Just For Fun

Just Sprinkle Some In

Cooking together is as much about telling stories as it is about recipes

By Joyce Yu, ’07 BA, ’15 MA

May 21, 2021 •

It’s Sunday night and I’ve asked my mom to teach me how to make and wrap dumplings. This request is slightly bemusing to her, and I’m reminded of how, in childhood attempts to fit in with my classmates, I used to spurn Chinese food in favour of pizza. 

Now I have entered a stage of life in which I realize that forever ends pretty quickly, and the traditions in my family will be lost if I don’t practise them. I worry that losing these traditions might also mean losing the memories of my parents once they’re gone, and losing my culture with them. 

Getting an exact recipe from my mom is a hopeless effort. Her confident hands rarely measure anything and her instructions include “a handful of chives” and “splash of sesame oil,” and my favourite: “just sprinkle some in.” As we wrap dozens of dumplings, I ask her to retell the stories about her moving to Canada. She talks about how Japanese wooden, open-toed sandals, called geta, were an important trend in Hong Kong the year she moved. At 17, she was unwilling to let them go. Despite the weather, she wore them through the first week of winter in Canada sliding down the icy sidewalks in them. She laughs, telling me how she hid her bare toes, under bell-bottom pants, from her eagle-eyed eldest sister. 

As my mom makes more filling for the dumplings, I scramble to turn her casual measurements into something resembling a recipe. She retells a popular family story about the first time her eldest sister ever saw and drove in the snow. It was the winter of 1974, and my mom and grandparents had just arrived in Canada to join my aunt and her husband. All they knew about snow they’d learned from cartoons and sit-coms in Hong Kong. 

The story has evolved since the original telling, but it always ends the same. My auntie piled the others into the car for a shopping trip to Edmonton’s Londonderry Mall. In the parking lot, she encountered a large snowpile, where the snowplows had been at work. New to snow — and driving — she panicked and attempted to drive right through it, expecting the snow to make way like a pile of fluff. My mom describes how the car climbed the mini-mountain and became indisputably stuck. They had to get out in front of onlookers and shimmy down the snow pile to wait for rescue — my mom in her wooden sandals.

So, how did the dumplings turn out?

“They look like little bums,” I say, and my mama is very unimpressed with my observation.

“Haai! Joyce-a!” she responds.

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