By Xinyu Guan, PC ’18
Food is an essential part of childhood memories, so it’s no wonder that food remains such an important family ritual in China. In this article, Xinyu reminisces about her grandma’s cuisine, particularly her cooking chive boxes.
对我来说，外婆做的韭菜盒子是很难被超越的 — — 剁得碎碎的韭菜拌着打花的鸡蛋、略炒熟的肉丝和粉条，再混上老抽和糖做成馅儿，之后包在大一号的饺子皮里煎到金黄。想想其实做韭菜盒子并不是一件特别复杂的事，但我们一家三口就偏偏没有人想到去学。每隔一段时间，我和妈妈总要打电话给外婆叨念我们有多馋她的韭菜盒子。一般没过几天，我们就登上了从上海回西安的飞机。
My grandma makes the best chive box. I guess you could say that chive box bears a certain resemblance to hot pockets. Chopped chives, eggs, pork and vermicelli, seasoned with soy sauce and sugar, wrapped in dumpling dough and fried until they turn golden-brown. Nothing too complicated. And yet no one in my family seems to know how to make them. Every once in a while, my mum and I would call my grandma and tell her how much we miss her chives boxes. Two days later, we would be on a plane back to Xi’an, the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization and my grandparent’s home for more than thirty years.
No matter how late we arrive and how many times we tell my cousin and aunt not to come, they would always be at the airport, ready to comment on the slightest changes in our physical appearances and report that everyone has been “too excited to sleep”. My grandpa would be waiting downstairs of their apartment, guarding the one empty parking space, while my grandma prepares plates and plates of readily made, pan-fried chives boxes with two small bowls of red bean porridge on the side. The unwritten rule is that as soon as we enter, we have to sit down and start gobbling. No small talk. No pleasantries. Just pick up a chives box, dip it into vinegar and enjoy the intense flavor and warmth that come with this traditional dim sum. We are expected to eat as many as we can: be it six o’clock in the morning or eleven o’clock at night, five chives boxes is the absolute minimum.
For ten years, this quiet, fifteen-minute ritual with food and family has been what my mum and I looked forward to and returned to in times of loneliness and frustration. Whenever we were struggling in business negotiations, endless daily chores or the college application process, we would think about the delicious chives boxes on my grandparents’ dinner table and how incredibly lucky we were to be loved and cherished by our family. Even if we couldn’t board a plane right away, we would call them, ask them what they ate for dinner, and promise a visit as soon as possible.
Today, my grandparents are both still healthy, but I can no longer continue our ritual. We are and we will be, for at least another three years, a fifteen-hour flight apart. The twelve-hour time difference, their reluctance to learn how to use Skype and the constant distractions in my chaotic college life make it hard for us to remain as close as we were before. I order chives boxes at every Chinese restaurant that offers them; I asked my grandma for a complete recipe and tried making them myself during fall break. Yet nothing comes close to the flavor that I was used to. There are moments late at night — usually when I am studying for an upcoming midterm at Bass Library or lying awake in my bed worrying about my science credit — when I suddenly have this irrepressible and irresistible urge to go home, to have my grandparents sit right beside me as I stuff a whole chives box in my mouth. Then I would quietly go to sleep knowing that this is the price of leaving home.