“Gong Gong!” I would shout as I ran through the crowded driveway, down the dark alley lined with plants and crates of recycled water bottles towards my grandpa at his outdoor kitchen.
My grandpa had a passion for cooking that was unmatched by anything else, and my family would come together every Tuesday night for a family dinner. The 10-person table would be lined with food from end to end. As my grandpa plated each dish outside at his kitchen, I would rush them onto the dinner table while my mom passed out bowls of steamed rice and chopsticks. Besides the freshly poached chicken, the sweet, tender-y barbeque pork, and the stir-fried vegetable mix was the centerpiece of our family dinners: on a big metal tray in the center of the dinner table was my grandpa’s famous Kou Rou or Chinese steamed pork belly with preserved vegetables. The tender pork belly melts in your mouth with the flavors of the preserved vegetables in a beautiful combination of salty and savory. Eaten with steamed rice, Kou Rou is a dish like no other, packing a powerful punch of unique flavors and juices. Our family would enjoy dinner together as my grandma records a video of our dinner as well as us greeting our relatives in China.
Tuesday night was a special night for my family as it was a reminder of life back in China. I’ve visited China multiple times, and when we were not frolicking in the rain or munching on freshly-picked lychee bunches, we were eating Kou Rou. In a shed beside the chicken coup and durian farm, my grandpa would cook in his makeshift kitchen. Immigrating to America was a difficult transition for my family, but one thing remained constant: cooking. My grandpa and his brother would go on to open up their own restaurant in which my grandpa served as the Executive Chef. At home, my grandpa was always on the search for new dishes to cook, whether it’d be watching cooking shows on TV or searching up recipes on Youtube. Above all, my grandpa loved cooking in his outdoor kitchen that was reminiscent of his kitchen back in China.
The outdoor kitchen was simple: out in the open, the kitchen had a single stovetop with a sink and side table. When my grandpa wasn’t cooking or looking up recipes, he would be cleaning his outdoor kitchen. Rain or shine, near or far, my family would always make it down to my grandparents’ place for Tuesday night dinner, but it would soon come to an unexpected end. In January of this year, my grandparents were forcibly evicted from their homes and had to find a new place to live. Not only did my grandpa have to leave behind a house that he helped build-up, but he also had to leave his prized possession: his outdoor kitchen. At the same time, my grandpa started to become ill as he had a loss of appetite and was too weak to stand on his own. What once was a passion for cooking became a memory of the past. After months of medical care and emergency hospital visits, my grandfather sadly passed away, but not without a relic: the Kou Rou recipe. Before his passing, my grandpa made Kou Rou one last time for our family.
The last time I saw my grandpa was in the hospital when I held his hand. “Gong Gong,” I called out. No response. “Gong Gong, once you can go home, I can make Kou Rou for you.” Gong Gong had always said that I made the best Kou Rou in the family. Slowly, he started to blink, and a smile formed on his face as he squeezed my hand one last time.
Kou Rou is a popular Chinese recipe that many families make, but for my family, it is more than a dish; it is a family memory. While we may not have our Tuesday family dinners anymore or Gong Gong by our side, we will always have Kou Rou.