Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A hot pot and lobsters in the wok

Most of my extended family lives in Taiwan, including my grandparents. Out of five siblings on my dad's side and three on my mom's side, only two others immigrated to America: my mom's younger sister who lives in San Jose, and my dad's youngest brother, who lives just ten minutes away from my parents in Bayside, Queens. Since I was born in New York City, away from my relatives in Taiwan, my uncle, aunt, and two younger cousins are sort of the only "family" I've grown up with outside of my own.

Before I left for graduate school, we all got together for a farewell dinner in honor of me and my younger cousin, who was leaving for college in Boston; now the two of us were back again with our respective first semesters under our belts. It was time for a food-filled gathering of hotpot.
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As you can see, there was quite a spread of ingredients. Both our families had come up with plenty of items to throw into the pot: several different forms of tofu, various meat balls and fish cakes, assorted mushrooms, two types of thinly sliced meat, rice cakes, and piles of vegetables. The only thing missing, as we realized later, were chunks of deep-fried taro, one of my brother's favorites.
Since the price of lobsters is now so low, my mom decided to buy several to stir-fry in the Cantonese style. This meant chopping 'em up, tossing the pieces with corn starch and poaching them quickly in oil, setting them aside to saute the aromatics, and then tossing the lobster back in to stir-fry with the sauce until done. (My brother handled the actual hacking up of the live crustaceans; I'm pretty sure everyone else was too faint-hearted to do the job.) With four lobsters between eight people—some less enthusiastic eaters than others—there was plenty for everyone.

With so many items on the table, it was hard to know what to eat. Raw, and then cooked ingredients flew in and out of the bubbling pot, and sauces and other dishes were passed around regularly. The platter of lobster went from one end to the other. Each person's mouth and hands seemed to move simultaneously…it was a hectic, comfortable dinner, and exactly the kind of meal I wanted to have coming home to my family.

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