"For breakfast she was given bread toasted over an open flame, sweetened yogurt, a small banana with green skin. Her grandmother reminded Deepa, before she set out for the market, not to buy a certain type of fish, saying that the bones would be too troublesome. Watching Bela try to pick up rice and lentils with her fingers, her grandmother told Deepa to fetch a spoon. When Deepa poured Bela some water from the urn that stood on a little stool, in the corner of the room, her grandmother reproached her.
'Not that water. Give her the boiled water. She's not made to survive here.'"
—The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri
As always, Jhumpa Lahiri brings up a few points that are relevant to my own second-generation upbringing. In this case, she reminds me to reflect on how family ties weaken between generations and continents. Indeed, how can they not? One lives in America and the other in Asia. One uses forks, the other uses fingers. Just like Bela felt disconnected from India and her grandmother in the above passage, I have definitely experienced moments of feeling excluded from my relatives in Taiwan, whether it's my unfamiliarity with the colloquial language, or something else.
One thing I don't think I'll ever do as well as my grandmother is make scallion pancakes. I don't know if it's because I was born and raised in America, or if it's just that I need more practice. What I do know is that I just can't seem to get them right. Maybe I'm missing the magic touch, but I'll keep trying again and again until I get better at it, in memory of my grandmother. She was awesome at making these. My sister used to ask her to make them with extra scallions every time, because she loved the oniony flavor. Turns out that complying with this request was no easy feat. If you add too many scallions, the dough gets too wet to roll out. I have no idea how my grandmother managed to get it to work. Perhaps it's some magical power that only grandmothers have. Or maybe I just need to try a new recipe.
The following is one humble granddaughter's attempt at making one of her favorite Chinese dishes, in memory of her grandmother. They turned out decent, but definitely not grandmother-worthy. Give me a few more decades and maybe I'll get the hang of it.
Yields two 7" pancakes
1 cup flour
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup finely chopped scallion greens (save the whites for an omelette or some other use)
Step Two: In the meantime, chop the scallion greens and set aside.
Step Three: Divide the dough into two and roll each one out into a 7" disc. You can eyeball this if you have super Grandma-esque skills, but I used a cheery yellow ruler because I wanted to make sure.
Step Four: Drizzle the disc lightly with sesame oil and distribute with fingers. Sprinkle half the scallions across the surface of the disc. Roll up the disc.
Step Six: Shape the roll into a spiral and tuck the end underneath to form a tight ball. Then flatten the whole ball back into a disc. Repeat the process with the other disc of dough.
Step Seven: In a skillet, pan fry each disc in a few teaspoons of oil until golden brown on each side. Sprinkle with salt and enjoy.