White Rice Love

White Rice Love

White Rice Love 1900 2846 Breanna Teramoto

My father’s expression of love always begins with sticky white rice.

There is a sound before every meal, when he opens the fifty-pound storage container in the pantry, the plastic lid giving a dull pop. The measuring cup glides through the grains. One, two, three, four cups hit the rice pot with a metallic patter and the storage bin’s lid pops closed.

He shows me how to wash the rice. I watch as his hands move under the cold water, swirling the rice like the snow through a snow globe, as he lectures me on the importance of rinsing away the starch. I lack his finesse in the kitchen, but I do my best to mirror his teachings. When I go to pour the water, now the color of skim milk, he catches me, interceding to save the runaway grains from cascading down the drain. He always manages to save every one of them, separating the starchy water with quick, deft movements. It looks simple enough, but my own efforts prove time and time again to be far less effective, always a pale imitation to his mastery.

The rice pot’s lid clanks down and he depresses the start button. Sliding the red cutting board from the countertop beside the refrigerator, he places it across from me. I watch, mesmerized, as he withdraws his honing steel and favorite knife from the butcher’s block next to the sink. He sharpens the knife with fast motions, the knife shingshingshinging as the metals rub together.

There will come a day when these sounds will disappear. When he’ll grow too old, his heart too tired, and he won’t be able to create as he once did. Try as I may, I will never be able to duplicate these practices, not in their entirety. He cooks with a zeal that borders on religious. It’s a precious gift to behold his craft, to be the receiver of so much nurturing.

The honing steel slides back into the butcher’s block and he is ready. First, the chicken. He slivers it and the meat gives way, parting for him until he has a perfect pile of bite-sized pieces. He scrapes the blade sideways, guiding the meat into the wok where it hisses loudly, popping and bubbling as he swaps tools. A wooden spoon moves the meat around, spreading the pieces throughout the oil to ensure they cook just the way he likes.

The red cutting board is abandoned to the sink and a white one takes its place. Vegetables of all colors, shapes, and sizes fall beneath his freshly washed knife, entering from the blade’s left and exiting on its right. The ritual is so fast my stomach clenches as I watch the sharp metal flash before his fingers, but his expression is one of slight focus and great contentment.

Sometimes he talks, his deep baritone filling the kitchen with his thoughts on food and life. He has the wisdom of almost seven decades of life and I listen closely, knowing that he saves it for just such occasions as these. He tells me jokes and tales of things that make him laugh. Sometimes the humor is wholesome, sometimes it is as dark and salty as his favorite brand of soy sauce. Meanwhile, a giant mixing bowl fills ever higher with carrots, onions, purple cabbage, mushrooms, green peppers, water chestnut, broccoli, baby corn, and celery. This bowl, like the chicken, is soon given over to the wok, the vegetables tumbling in a rainbow of colors that he stirs and stirs, a painter at his palette.

On the other corner of the kitchen, the rice cooker lid rattles softly, nearly inaudible over the wok’s hissing demand for attention. As always, a race has developed between the rice cooker and the chef.

My father pauses his stirring to reach over and spin the rice lid. It whirls fast and weightless from the steam. He shoots me a sideways grin, his brown eyes crinkling with delight. The spinning lid is our favorite part, and I return the smile. Everyone knows lids only spin over good rice.

The wok’s contents are stirred once more and my father begins the part of his cooking he can never quite explain to me, though he tries. It’s the intuitive part he just knows, deep in his bones, the way a musician can always tell if their instrument is slightly out of tune. He adds in tiny dollops and dashes. Spice. Sauce. Spice. Sauce. Stir. Taste. He allows himself only a moment as he contemplates the flavors on his tongue and finds them wanting. Spice. Sauce. Stir. Taste.

I watch, trying to disassemble the pieces of this ritual, to apply logic to all the little parts. Logic, however, is a cold-hearted killer of magic, and a secret part of me doesn’t really want to know how he creates a masterpiece from such innocuous items. The bit of me still in love with the wonder and childish innocence with which I view his actions prefers the mystery to remain.

Although there are only two of us, my father cooks to feed a dozen. He is careful now as he swirls the wok’s contents round and round the basin, the peppers and carrots inching dangerously close to the edges. I can almost taste the flavors in the air, can already imagine the burst of senses to my tongue; sauces seeping over hot rice, vegetables chewy and crunchy, chicken tender and savory.

My father adds one last dash of something, caps the spice shaker, and replaces it in the cupboard above his head. He stirs the wok a final time, and declares his work complete. As he takes two plates from the cupboard to his right, the rice cooker gives a merry ding.

He has won this round.

He removes the lid, and a cloud of steam billows forth. Fanning it away, he sets the lid aside and scoops a perfect, sticky white dome onto both plates, taking each in turn over to the wok. The vegetables are a splash of color over the little rice mountains. I lick my lips as onions and mushrooms slide over the grains, the golden-brown sauce drizzling over them, infusing them with flavor. He doles out the fruits of his labor in heaping portions, but it’s all right. There will always be room for my father’s love.

Header photograph © Kate Koenig.

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    Douglas Teramoto 04/26/2021 at 6:26 pm

    My beautiful daughter has once again touched my heart with her writing. She’s the one person in this world that I love with all my heart. If you could know her, you too could understand the magic she creates in her writing. God willing, one day millions will come to know her through her work. Thank you for such a wonderful peace you give to me through your writing my beautiful baby girl.

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