Cooking is My Therapy

My dad never runs out of vocabularies describing the taste of a dish. He is such a food enthusiast who loves to eat and cook.

When there was no internet in my childhood, he was a walking cookbook with many gourmet tips – using rock candies for the sweet and sour pork chops; doubling the oil and salt for tastier pan fried leeks with scrambled eggs. Dad is the superchef.

Every New Year’s Eve, he cooks a huge meal -15 or more dishes, for our big family – my grandparents, my three aunts and their families. It used to be a tradition in China that one family member would host the family reunion dinner on New Year’s eve. Nowadays, more families choose to eat out to save the hassle of cooking at home.However, dad prefers to keep our family ritual.

He usually starts to prepare dinner several days in advance to season some ingredients. He even stays up late to marinate the meat prior to the day. The dinner often starts with six to eight cold dishes, followed by stewed meats, braised fish, chicken soup, stir fry seasonal vegetables and dessert soup. Once we have our first toast, dad would start cooking the hot dishes. He would join us from time to time, checking the feedback from his ‘patrons‘ (all of us in the family), and go back kitchen.

He follows our appetite and makes sure it is neither too fast nor too slow in delivering the next dish. It is like a song with a good rhythm. The dinner is always a feast with everyone’s satisfaction guaranteed, up to the point where dad is close to finishing his last dishes, but everyone is already full, half lying on the chair, rubbing the belly. Sometimes, we would walk into the kitchen and beg him to stop cooking. That’s the happiest moment for dad.

Dad always cooks big meals for me, like a ceremony, whenever I return home from abroad or the day before my departure. He doesn’t speak too much but keeps using his chopsticks to bring food to my bowl, especially the chicken legs. When I was much younger, every time he brought me a chicken leg, (the best part of a whole chicken as he assumes), he would say, “once you eat this chicken leg, you would walk faster and go further.” Finally, during the dinner, before I moved to the US two years ago, Dad said something else while serving the chicken leg. ”I never thought that you would go so far away from me.” He looked sad.

Like father like daughter, I have an innate passion for food. I can tell the different ingredients of a dish by smelling before I actually see and taste them. I remember a taste or smell for years and can quickly relate to the occasion when I last had it. Of course, I like eating and take it seriously! What upsets me a lot, is that when I was a Duty Manager at a hotel, I often needed to leave my meal unfinished and rush to handle guest complaints or VIP guests. Although hospitality is my profession and passion, it gives me profound fulfillment, I also like to take my time and eat well.

Cooking has become my therapy. I like to start from scratch and do all the prep work: washing, cutting, peeling and whipping etc. It takes my stress away and makes me so relaxed. It brings me beautiful memories when I think of my dad and the yummy dishes that he has made. Sometimes, I would call him for tips or take photos and send them to him, fishing for a compliment. One thing that I feel most proud of that dad knows nothing about, is that now I know how to cook non-Chinese food. Dad never tries to pan fry steak or make curry chicken. He is eager to try my food.

Cooking is my therapy also because I feel nurtured by the appreciation and joy from people that I cook for.

I can’t wait to cook for dad and to continue our family ritual, for which dad has dedicated a lot of time and effort. After so many years, I gradually understand dad more and more – family rituals make every family member feel a sense of belonging and create a loving environment for us to connect and communicate. And love ties us together.

Maggie Shi

Maggie Shi

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