I've been tagged by Jo for a meme at the Dancing Deer Baking Company for their "Sweet Home" initiative:
Deer’s Sweet Home Initiative raises money for scholarships to
help educate homeless women and end family homelessness. As a part of
this initiative, our CEO, Trish Karter, will be riding her bike 1,500
miles from Atlanta to Boston, visiting family shelters in each city to
raise awareness about this issue. She’ll also be recording stories from
the women she meets along the
way, asking them about their experiences. One question she’ll ask them
are what foods remind them of home.
(See more here.)
Trying to pick something reminding me of home was actually more difficult than I expected, given how I grew up in a family that loved food. Food was the central theme at my grandmother's house, where we ate dinner at least 4 - 5 times a week growing up. She loved to cook and expected family to be around, and my parents happily obliged.
If we didn't eat at grandma's, we ate out. My dad was the one who always initiated going to new restaurants, trying new foods, and reasoned that it was too much of a bother to shop, cook, and clean up when there were so many inexpensive restaurants around. So even though both my parents are great cooks, home-cooked food always evokes memories of grandma.
There was always a common theme for dinner: white rice, stir-fried dishes, steamed dishes, vegetables, sometimes Chinese BBQ takeout, and always a soup, usually loaded with a flavorful broth and soup bones I would gnaw on. She always managed to get multiple dishes onto the table at the same time, steaming hot- sometimes I think my sense of cooking timing and mise en place comes from her. Her best trick was to keep food warm in the electric rice cooker, sitting atop a wire rack.
When we all pitched in to move the food from the kitchen to the dining room table, I always liked the job of opening up the rice cooker and seeing what was inside. There could be anything from steamed spareribs to a whole steamed fish, sometimes chicken stewed with Chinese sausage and black mushrooms, or one of my favorites, minced pork with water chestnuts. After moving the hot fragrant dish to the table, I'd gingerly remove the rack with a pair of chopsticks, then use the chopsticks to fluff the rice. God forbid I used the rice paddle/scooper to fluff the rice, I'd get a quick admonishment for doing so. I think she thought that fluffing rice with something flat would mess up the texture.
In any case, after being fortunate to always have a meal with multiple dishes, our meals would end with her famous soups, always flavorful and fresh, nourishing and a true sign of a great cook who was resourceful yet demanded the freshest ingredients from her daily trips to Chinatown.
So while yes, there are lots of specific dishes that might remind me of home, the steam and smell that emanates out of a rice cooker, sometimes with a little surprise sitting on top of it, is what reminds me of home the most. Home was grandmother's house, her beaming proudly from the head of the table, while the rest of the family quickly emptied the platters of food she labored over everyday.