Steaming hot plates of fried noodles, sauce-drenched shrimp chow fun dumplings, and sweet paste-filled sesame balls numbered so many that they almost fell off of the huge round table. My heart felt pleased while my stomach was restlessly growling. I was in Chicago visiting my grandma, or my Lola, on my mom’s side of the family, and it was a Sunday. When my mom was a kid, she and her cousins would go to Chinatown after church to eat dim sum, and the family tradition carried down to my generation too.
I filled my plate with enough food to hang off the edges and eagerly picked up my chopsticks; the sweet and salty flavors exploded into my mouth. Paradise. The smell of soy sauce and sweet shrimp flooded my nose. I tried my best to savor tasting every different food, but dim sum has never been the type of food that I have been able to eat slowly.
Eating dim sum is something that my family only does with my Lola. Even if our visit doesn’t fall on a Sunday, we never miss the opportunity. While the scene for great Chinese food is pretty small in my hometown of Pittsburgh, it’s amazing in Chicago, but this is not the only reason for sharing dim sum with Lola. Eating is a very big part of Filipino culture, and sharing meals with loved ones like Lola is very important. Dim sum doesn’t merely serve as eating great food; it functions as the sweet and spicy sauce to a fried spring roll dish, adding the perfect touch to my relationship with my grandmother. At the table, I glanced over to see my Lola smiling ear to ear. Had I not been busy contentedly eating, I would have had a huge grin on my face too.
Big dinner parties are the only times I have seen my extended Filipino family. Members on the Filipino side of my family have always been introduced to me as either my auntie or my uncle. As I got older, I came to understand that even though some people may not be related to me through blood, I was still taught to treat every family member or family friend with equal kindness and love. Last summer, my Lola’s 80th birthday celebration was held at my aunt’s house in Las Vegas, and all of my countless aunties and uncles were there. The classic food setup filled my aunt’s patio: tables were lined up next to each other and covered with huge aluminum platters of crunchy lumpia, buttered pancit, and of course perfectly roasted lechon! Not only was it a great celebration because I got to be with my Lola on her 80th birthday, but I got to spend time getting to know the family members I was less familiar with (most importantly while joyfully snacking on a plate filled with lumpia). The monstrous amount of food reconnected me and my second cousins, and I was able to talk to my favorite aunties Trixie, Ivy, and Jingle. I remember that night with the perfect-amount-of-sweet red bean paste of fried sesame balls stuffed in my mouth while listening to my cousins talk about college.
Food has always brought us together with savory smells of roasted pork, sweet bites of ube stuck to the roof of your mouth, and the frequent laughs that come along with them. I try my best not only to savor the high-quality noodles that I know I won’t find at home but also the time I have with my Filipino family. Whether in Chicago for a short weekend visit or in Las Vegas celebrating a birthday party, seeing my mom’s side of the family is not something I get to experience frequently. Even though my dad’s family mostly lives in my hometown, their ethnic background isn’t Filipino, and I’m not able to fully experience the Asian culture of my family at home; this makes the endless plates of dim sum and uncountable platters of Filipino food even more special to me. Through sharing meals with my mom’s side of my family, I am able to grow closer to relatives that I don’t have the privilege of being with often, whether it be playfully bickering about who gets the last piece of sponge cake or talking about how to cook cassava. Even though I always miss the amazing food while I’m at home, I miss spending time with my Filipino family even more. At home, although the flavors aren’t as powerful, eating Asian food always reminds me of my Lola laughing and smiling ear to ear.