My father and I have always been great food partners, and we have always had a love for eating out. This is in memory of an unforgettable meal I had at one of his friend’s place. The family which I am talking about shifted to Canada in 2001 and I have not seen them since. However, I miss them and the time I spent with them growing up. 

The cold strikes my face first as I get out of my house, and hold my father’s hand as we walk over to the nearest bus stop. Our destination is a Chinese home a few stops away, and Mr, and Mrs. L and her son, W, waits for us. W is much older than me, a sixteen-year old, and I am quite in awe of him because he makes flowers out of paper, and sketches my face on a paper in quick, efficient strokes within minutes. 

Mr. L is a friend of my father – had extended an invitation to him to eat with them one day. My father, never a very formal person, requested a home-cooked meal, and nothing fancy or out of the way. I accompany him, my small feet marching in time with his big, quick ones. 

My father walks with a slight stoop, looking at the ground. He is not tall, or short, and people smile when they see him coming, because he is always on the move, making people smile with his words. Even if they are having a bad day, they would smile with him, sharing the latest “in” joke, or laughing at one of the quick parodies he had just composed in his head.  

Mrs. L lets us in, smiling widely. Its somewhere in the month of January, or February, 1993, and I am a ten-year old. We remove our shoes and pad across the carpeted hallway, towards the living room. It is tiny, but very clean and beautifully decorated. A small paper lantern hangs from the ceiling, and Mrs. L tells us that her son made it and put it up. I am fascinated by the colors and design.

After half an hour, the adults finish their small talk and tea (I declined it, as far as I remember… I was never the one for tea, in retrospect), while I read a book sitting on the sofa. We are then taken to the dining room, where the first thing I see is an assortment of bowls. As my father had requested, everything is kept simple, and we are served just like the rest on the table – and a pair of sticks appear in front of me.


I am fairly proficient with chopsticks, my fascination with them beginning with the cooking show “Yan Can Cook” where I learned the basics and then applied it on everything I ate for six months or so, to get the hang of it. My father opts for the fork. 

There is rice, a big bowl of it, and Mrs. L tells me to use it as the base, and mix things into it. She then proceeds to open the tops of the first two items we are supposed to eat. Stir fried green vegetables begin my meal, and I pick out some of it with my chopsticks, and proceed to mix it with the rice before eating. There is also a large platter of shrimp chips on one side, and I take one and munch on it. 

A lovely huddle of chopped vegetables, braised in soy sauce, is what I look at first, and well, I am never one who turns away from vegetables. A combination of sweet and sour, with pak choy, beans, mushrooms and other nameless goodies in it, the dish goes down well with a bit of chillies soaked in vinegar, and Mrs. L has a big bowl filled with it. I am never the shy one when it comes to chillies, and dump some on my rice while my father watches with a look of slight trepidation and awe. He has never been the one to like heat, and keeps a healthy distance between himself and it. I also spy a big bowl of “Yam Mien”, which is a simple dish of tossing noodles with some sauce rather than frying it with vegetables. 

The meal has only two more dishes. Mrs. L had promised to cook us steamed fish, and she brings it to the table. She does not eat with the rest of us, rather hovers over us like the good hostess she is while we eat. The steamed fish is covered with cilantro leaves and it is swept aside to reveal pale, soft flesh which parts easily. I flake the fish with my chopsticks and add a drizzle of the jus over my rice and gorge. 

There is also a bowl of braised pork in a slightly heavy soy-based sauce. The meat is sweet, tender, and with a rich, fat-laden sauce which is a sin in itself. I am absolutely mortified that I have no space in my stomach, but still I am able to get a few slices of the fatty pork down my gullet before I call it quits.

In place of dessert, there is a big platter of fresh-cut fruits, which Mrs. L presents to us proudly. I am already flailing after all that food, so I decide to lie down for a bit while my father joins the other adults for a chat. At some point of the meal (I do not remember when), my hostess gives me a red envelope. I open it to find a brand new, red 20-rupee note. At that moment, I would have probably killed a dragon for her, such is my happiness at seeing the money. She says that it is a tradition to give money during the Chinese New Year, and we nod in agreement, suddenly remembering that it is indeed the time. Happily, we linger for another hour before heading out for home, an expression of utter peace and contentment etched on our faces. 

The recipe I am sharing with you is called Yam Mien. It is made simply by tossing some noodles with spring onions, mustard greens, a basic sauce, in some fat. Mostly, I like using pig fat, but oil works too. To make it, cook 100 gm. noodles in water till they are mostly cooked. I have used Ramen noodles for quick cooking (minus the spicy taste maker it comes with), but slightly thick noodles will do better, actually. Combine together 2 tablespoon light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (Shao Xing Wine, also, this is optional), 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 2 tablespoon water together.

Heat 2 tablespoon cooking oil in a wok, add a handful of the white parts of chopped scallion, 6-7 cloves of garlic, and stir well to combine. Add the soy sauce-vinegar mixture, and follow with the noodles. Stir well till everything is heated up. Add a handful of chopped Mustard Greens (or spinach), a handful of chopped scallion greens, and a pinch of pepper if you like. Check for salt, add a bit more if needed, and serve with some more chopped scallions on top.  You can add cooked chicken, prawns, or fried and shredded eggs while adding the noodles too but I like this mostly with fried egg, and some chillies pickled in vinegar on top of it.

Gong Xi Fa Cai. It is the Year of the Horse, and have a great one.

Written by Poorna Banerjee

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