Tomato Cabbage and Egg Soup

Warmness.
It was after my first ever survival training the the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. I had spent three long days sleeping and training on dirt soaked with water and covered with rotten leaves in a remote forest. It was a typical Canadian winter — heavy rain, cold biting wind, and despair in my heart. I’ve been struggling to stuff freezing MRE into my mouth because food was essential to survival in such a grim environment. My tongue refused to taste yet my stomach screamed in coldness and hunger. Each night I slept with my eyes open in the small tent I built by myself with few sticks I found and a piece of “waterproof” fabric the RCAC provided. The overwhelming Water droplets squeezed into the gaps of the fabric and danced on my face. I’d count each second until 6:15 AM — when the blaring sound of the bugle would wake us up and… another day.

I memorize all these trivial details so vividly partly because of my deteriorating mental state throughout the three days of training. I can clearly recall that on the last night I convinced myself to not die because the next morning I could go home.
I don’t know how to describe the relief I felt when I saw that familiar white SUV parked in front of the doors at the squadron’s headquarter. My dad welcomed me with a smiling face and a warm embrace. I felt grateful looking at the interior of my house — the ceramic lamp was giving off a dim and soft light, the baby blue blanket made by mom covered a corner of the sofa, and my little betta fish named Jayden swam cheerfully in his little home. My dad said to me, “ you must be hungry! Let me make something quick for you.” and hurried to the kitchen. Soon enough, I smelled a mouthwatering aroma from the kitchen — something that’s one hundred times better than MRE…no, maybe two hundred times. My dad came to me with a bowl of steaming tomato cabbage and egg soup, a simple Chinese homemade dish. The red sliced tomatoes and jade green cabbage leaves made a bright contrast. The vegetable soup was embellished with golden fried egg omelette so that it tasted both refreshing and flavourful. The crispiness of the cabbage, the silky egg omelette, and a slight touch of sweet and sour tomatoes danced in harmony. No doubt, it was the perfect dish for me at that particular night — simple yet invigorating. Its warmth not only went down my throat and soothed my empty stomach but also went directly to my heart. It might have been the steam coming out of the soup but by the moment I took the first sip I was immediately misty-eyed.

That bowl of tomato cabbage and egg soup was the most delicious meal I’ve had for really long time, and I think it’s because of its taste of home.

Electric

The tomato sauce, bright with specs of green (oregano), covered my lips as I slurped the long, knotted, homemade pasta we overcooked. The eggplant Parmesan was cold and seemed like it soaked in its own water but it was deliciously cheesy. All the effort we put in to prepare this birthday dinner helped us ignore the few mistakes we made along the way. We even had seconds. And thirds.

It was fascinating to watch the filamentous beaten eggs slowly being incorporated into the ring of flour formed onto the kitchen’s working surface. Heaps of flour could be found even on the kitchen floor. Once I manage to blend the flour and eggs in a somewhat homogenous mix, Anna took over and started kneading the dough. Watching my tomboy girlfriend painfully handling the task while wearing a bright pink apron on which could be read the word “princess” made me laugh so hard I had to take a video to commemorate the event.

Giving the dough its actual pasta form proved to be more mechanical than expected, but was quickly done in three simple steps:

1. Roll out the dough to make it thinner
2. Insert the dough in a (preferably) shiny, silver pasta machine’s opening
3. Crank the pasta maker as many times as needed to make long, thin, stringy pasta

Making the eggplant Parmesan failed to be as exciting as making the pasta itself, but the process was nonetheless interesting. Anna pulled out an enormous tub of breadcrumb to cover the eggplant slices while I grated some cheese and waited for the oil to sizzle in the pan. I was in charge of grating the said cheese, while little drops of boiling oil flew off the pan and burnt our arms.

The white wine we drank and the electronic ambient music we listened to created a perfect, mellow ambiance, which was mixed with a feeling of closeness and intimacy brought by cooking together. She made sure to set up the table in her dining room with the fanciest cutlery and plates she could find. Anna even bought a simple, glass water jug to make the dinner seem that more special. We talked for hours, and felt like we were the only people on Earth for a moment, until we noticed Anna’s younger sister quietly coming down the stairs to sneakily take some food back to her room.

Food takes an essential and central part in our lives. We were both brought up to appreciate and enjoy it, rather than just see the technical and necessary aspect of it. This food memory is therefore made even more notable by the fact that we prepared it and worked hard for it—together. Eating the food we made was not the highlight of this dinner, although it still was an essential element of it.

Food: A Privilege, a Routine, a Weapon

by Quentin

Growing up I had two mums: birth-giver and caretaker. While my birth mum came home almost every day, she worked very long hours, and so I spent most of my time with my Indian nanny: Geeta. My mum also spent several years in residency school training for her medical profession and was required to spent many nights away from home. I spent far more time with Geeta than my mother from before I entered kindergarten to the end of my Junior year of high school. I even used to call Geeta “mom” constantly by mistake which would upset my actual mother. Geeta was from India, and had spent most of her life there. As such, Geeta raised me and my siblings with different values and a different set of worldviews involving food. Food may seem like an insignificant factor in your life, but in mine, it has shaped me as a person.

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to throw out food or even speak to one another during meal time. Food is a privilege, not a right is what we were taught. Geeta made my siblings and I eat every crumb of food in silence: just as her dad made her growing up. Focus should be on the food not the conversation. She would always say, “people are sick and dying for food”. We were each expected to consume all the food presented to us on our plates, under threat of being struck by the large wooden spoon I now use to cook pasta at home. When we’d start to chatter or argue during dinner (as children often do) she would grab that spoon or her favorite frying pan and lift it up as if preparing to strike.

Geeta was also a women of pattern. Every day, all those years, we received the exact same meals and meal order without fail. Each exact meal corresponded with a day of the week:

Monday: Stove-cooked steak, microwaved green beans, and sticky, buttery rice with a cup of milk and fruit.

Tuesday: Chicken (sometimes substituted out for awful fish sticks with ketchup), side of pasta and Broccoli with a cup of milk and fruit.

Wednesday: Cannot remember currently.

Thursday (My favorite): Salmon, mixed vegetables, and pasta, with a cup of milk and fruit.

Friday (second favorite): Sliced Hot dog pieces with ketchup, mixed vegetables (from frozen package), and corn, with a cup of milk and fruit.

Food however, wasn’t always my friend. At times, it seemed more of the enemy. Geeta was more traditional in her forms of parenting. She believed children, particularly “stupid boys” needed to be strictly disciplined. One of her signature methods was by using weaponized food she kept in our freezer at all times. I distinctly remember getting into an argument with my brother one afternoon at dinner when we were kids. I cannot recall what the argument was about, however, I remember Geeta shouting and pulling out her bag of ‘Hot Indian chillies’ as she called it. I remember refusing to be silenced and she, as a result, said she would shove the hot peppers into my mouth. I, being the rebellious child that I was, refused to open my mouth. Unfortunately, Geeta always had a solution: she grabbed my nose until I gasped for air, and then squeezed the pepper juice into my mouth. I tried to pretend it wasn’t affecting me, however, I still ended up bursting into tears. To this day I can still hear her telling me, “That’s just the juice”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Geeta very much and I still remain in contact with her. I have many great memories of her teaching me how to cook various Indian dishes such as chickpeas and dal and watching Tom and Jerry with her as she laughed and clapped each time Jerry the mouse injured Tom the cat. The way she raised me has certainly influenced my life. To this day I still set patterns for myself constantly. I think setting routines for myself helps me feel comfortable and safe. I still feel privileged every time I eat, and to be completely honest, I still get ancy whenever I see someone eat chilies or pass them in the supermarket.

A taste of home

by Anonymous

Going to my grandparents’ house up in northern Japan was always something I looked forward to. I got to eat whatever I wanted and my grandma knew what my favorite foods were. What I happened to look forward to the most, was a Japanese dish called “niku-jyaga” which translates to meat and potatoes. It’s not like the German meat and potatoes. It wasn’t as dry, and it wasn’t as “manly” or “hearty.” My grandma’s niku-jyaga was more moist and stewy. Natural juices from the beef was blended with the sweetness of the onions, the carrots, and the Japanese condiments used to stew everything together. My earliest memory of my encounter with this dish was when I was five years old. It was a cold winter day in Koriyama, where the dry winds slap your face and make your spine shudder. It was the kind of cold that made you crave soup. My grandma told me that because we were going to have a family dinner, she was going to make niku-jyaga. As an eager child, I jumped to help her peel the potatoes and carrots, and sloppily dumped ingredients into the hot pot. I stood on my little stool, watching my petite grandma dirty her apron and work her magic with a smile. As the scent of niku-jyaga began to fill the house, my grandfather, a man with a nose of a dog, came downstairs. He pointed his long thin fingers at the pot and told my grandma she needed to add more salt. My ill uncle wobbled down the stairs and took his seat and gave his signature crooked smile at the sight of me cooking with his mother. As the niku-jyaga was almost complete, my parents come home, dressed in their business suits, and I ran into their arms and told them I cooked for them. My father, tall and muscular laughs at my excitement, while I pull on my mother’s hand to urge her to sit. As they all sit down, my grandmother and I bring out the niku-jyaga and I brag that I helped make this beautiful concoction. “Itadakimasu” we say and sat down to eat. The niku-jyaga tasted like home. Though my Chinese grandmother and my own mother tried to recreate it, their versions never tasted the same as my Japanese grandmother’s. Her’s tasted like home. I tasted the warmth of her smile, the time put in to cook, and the love she has for me. Her niku-jyaga, to me, will always be the epitome of what home cooking tastes like.

Japanese Halibut

by Anonymous

It was the summer of 2014 when my aunt and cousin came to visit my mom and I in New Jersey. By that, I mean, of course, they wanted to go see Manhattan. During our stay in New York, we decided to go to a Japanese restaurant on the Upper East Side. On the night of that dinner, we encountered a small encumbrance on our way to fish paradise. It was a Friday, during rush hour, and there were no cabs available. The hotel was located in midtown, and the restaurant was more than thirty blocks away. Our options were either walking or biking. My aunt and cousin immediately voted for biking since we wanted to experience what biking in the city felt like. However, what my relatives did not know was I had a fear of riding bikes, especially in a city with so many cars, ever since I fell off a bike at seven, which resulted in a permanent scar on my right knee. Knowing this fact, my mom told me the decision was completely mine to make to whether to walk or to bike. After five minutes of deep introspection, and imagining what my funeral would look like, I made the grave decision to hop on that absurdly tall Citi bike.

I held on tight to the handlebar, and sat stiffly, like a wooden stick on that bicycle. During the whole journey, I rode in silence, completely focused on the back of my cousin’s head, fearful of being left behind, and getting run over. After twenty minutes, we arrived to the restaurant safely. When we entered the restaurant, we were greeted with the utmost of Japanese hospitality. The maître d’ guided us to our table, where immediately hot teas, along with cold water, were put in place. When we sat down on the chairs and settled in, I finally drew a breath, and sighed peacefully. After feeling relaxed, I began to take in the atmosphere of the restaurant. It was cozy; the maximum capacity of customers allowed was around thirty. The waiter came around and I decided to opt for the omakase (selections by the chef) because after having the most dangerous ride of my life, I simply could not make any more decisions.

Not making a choice about what I should eat was the best decision I made. The omakase was exceptionally amazing and innovative. The first course kicked off with one fresh oyster lying gracefully in its shell on top of a bed of moss green seaweed. The second course consisted of perfectly sliced sashimi. The plate of fish was like a piece of Andy Warhol’s art. The fish were vibrant shades of red, pink, and yellow. The toppings on the fish were what really made the sushi pop. The fish were either decorated with unique sauces, such as tofu puree, or combined with distinct food like seared tomatoes. However, the surprise had yet to come.

When the waiter came out with the third course of nigris and started introducing the fish, I was unable to hear a word he said. I was completely enraptured by the sight of the seared Japanese Halibut. The halibut was eggshell white with chestnut colored streaks. The sashimi draped elegantly over a bed of perfectly sized oval- shaped rice. On top of the fish, there was a precisely rounded poached egg sitting gently in the center of the body of the nigiri. This work of exquisiteness was finished off with a drizzle of truffle oil. When I tasted the sushi, it was as if a Mentos-Coke experiment took place in mouth. The halibut melted instantly when I took the first bite. Then, the liquid egg yolk came into mix with the fish and rice. The taste of the egg and truffle oil was delightful, for they did not overpower, but blended heavenly with the halibut. My feelings at that moment could only be best represented by a Pollock painting.
I could never have tasted that impeccable piece of sushi if I had not conquered my fears about riding a bike.

Chocola!

by Anonymous

Chocolate. Chocolate everywhere – on the smooth surface, on the sides, dripping steadily down towards the plate. The drizzled snowflake designs on the top of the pudding put one in mind of freezing Holland winters, not burning Arizona summers. Chocolate is more of a winter food, or at least a cold weather food, definitely not suitable for the Sonoran desert. Survival mechanisms here include: avoid outdoors as much as humanely possible between the months of May and October, scurry from one air conditioned haven to another, consume solely ice-cold drinks and ice-cold food. My grandmother, however, was a firm believer in the restorative powers of chocolate. She fostered this knowledge on us during one hazy summer afternoon where the heat shimmered in waves off of the pavement and thermometers reached 115 Fahrenheit.

My grandmother came from a tiny town in Northern Holland, where it snows up to three feet in a “light flurry” and where the method of transportation for most months is skating on frozen canals. I visited, once, when I was 12 years old. It was a fairytale village – pointed rooftops, green shutters, window flower boxes. A canal cut directly through the center, with houseboats moored there for the summer. One, a small blue-lined thing, was home to an old lady who gave me massive cookies and told stories of her life. I ate the semisweet chocolate and nodded politely as she showed me faded photographs of days long gone now.

Arizona summers are furnaces of boiling, still air. The dusty ground cracks and forms spiderwebs across the dry land, and the roads look like they have water on them even when there’s none there. My grandmother was not a fan of this weather. She loved the cold, she loved the snow, and she loved chocolate. And that meant, the first time she came to visit us in Arizona, she came prepared, with bags of chocolate, raisins, and more chocolate. We were about to be blessed with her famous chipolatapudding, a traditionally Dutch dessert— three types of chocolate, glazed with sugar, dotted with raisins, made kid friendly by the substitution of melted dark chocolate inside of the typical Maraschino liquor.

Although the heat was as oppressive as ever and everything in my brothers’ and my bodies were telling us to avoid heavy foods, we watched eagle-eyed as the pudding was completed and placed majestically on its plate. As we eagerly prepared to begin eating, a thunderclap outside heralded the arrival of rain.

When it rains in Arizona, it really rains. We rushed to the front door and flung it open, standing in the shelter of the small overhang and watching the torrents of rain crashing down. Up and down our street, our neighbors were doing the same. The end of the road was shrouded in sheets of water, and the giant cactus in our neighbor’s yard swayed in the strong gusts of wind. My grandmother waved hands covered in chocolate and sugar towards the gray thunderheads and exclaimed “gezegende regen!” (blessed rain!)

My brothers and I sat crosslegged just outside the front door and dug into the pudding to the soundtrack of thunder and rain on tiled roofs. It was as good as expected – the hard chocolate shell breaking apart to reveal the creamier chocolate inside, the raisins tasting better than they could ever taste by themselves, everything melting on my tongue in delicious celebration.

My grandmother leaned against the doorframe and watched us proudly, close cropped hair dusted with sugar and fingers tipped with chocolate. Later, she taught us a clapping game and kept the rhythm in chanted Dutch, still smelling of three kinds of chocolate and hair frosted with delicate grains of sugar. The remains of the chipolotapudding rested on the kitchen counter, invoking thoughts of snowy villages and frozen canals in Holland amidst the boiling Arizona desert.

Sausages and Carrot Soup

by Anonymous

When I was a child my (generally musical) Mum went through a two decade long early music phase. She, and her friend, had monthly recorder lessons in Nottingham, and I would often be taken along (for childcare more than education.) One month my mum ended up having to cook lunch, in her teacher’s house, for her teacher’s family, and for us (I remember thinking that was a bit weird. I still do.) It was a very big and posh feeling house, and so when mum opened a fridge with nothing in it but sausages and a bag of carrots, I was a bit concerned. We had carrot soup and sausages. I had butter on my sausages. They were great, but I thought I would rather be poor, and have ketchup.

Egg Drop Soup

by Anonymous, London

I was staying with an American family one spring in Connecticut. I was twenty. My host, a woman whose family my mother had au paired for when she was young, was leaving the house for lunch. In order to ensure that I had food to eat she had ordered some simple food from a Chinese restaurant that we went to collect before she delivered me home. I can’t remember if there was anything else to the meal except this – but I remember the egg drop soup, not just for its elegantly self explanatory name. It was a broth with a few scant noodles and silky filaments of egg that must have been dropped and stirred into not quite boiling soup. Every time I have tried to replicate this I have ended up with a cloud of shapeless egg fragments or great hunks of fluffy egg. I think the secret must be to do with the temperature and the way the egg is dropped. It is one of those meals I sometimes think about researching – to find out exactly what it was I ate and how I should make it. It is better left as a mystery, and when I finally manage to replicate the effect of that simple and delightful lunch, it will be all the more satisfying.

Eating pasta salad on a doorstep in Canada

by Sarah

I remember eating a homemade pasta salad on the back doorstep of a family friend’s house in the country outside Ottawa, Ontario, Canada whilst on holiday in the mid 1990s. I was looking out over their backyard to their barn and stables and the landscape beyond, which felt like one of the biggest open spaces I had ever seen in my life. I ate the salad with a fork straight from the large bowl it had been mixed in and it was delicious. Every now and then the memory of the taste of that salad dressing returns to me and I crave it to distraction, but I have never found it again.