on the dinner table; they’re a sign that I’ve come home.