Growing up, I was always in awe of first generation Asian-Americans who talk to their parents. I mean REALLY talk to them. Beyond just "This is what I did today" or "Auntie's dinner is on Saturday" or "This is what grade I got" or "This is how much I'm getting paid for this job."
Or maybe it was just me and my family. My brother and I had our own secret language, and another with our parents. We said what they wanted to hear, because they never seemed to like the truth. We learned to absorb criticism and keep our mouths shut.
I developed binge eating disorder that took over most of my twenties. In my thirties, as I started recovery in the form of two blogs (The Actor's Diet and Thick Dumpling Skin), I learned how to communicate with my parents through food. Of course my folks had always fed me. But I never asked questions -- I just ate what was in front of me, whatever my mother placed into my bowl with her chopsticks. When I began writing about my diet on a daily basis, I unearthed questions about who I was -- where I came from, who my family was. Who were they?
I introduced my parents to Farmer's Markets and Brita Filters. I was curious about the origin stories of dim sum on Sunday. Stinky tofu. Pork Floss. Why did we always have a tin of Danish Butter Cookies and Almond Roca in the pantry? We sat together and ate. More and more, we learned to sit together and not focus on the food - more on the conversation.
My father stopped cooking when I left for college, but when we were kids I remembered two dishes he had on heavy rotation: Pan Fried Pork Chops and Spaghetti.
The latter I knew the recipe by heart (jarred tomato sauce and an entire softball size white onion) but it's been more than a decade since I ate his Pork Chops. He passed away four years ago. As an adult, I never asked about the recipe, or requested that he make it. And lately, it's all I crave.
I visited my mother in NJ this past week and knew we had to document his Pork Chop recipe. The full, written version is available on my blog, The Actor's Diet, but here is a step-by-step video of us making it. Biting into my childhood didn't taste so sour anymore. It made me feel loved.
Lynn Chen is an actor, on-camera eater, podcaster, and body image activist. More info at lynnchen.com.