BY RACHEL LIN
The aroma of sizzling pork belly and sesame oil enter my nose, waking me before my alarm clock. Stumbling into the kitchen, I find my grandma reaching over a large silver bowl, mixing the seasoned pork with freshly grown chives, sesame oil, and crushed ginger. Today is the day. It’s my favorite time of the year: Chinese New Year.
Every year, the dinner table is filled with traditionally made dishes, such as jiaozi. Jiaozi are dumplings most commonly eaten during festivals and are considered a part of traditional Chinese cuisine. Every year, my grandma would insist that I make them, and every time I would fail. What comes naturally for a Chinese native was foreign to my hands. My hands were incapable of rolling the dough into the perfect shape. Just like rolling the dough, I was conflicted about determining which dominates more—my Chinese roots or the American culture I grew up in.
Carefully, I follow the steps of my grandmother’s jiaozi recipe.
Step one: make the dough.
Hesitant at first, I grab the bag of glutinous flour and pour it into a large bowl. As I empty the flour bag, my mind wanders. I can’t help but think about how much the flour bag resembles my arduous journey to America. Even though I was born in America, I grew up in China with my family. Bringing my culture and traditions to one of the largest mixing bowls in the world, the United States…an experience, to say the least. Continuing to follow my grandma’s recipe, I
gradually add water to the flour and knead it until it is smooth. Assimilating into American culture and its way of life was not easy for my family and me. I struggled at first with what felt like two identities trying to merge into one but found ways to manage it. My parents weren’t fluent in English, so I had to teach myself the language through watching shows like Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street. Little by little, the water is absorbed by the dough, and American culture embeds itself within me alongside my Chinese roots.
Step two: roll the dough into a spherical shape.
Grabbing small amounts of the dough, I begin rolling it into a perfect sphere and flattening the dough between my hands, shaping it into the ideal jiaozi wrapper. Similar to how I have a predetermined idea of how I want the wrapper to turn out; I tend to reflect on how I want my future to turn out. No matter how much effort I put into making the ideal wrapper, the wrapper tears. Like the tears and rips the wrapper faces, I find myself facing these obstacles as well. My parents always worked hard to financially support our family. Continuously working long hours, my parents were never home to spend time with me. As a child of immigrant parents, I had to learn to take responsibility for myself and my family at a very young age. I have been my parents’ right hand at our family restaurant, working late nights alongside my parents, having less time to study and do homework. However, I have learned not to let these circumstances bring me down.
Step three: fill the dumplings with filling.
I grab a pair of chopsticks and add the filling to the wrappers. I fold the edges of the wrapper together to seal the jiaozi. As I close the dumplings, I watch the doors of my high school coming to a close. All these years filled with hard work, finally making the dumpling full. My parents continuously pushed me to strive for the best and value education as they were not given the chances that are given to me. I have learned to take all the opportunities and put effort into everything I do. While my friends would go out to have playdates, I would spend countless hours studying from a high-level workbook while I was only in first grade. Despite that, I never let situations keep me from pursuing my goals. I was not only making the jiaozi for the lunar celebration, but I was shaping the jiaozi into how I want my life to be shaped. Will I be the jiaozi that looks like every other one? Or will I be the jiaozi that is specially made and distinctly shaped?
Regardless of all my failed attempts of making jiaozi, I have discovered not only the key ingredient of making dumplings but the ultimate ingredient to life: determination. If making dumplings has taught me anything, it is that it’s not about the shape of the dumplings that are important but the taste.
Finally, don’t forget, enjoy!
Rachel Lin is a Neuroscience & Biochemistry major (undeclared) in the class of 2025. She enjoys watching dramas and eating food, especially dumplings.