Because of the pandemic, I’ve been at home in China my entire sophomore year. Though the situation isn’t ideal, I’ve found pleasure in the food my mom cooks for me every day. I’ve even started eating less in the morning to save my appetite for dinner.

Before COVID-19, my mom used to hate cooking because of the smoke and heat. Now, she enjoys studying new recipes, bakes apple pies and even grows her own vegetables. With each meal, I realized how much I will miss her home-cooked meals when I return to the States. 

Stage I: Amateur 

Kexin Wang

What’s on the table: soy sauce pickled beef, fried ribbonfish, stir-fried chicken with onions and apricot mushroom, steamed rice

This was the first lunch my mom and I had after we moved into our new house last September. We had no table or chairs, so we grabbed a footstool to use as a table and sat on the staircase to eat. My mom’s cooking skills weren’t yet developed, but this meal stuck in my mind. I remember me and my mom carefully picking up the food with our chopsticks because the footstool was so shaky. This was the starting point of my mom’s culinary evolution.

Stage II: Intermediate 

Kexin Wang

What’s on the table: braised beef brisket with tomato, garlic bok choy, grilled apricot mushroom

This is a typical dinner for two. If my dad joins, there will probably be one or two more dishes. I love the garlic bok choy for its light taste and crunchy texture, and the juicy and aromatic apricot mushroom is a go-to dish for my family. But the highlight of this meal is the braised beef brisket with tomato. The savory beef, mushy potatoes and sweet carrots immediately melt in the mouth, and there's a hint of fresh sourness from the tomatoes. I asked my mom for the recipe, and here’s what she said: 

“Get one serving of beef brisket and cut them into big cubes. Add oil, leek chunks, ginger slices, and beef into the pot, stir it until you can smell the aroma. Add one cup of cooking wine, ½ cup of soy sauce and a little bit of oyster sauce. Once the sauce and the beef are fully mixed, transfer them into a pressure cooker. Add tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and onions in big pieces. Cook everything for 50 minutes." 

Stage III: Road to Mastery

Kexin Wang

My mom baked apple pies for the first time, but she shaped them to look like dumplings.

Kexin Wang

Above are the daikon plants my mother is growing. She says she will make daikon rib soup when they harvest.

Stage IV: Birth of A Chef

Kexin Wang

What’s on the table: steamed fish, luwei, baby bok choy with black mushrooms, dumplings, cabbage with meatballs, scrambled eggs with tomato

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, my mom spent four hours cooking a celebratory meal that my grandparents joined us for. She placed the steamed fish in the center because the word “fish” is homophonic to “surplus” in Chinese, symbolizing good fortune in the coming year. This was the first time my mom cooked this many dishes by herself. After we were done eating, she said she might have to quit cooking for a week to get enough rest.

Stage V: I Cook For My Mother

Kexin Wang

What’s on the table: sukiyaki pot, avocado & egg salad, braised pork brisket, and mom’s birthday cake!

I asked my mom to take a break from cooking on her birthday, so I became the chef of the day. I made a simple version of sukiyaki with beef, tofu, mushrooms, carrots, leek and cabbage. I wasn’t too happy with the end product, but my mom praised me throughout the dinner and finished everything in the pot.

Hope seems to be on the horizon with the pandemic. I’m excited to come back to college life in the U.S., but I will always remember and miss the love behind my mom's cooking.