Hey APC! My name is Sela Dingpontsawa (@sela.dingpontsawa). I am sixteen years old and I’m from Palo Alto, California. I identify as Asian American, and more specifically Tibetan American. Tibet was a country that is now an autonomous region in China. This year I have thought a lot more about my identity and what it means to be Asian American and an ethnic minority without a country. This piece is something that I wrote for an English project. We read We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, and were instructed to write a piece in a similar style to one of Bulawayo’s chapters. I decided to write “How They Cooked” which was inspired by all the times when my mom’s sisters and friends would come over to cook dinner for everyone. These times are some of my favorite memories
How They Cooked
The smell of spices and sweet sauces travel through the air, then is trapped inside pots and pans simmering on the stove. Dirty bowls and powdered spoons litter the counters and seem to cover every inch of space. They laugh and sweep up the used dishes and pile them up in the sink, which is a tower slowly becoming taller and taller. Hands flit over the stewing soups and spicy meat, roll dough for dumplings and sprinkle salt into fillings. They chatter while they work, gossiping and telling stories from their past weeks, as they don’t get to see each other often. While they work, little sneaky hands appear on the counter and snatch bits of dough to form crude versions of dumplings. They point their fingers and shake their heads disapprovingly, but are secretly smiling on the inside. They stir and fold and slice and roll until their hands turn pink, but they don’t mind. Their laughter and songs shine brightly as they fold and crimp dumplings, simmer jasmine tea, and slice thin pieces of seasoned meat.
Over time, the room begins to smell of sugar, butter and rice as they begin to work on the sweets. They mix up a storm, tossing nuts and raisins into the rice, which is then carefully stored away from the grabby hands. The smell of steamed flower buns, cold bean noodles, and potato stew suddenly cause the little hands to appear again, blindly searching for something to grab. This time they slap the hands away and shoo their hands toward the backyard door.
High pitched sounds bounce around the room as multiple timers go off. They hurry around, hands opening the oven, checking the rice cookers and pots and pans. Wooden spoons are dipped into sauces, soups, and curries, and are expertly tasted. Last minute seasonings are sprinkled into giant bowls and stirred into pots.
They set the table gracefully and quickly. Fingers smooth out a white tablecloth, which is worn and has slight rips in the corners. Porcelain plates and spoons are set every seat, and practiced hands ladle thick soup into each decorated bowl. They sit down last, making sure everyone else has butter tea and a glass of water. They sit down last, after checking all the dishes are ready and taste right. They sit down last, and lead the table in a blessing before serving everyone else first.