It was a warm Saturday afternoon. Mom and I were sitting in the kitchen deciding what to make for dinner. She peered into the fridge and her eyes landed on the bowl of chicken stock that she had made. Over her shoulder she asked me,
“Why don’t we make 小笼包 (xiao long bao — XLB) for dinner?”
“What? You know how to make 小笼包?!” I exclaimed.
She smiled and said “We can try!” and pulled out the cutting board to start mincing the block of pork that she took out of the fridge.
I hadn’t finished studying for the day so I headed back upstairs while she bashed away with her cleaver at the meat, and waited until she called me down to help her assemble the buns.
A couple hours later, I came downstairs. The filling was mixed, the dough was rested and we were ready to roll. Mom cut off a chunk of dough, rolled it into a log and sliced them into little round nubs. I pressed them down flat like we do while making dumplings. Mom picked up the rolling pin and instructed me to roll out the dough just like we do with dumplings, but much thinner. I methodically rolled out each nub until my hands turned red and itchy.
While I rolled the nubs into paper thin rounds, Mom picked one sheet up, plopped a ball of meat filling in the centre, and gracefully pleated the top closed.
With all the little buns assembled, Mom thinly sliced some carrots and carefully matched each little parcel with a little carrot coaster. She placed them in our beaten bamboo steamer and let them cook for just a couple minutes, then removed the lid. The steam cleared and presented us with a dozen glorious little packages.
We set the table, called Dad for dinner and set down to eat. I gingerly picked up a 小笼包with my chopsticks, dipped it in vinegar and bit a tiny hole in the wrapping. A stream of soup spilled out into my spoon. I gave it a blow to cool down and slurped it up.
It was just as good (if not better) than any I had had in any restaurant.
My mom is a magician in the kitchen. She can make anything and turn anything into perfect bite. AND, it’s her birthday today.
Thank you mommy for teaching me everything that I ever learned in the kitchen. From when I was sat on the kitchen counter watching you make banana bread and smushing rounds of dough to make dumplings, to baking five banana breads in one week on my own and helping you making 小笼包, you gave me my love of food. I didn’t just learn to cook in the kitchen, I learned how to be who I am today. From”Momon” (our play on Kumon) to editing essays, from arts and crafts to playing cards, the kitchen is the heart of our family. You are the best chef, the heart of our family and the best mom. Love you.