Monday, April 25, 2005

Grandma's Dumplings

I was thinking about my grandma (Mom's Mom) today. She died nearly a year ago (and her birthday was two weeks ago), and I have many fond food memories associated with her. I bought a big coffee table type cookbook today called The Food of China, and something in there reminded me of her teaching me how to roll little round dumplings at her old house in East Van when I was a little girl. We sat together in her kitchen, dusted with flour, rolling a table-full of the little white balls with our hands. There's probably an equivalent food activity like that in every culture where little ones can sit down and learn and help in the kitchen. It's a very sweet memory. I also remember folding wun tun with my Mom and Dad all through my childhood and teen years. I remember going to my Grandma's house (which was just across the alley from the house I grew up in), which smelled distinctively of kitchen grease on those special occassion days when the whole extended family gathered there and she cooked for us all. Later in her life, we always gathered at her favourite Chinese restaurant (the upstairs No.1 Seafood Restaurant at 1st Avenue and Renfrew), where the staff all knew her and flirted and joked with her constantly. But when I was really little, I remember all the relatives from my Mom's side gathering at the old house with the worn, dark green carpet. Without my bounty of store-bought toys with me, I would play "restaurant" with what I could find, serving anyone who would humour me, plates of old string spaghetti, and using the broken black rotary phone to make all those important restauranteur phone calls I needed to make. The kitchen of my chef-owned restaurant was behind the beat-up recliner in the living room. Grandma would be in the real kitchen, making things like mountains of deep fried dumplings. She made round, dark brown ones decorated with a few sesame seeds, filled with sweet black paste, and chewy, flat white semi-circle ones with crimped edges, filled with bits of dried shrimp, meat, and vegetables. I have only eaten the ones made by my grandma, and in fact, have never seen them anywhere else. I think I would appreciate those white ones even more now, since I've finally aquired a taste for those dried shrimp, but I always liked the dumplings anyway, and always associated them with Grandma. I always think of her smiling and laughing too, both then and now. I miss her, and am thankful for my warm and distinct memories of her.

Incidentally, I found a great line in that cookbook I bought. For the dish, "Ants Climbing Trees" - a spicy Sichuan dish of bean thread noodles and ground pork - the authors caution "Make sure you separate all the ground meat as it cooks, or it will form large lumps and not resemble ants at all." Because, of course, everyone wants their food to resemble bugs whenever possible! Well, at least I do!


SaabKen said...

I have the same book I think (large volume with picture of dried green bean noodles on front ?). Very easy to read, good overview of regional cuisines and ingredients, pictures are large and enticing. One should definitely not peruse it while hungry. This book is inexpensive yet I'm proud of having it in my cookbook collection.

I admit I've not made any dishes from the recipes of this book (but I know I could if I wanted to) since most of my homemade Chinese dishes done spontaneously. BUT it's great to have a user-friendly compendium containing many of the acclaimed regional dishes that communicates the diversity and sophistication of both imperial Chinese culinary arts and everyday home cooking.

And yes, perusing the book certainly invokes fond memories of family gatherings and the foods that were so integral to them.

PS: a great companion to this book is Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Torontonians) better known for their recent publication "Hot Sour Salty Sweet"

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have the Foods of China Cookbook as well as Seductions of Rice. I was able to find Foods of China for a very, very good price and have bought a couple a gifts. The other books in the series (Foods of India, Foods of France, and Foods of Italy) are also lovely. I plan on buying the Foods of Thailand in the future.
I real enjoy the recipe style of the author, Nina Simonds,. I have 2 other books of hers too, A Spoonful of Ginger and Classic Chinese Cuisine. I have tried recipes from Ginger and they have turned out wonderful. Will be trying two other recipes( steamed bbq pork buns, and tea smoked chicken) from those two books next week.
I have fond memories of cooking with my grandma too, especially during Chinese New Years.


Anonymous said...

Hi Cuz,

Amazing. You managed to remind me of childhood memories long gone. I recall playing with you behind that armchair and the chairs beside that. Don't know how we ever fit back there, and I even think younger cousins joined us at one point too.

Yes, I miss Grandma and related food experiences too. Remember every year she used to produce huge batches of those lotus-leaf-wrapped rice dumplings -- the white savoury ones tied in white string and the "sweet" one with that "stick" in the middle that we'd eat with sugar or syrup, tied in red string.

And I have yet to find any new year's cake -- the sweet, chewy stuff -- like hers, topped with sesame seeds and dried persimmon and red dates. Once, in my twenties, I had her demonstrate how to make it and I wrote down her recipe. It's packed away somewhere for me to rediscover it one day.

And her vegetable garden! She could grow anything like nobody's business and even managed to keep it up on a much smaller scale when she moved to her condo.

As for books, try Grace Young's "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen." It's the closest thing I've found to authentic Chinese home cooking like our parents make.

Thanks again for triggering those memories.

-- Wanda

SaabKen said...

Well said Wanda. Those of you fortunate enough to have grandparents who are still alive should do your best to capture the kitchen wisdom (and other types of wisdom) from them while it's still possible. No cookbook can ever replace the small nuggets of cooking experience and wisdom that our parents and grandparents possess. Of course each family probably claims to make the best [name-your-dish-here] :-)

Hmm, lotus rice dumplings ....

For additional Chinese food blogging, try Ken Ng's Vancouver Food Blog:

Sorry Nancy, not trying to add competition here !

Dumpling_Girl said...

Thanks, Wanda. I thought of you when I posted this one, actually. Yup, I remember those leaf-wrapped rice dumplings, and the garden. I'd love to see that recipe you wrote out sometime, and try it out!

linda said...

I feel like a voyeur, but I just wanted to say that was a beautiful, moving piece of writing! I could see your "restaurant".

Dumpling_Girl said...

Awww, that's sweet of you to say, Linda. Thanks so much!

Dumpling_Girl said...

Don't worry about competition. In fact, I'm still eagerly awaiting the day you start your own blog! I'll figure out a way to display my favourite food links soon. Thanks for your comments. On the topic of cookbooks, I'm easily tempted, and have a nice little collection myself. Especially when I see a bargain. Recently rediscovered the cookbook section at Book Warehouse (I was at the Davie St. one), where I could even find relatively new titles (such as Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook) for good prices. The Food of China one I picked up at Ming Wo in Chinatown where there were several books there for up to 75% off.

SaabKen said...

Since I've been dabbling in the culinary classes at the new Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver since last fall, my interest in cookbooks is shifting towards techniques than recipes. I was at Barbara Jo's recently and saw a nice compendium of culinary skills (with some recipes) called "The Professional Chef" published by the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA ...). I gotta get it, it'll be the first $100 cookbook in my library ! And my birthday is not far away ......

SaabKen said...

Found a link to the book:

Dumpling_Girl said...

Ken, on the link, it suggests you buy The Professional Chef with a copy of Larousse Gastronomique. I have the Larousse and love it, so I highly recommend it if you don't have it. I have coveted the CIA book before.

For anyone looking for some food porn, here's a link that shows three books in a series called Grand Finales, all about artful presentation of plated desserts. The Art of the Plated Dessert, and A Modernist View of Plated Desserts are two of my favourite cookbooks. I would love to get the Neoclassic one too.

SaabKen said...

Thanks Nancy. I went to Metrotown Chapters over lunch yesterday and saw The Professional Chef there for cover price of C$101, actually cheaper than BJ's. Although I personally avoid buying from Chapters, in this case I may cave in. Beside TPC was a copy of Larousse Gastronomique and yes, it is impressive indeed ..... sort of the "Everything You Wanted to Know About French Culinary but Were Afraid to Ask" guide. For $75 it sure is a bargain. Another cookbook to add the the wishlist :-)

SaabKen said...

Stumbled across a great ookbook/travel guide called Paris in a Basket at Chapters on Broadway/Granville. Lots of pictures, recipes, food and people stories and writeups about the farmers markets themselves in Paris. Even has the markets' schedules, even addresses and nearest metro stations.

A great buy for $14.99 on sale (was $30). Written by Nicolle Aimee Meyer & Amanda Pilar Smith, Konemann 2000.

A great addition to your cookbook collection, especially now with the local farmers markets opening.