For the Chin family, eating out is extremely rare and is an event reserved for special occasions only. Growing up, I would only see the inside of a restaurant once, maybe twice a year. While I secretly wished for the nights out that other families seemed to enjoy, I was getting spoiled with home-cooked meals day in and day out.
At our house, there was never a need to leave the kitchen. My mom would simmer, bake and broil dishes to perfection, while my dad would fry, boil or whip up anything from lo mein to shrimp scampi in mere minutes. Due to his profound love of cooking for others and the speediness with which he cooked, my dad became the de facto cook of the house.
His other passion was – and is – fishing. Every other weekend throughout the year (even when it’s snowing), my dad can be found on a fishing boat in the deep waters of the Atlantic. Hence, there is always freshly caught seafood in the house. Handmade sushi rolls, seared tuna, and blackened sea bass are all viable options for dinner at our home.
My parents’ preference for home-cooked meals in lieu of dining out extended to holidays as well. When skiing in Vermont, we would bring our own turkey sandwiches and potato salad for lunch. It was a strategic and economic way to avoid paying for an overpriced meal in the lodge. On our annual trip to Maine, my dad would pack the station wagon with a week’s worth of meals in groceries, along with a portable gas stove and all the cooking utensils we would need at our campsite. Dad would cook a fresh catch during the week, too.
On the few instances when we did eat out, it was apparently only for research purposes. My dad would take one bite and say, “I can make that.”
The next day, like a scientist in a laboratory, he would use all our pots and pans to concoct a restaurant-caliber meal with his own flair.
After 18 years of meals in my parents’ kitchen, I moved away for college. I relished the freedom of eating out more often. While my parents’ menu at home was extensive, the small city of Saratoga Springs had its own remarkable selection of international food. It was there that I first tasted Indian curry, ordered Pad Thai, and developed a love for spanakopita.
Years later, I discovered that the culinary world of Beijing is not unlike Saratoga; there are fantastic restaurants hidden around every corner. My taste for Chinese food has since expanded beyond the region of Guangdong to steaming hot pot and spicy Sichuan homestyle tofu. And the realm of possibilities for international options reaches from the corners of the Middle East to the US. Read about them in this month’s feature on Beijing’s top 50 family-friendly restaurants.
After all my adventures in dining out, from Saratoga to Beijing, I have come to appreciate a range of intricate flavors that span the globe – some of which take me to distant lands and others that bring me right back home.