Home is where the soup is

Off the Beat

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Fallen Leaf Lane, Los Altos. King Street, San Francisco. West Avenue, Miami Beach. Desert Inn Road, Las Vegas. And oh boy, there’s more. 

With two long-divorced parents with strong affinities for adventure and U-Hauls, I’ve moved more than a couple of times. All in all, I’ve had 13 new beds in 13 new homes. And this past winter break, we moved again. 

My mom called me in November to break the news, and wow, mamma mia, here we go again. We would be packing up the house in the time between Christmas and New Year’s so that we’d be finished by the time I had to go back to school. I was wrapping up my first semester at UC Berkeley and had just settled in, so much so that I’d begun to call dear old Unit 3 residence hall home. But there was going to be something different about this move: I wasn’t going to get a bed.

No bed? Well, that wasn’t a welcoming sign. My mom laid it out for me. Because this apartment only had two smallish bedrooms, it didn’t make sense for my sister to have a second bed shoved into her room. Most of my stuff was already in Berkeley, I’d be getting an apartment next year and how often did I even come home anyway? This would be no issue, as they had a dope air mattress that I could use if I ever did come home. 

I was stunned. My mom didn’t mean to be harsh; this decision was logical, practical and cost-effective. I got it. But it did feel a bit as though she was kicking me out, giving me the boot, throwing me out of any shared family home. 

Early on the morning of the move, I stood in the backyard of my last childhood home, clutching a cup of coffee. As I watched the sunrise, I threw myself a pity party. Was this the last time I would feel at home? Would this mark the true end of my childhood? Was that really the last night I’d sleep without a roommate for the foreseeable future?

The next couple of days flew by as my family moved boxes between homes, shoved old pots and pans into new drawers and cabinets, and argued about the best places to hang each picture.

Finally, at the end of the week, my family sat down for lunch around our dining room table. It had followed us in our past two moves. In this new apartment, it sits awkwardly wedged between the fridge and a forlorn stepladder. We were all worn out and craving some easy takeout, but my mom suggested a trip to 99 Ranch Market. “Just like we used to do when you were kids,” she said excitedly. She pestered and prodded us until we were begrudgingly pulling on sweatshirts and shoes, packing into her sedan and going to the Chinese grocery story.

Growing up, all of the food I ate was Chinese. For years, it was rice and dumpling-making every Saturday. Every winter, bamboo shoots would soak in a delectable broth. My family would proudly bring Shanghainese delicacies to potlucks and Chinese New Year celebrations.

Then, tragically, I grew up. 

Work picked up for my parents and free time was spent driving from school to piano lessons to track meets. No one had time to craft traditional dishes, and my family had more Trader Joe’s frozen dumplings than handcrafted ones.

But walking into 99 Ranch Market launched me back into my childhood. Here, in the hot food section, I’d beg my mom to bring home roasted duck and pork buns. There, in the row of bamboo, we’d choose a canned or fresh variety to chop up and throw into my mom’s signature winter soup, Yan Du Xian, which was on the menu tonight. 

Back home, my sister and I watched, wide-eyed, as my mom added a pinch of this and a dash of that into her culinary masterpiece. My mom saw my wide eyes and explained her pinches and dashes and how they went into the soup (can’t share, sorry, it’s a family recipe). I pestered her into teaching me more family dishes — I’d be living on my own soon, and I wanted to be able to take home with me.

The tofu skin knots are iconic; the Chinese salted pork is always exquisite. Whenever I’d take that first sip, whether I was 9 years old or 19, I’d buzz with warmth. In every home we’d lived in, that environment of warm people and warm food has come along. For a long time, that winter soup has been my home. Eating it with rice around a table with my mother and sister while we catch up and joke around is what brings me home. Our traditions would be the same no matter where we lived, how old I was or if I had my own bed. I look forward to furthering our traditions on all of my visits home (besides, the air mattress probably isn’t even that bad).

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.