你來了，接力幫忙把烤羊肉的肉汁加麵糊煮成濃稠的 umami bomb，我把翻熱過的烤羊肩拆成肉絲，然後從雪櫃拿出冷飯和雞蛋，在灶下拿出好久沒用的生鐵鑊，燒熱、澆油、下飯，把冷飯炒鬆後，在米飯中央撥開一個洞，敲下兩顆雞蛋。雞蛋下鑊後，把米飯撥往中央，與蛋混合，接着以木鑊鏟翻炒鑊中物 — 外婆是用鐵鑊鏟的。濕糯的蛋漿與飯以小火炒不乾，高火雞蛋則容易變焦，得掌握自家的爐火與鐵鑊，以及鑊中食物的狀態，知道何時翻、何時搗，聽見鑊裡的節奏，才能炒出粒粒分明、油亮亮的蛋炒飯。炒好了，你接過我的鑊鏟，在關了火的爐頭上翻炒着我的蛋炒飯，裝作大廚。「啊，炒得很不錯，誰的功夫？」「我的上一手。」我們笑了笑。
Before I stepped into home, the cat was already waiting at the doorway behind the gate. I inserted the key, twisted twice and pulled open the gate. The cat gave me a meow, and then dashed into the flat with her tail swinging. I took off my brogues and unloaded my school bag. She came over and rubbed her furry face against my calves in grey woollen socks. In a tempo of sprint and skip, she led me to her bowl placed outside of the kitchen, while constantly looking back to make sure I did keep up with her. The cat liked my company when she ate. I squatted to scratch her nape and back. She looked really enjoying the moment of food and massage.
It was only 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon but the world was already enveloped in the dark and our room filled with overly bright fluorescent lights. It’s easy to get hungry in wintertime. I looked up and said that I was starving, is there anything to eat? I was stroking the cat all the time, while grandma was in the kitchen getting chores done – she was wearing a cream colour woollen vest, with a colourful patterned blouse underneath. Sleeves rolled up, she was washing something in the sink. “Just a moment.” she replied, followed by an unending train of cling-clang, the medley from a wok and a metal spatula. In minutes, she brought over a steamy bowl of egg fried rice. Taking the bowl of rice and chopsticks with both of my hands, I took a seat on that not-so-comfortable rosewood armchair to enjoy the food. It was just rice and eggs, yet the smell of it was irresistible. Without a speck left, I put the bowl and chopsticks into a red plastic tub filled with soap water.
It was once my only memory of egg fried rice.
I had a lot of fried rice at restaurants later on in life; they were delicious or adorned with fancy ingredients, yet I couldn’t build a memory of it connecting to my sense of taste. A bowl of ordinary egg fried rice – I guess no one has ever written a recipe for it. During the days I left home after graduating from university, leftover rice and eggs were the staple in my fridge. Making egg fried rice out of convenience wasn’t entirely true; I was probably making that for the reminiscence of the bowl of egg fried rice I had in that afternoon in junior high.
The night was chilly, but there were dots of sweat across my nose when I had to dash, charging up the slope to home. Let’s have dinner together, anything, as long as you are the cook, you suddenly said. I had planned to eat the roasted lamb from last night with a simple salad for dinner. Now that I had to make it for two, let’s see what we had in the fridge.
You came. Taking over the pan, you blended the roux with the juice from the lamb roast, turning it into a gravy of umami bomb. I shredded the re-heated lamb shoulder, and then took the leftover rice and eggs out of the fridge, and a cast iron wok, which I hadn’t used for long, from the cabinet under the stove. Heat up the wok, added a generous drizzle of oil and scooped the cold rice in. After fluffing up the rice, I dug a hole in the middle of the rice and cracked in two eggs. Once the eggs were in, I shoved the rice over them and started stir frying with a wooden spatula. Gran always used a metal one though. With low heat, the wet mixture of rice and eggs couldn’t be dried, while eggs would get burnt easily over high heat. Understanding your stove, wok and the status of the food in the wok, knowing when to toss and when to press, listening to the rhythm over the stove that one could have a bowl of glossy egg fried rice without the grains sticking into a lump. Voilà, and you took over my spatula, stir-frying the rice over a heatless gas stove like a chef. “Looking good. Whose cooking was that?” “The one who last occupied the wok.” We chuckled.
On the table, we had roasted lamb with deep and creamy gravy on side, a long-forgotten sourdough bagel buried in the fridge, a lettuce salad without dressing and a bowl of egg fried rice which was out of tune with the dinner spread. We were kind of at a loss to start the meal. I started with the fried rice – grandma said the first bite in a meal should be rice. You tore a piece of bagel, pondering over the bowl of gravy, probably thinking to dunk or not to dunk. Go ahead, it’s alright to dunk as you like when at home, I said. Half of the egg fried rice went into my belly and I handed you another half. You had a bite and said the rice was good like a restaurant serving. No, it should be better, I said. You couldn’t sell a plate of egg fried rice at a good price but the dish would take up the stove for solid 10 minutes. So, no chefs would have the patience making it. I asked, after the dinner, which was your favourite dish. “Egg fried rice” you gave it a thought and said.
At the dinner we randomly pulled together, a bowl of mundane egg fried rice unexpectedly brought us the deepest joy. People often chase after extraordinary moments or wish to be extraordinary, let’s try not to forget the minute moments that also bring us small yet lasting joy.
Grandma’s Egg Fried Rice
Leftover rice 2 bowls
Eggs 2 pieces
Garlic ½ clove
Ginger the size of half a thumb
Sea salt to taste
Oil as needed
- Mince the garlic and ginger, yield ½ teaspoon of each.
- Heat the wok over medium-high heat till it is smoking hot. Add oil and then turn the heat down to medium heat. Add rice into the wok and loose it up with a spatula.
- Dig a hole in the middle of the rice, add some oil in the hole, crack in the eggs and then add the minced garlic and ginger.
- Turn the heat up to medium high, shove the rice over the eggs. Mix well and start stir-frying them in quick moves.
- Lightly press and loose up the wet lumps of rice with your spatula, continue stir-frying.
- When the rice body is mostly dried, add sea salt and continue to stir fry it until the grains are dry and no more lumps.
It’s raining outside, crisp and bleak. Three chubby sparrows took shelter on my balcony and I gave them the baguette bits left on my breakfast plate but they flew away. I stayed in, played Damien Rice on vinyl and made apple crumble. Repeat.