An oftentimes, easily overlooked dish. As Wikipedia puts it: “it is made from rice fried in a wok, typically with additional ingredients left over from other dishes. It is sometimes served as the penultimate dish in Chinese banquets (just before dessert).”
As sexy as that may sound, with the right amount of warmth, creativity and love, this simple mixture of rice and "leftovers" can make a difference in your life. Especially when it is personally concocted by your own favorite chef: Mommy dearest.
I remember back when I was in high school - living at home, spoiled and didn't give a damn about the world - how utterly annoyed I would get whenever fried rice was on the dinner table. Ungratefully, I viewed the dish as lazy and boring, something thrown together because my mother simply didn't care. Leftovers leftover from the day before. A side dish that could be ordered at any Panda Express. Skillfully, I would maneuver my way around it throughout dinner until it ended up in the trashcan. I had no idea what I was throwing away.
College came. I lived literally ten minutes away from home. Yet, I still chose to eat the cafetaria's powdered egg and jarred spam over fried rice at home. College means change, I convinced myself.
Years passed. I started working life. I moved an hour away from home to work in hustle and bustle downtown LA. Every other week, I would drive home for the weekend. And somehow, I still craved the local delis and beach-front restaurants over my mom's fried rice. And of course, it's only after I flew thirteen hours away from home (permanently) that I came to realize what I have lost.
Recently, I visited home after months of leaving the states. My mom was prepared to take me out for a nice, welcome back dinner at an expensive restaurant in Newport Beach. Being a weaksauce, I ended up knocking out before the clock hit 4PM, sleeping right through our dinner reservation. By the time I woke up, it was already bright outside. The clock read 7AM.
As I groggily came downstairs, feeling guilty and hungry at the same time, a smell of familiarity suddenly enveloped around me. As I entered into the dining room, I saw in front of me, the most heartwarming meal laid out perfectly on the dining table: a plateful of juicy, emeral green bak-choi, two side dishes of radish and bamboo shoots, and a bowl of steamy, glimmery, homemade fried rice.
Without hesitation, I dug into the fluffy white rice. Each bite revelealed the time, the thoughtfulness and the heart in which my mother blended into the dish. The bouncy scrambled eggs, the sweet crunchy red onion, the smooth and savory salmon all came together perfectly in one bowl - bringing me right back to the days when life used to be simple, when it used to be just me, my brother and my mom. Now so many things have changed. Our lives separate. What a bittersweet feeling.
As I scraped up the last few pieces of rice, salmon and egg, I realized how much I needed to savor that one bite. For who knows when will be the next time I would be able to eat my mother's cooking again. That bite never tasted so good. That bowl of fried rice brought me home. I'm so thankful for my mother. For all her years of nurturing, worrying, caring, loving, and most importantly, her cooking.
Mom, I love you!