I worked on Dish with my parents last week.
I visited my sister and her family in California and my parents met up with me there from Texas so that the whole family can be together. We did a lot of other fun activities as a family, but our conversations never strayed far away from food, always planning what the next meal will be or where to go. Sometimes I feel like food is the only thing I can talk about comfortably with my parents without getting into an argument. But that is a story for another day.
My parents each made two dishes for Dish. My mom made the dish which she learned from my grandma, which is also the dish that inspired Dish – Zha jiang mien. She also made “pearl” meatballs, which are meatballs covered with sweet sticky rice and then steamed. My dad made beef noodle soup (he has a secret ingredient!) and “revolution” bread. Both “pearl” meatballs and “revolution” bread were dishes that my sister and I had memories of. They were weird, we never saw them in restaurants and were mostly made when my parents had guests over for dinner. My dad’s “revolution” bread was especially strange – it’s a bread that’s extremely, extremely, extremely dense, slow “baked” on a frying pan with a super hard crust. There’s an interesting story that goes with this dish, but you’ll have to watch my Dish video.
There was a moment where my mom started to tell me the history of her family, which I have never heard her talk about before. Both of my parents’ family fled China when the Communists took over, and since my grandparents are deceased, I can only rely on my parents to tell me the stories of our families.
While my mother told me the stories I imagined my grandma acting as head of the family while my great grandfather worked abroad, taking care of her younger siblings and mother, working to support the family while going to college. I remember the black and white photos of her and my great aunts and uncles, wearing qipaos and cheongsams, coiffed hair and painted lips, so beautiful and handsome, so happy and full of dreams. Then war broke out and the family was scattered across three countries. Throughout the years they managed to pull the family somewhat together, but they would never all be together again.
They are all no longer, leaving behind generations of us, chasing happiness and dreams.
(This post was originally posted in Asian Arts Initiative's blog during the artist's residency in 2017)