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love in styrofoam boxes

January 19, 2021


the dining room has three rules:
one, there should always be rice,
two, serve yourself or don’t eat,
and three, home-cooking feeds the heart but takeout feeds the soul.
somedays, dad will come home with the half-smile that is a side effect of a 9-5 job and armfuls of plastic white bags, the letters THANK YOU inked on them in bright, popping red. untie the double-knot to drown in the scent of wanton soup and watch the steam spiral up your glasses like a tea being stirred.
the styrofoam boxes are passed around, wooden chopsticks and the symphony of cracks as we break them in two. we pour the soup like it’s life elixir, calling dibs on who gets the noodles (and who takes the longest one).
fresh chao fan, chou dou fu, chow mein and cong you bing. we may not know what goes in these dishes--the foreign vegetables, the msg--and maybe the mystery is part of it. maybe we become detectives when we try to discern the flavors, mix szechuan sauces and dip baos into vinegar.
soy sauce circles the table endlessly, never stopping to rest. a chorus of “chi fan!” fills the room, reminding each other to eat and to eat well.
this food is part of us. the lo mai gai that bring comfort wrapped in lotus leaves, the har gau that fills us with warmth. pink and yellow paper menus scattered on the floor, where the english translations say “delicious roasted husband” when it’s more of something like tofu. there are stories in these platters, stories of family and legacy tucked under rice dough and oyster sauce. “your grandfather used to make the best dumplings.” “i learned how to wrap egg rolls when i was eleven!”
in the end, when we cut through egg tarts and bite into pineapple buns, (waiting for the filling to drip down our chins,) we know that even though it isn’t a home-cooked meal,
it has always tasted like home.
written from the perspective of an american-born chinese :)
to all my biligual buddies--the translation thing is really weird, isn't it? never fails to crack me up xD


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1 Comment
  • Zinniav

    So good. So so good! The line: "home-cooking feeds the heart but takeout feeds the soul" I have never read anything like this. It's intimate with just the perfect amounts of humor and melancholy.

    about 2 months ago