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A Recipe That Tastes of Home

Lan looked at her cell phone in a daze. What bothered her was not when to call her father but what to talk about after he answered the phone. For so many times, they had nothing to talk about; she felt so awkward that one second felt like an hour.

Lan had been worried about her father ever since her mother died in the previous year; now he lived alone. She worked in a city far from home. She used to call her mother every week, but she was distant from her father, who had always been on business trips when she was young. He was also stern and short-spoken. Whenever he talked with Lan, it was like a superior giving orders to his subordinate. Lan was used to the absence of her father when growing up. In her eyes, her mother was kind and warm, while her father was inaccessible and daunting. Over time, a high wall built up between them.

She wanted to ask her father about his mood, how he had slept recently, and how his health was, but every time she was about to ask, she was unable to utter what she wanted to say; it was lost on the way from her throat to her mouth, trapped in her throat.

She went from calling her father once a week to once every two weeks.

Once, when Lan called her father, her doorbell rang. Her takeaway order arrived. Her father said, “Takeaway food is not healthy. You can cook for yourself.”

Lan blurted, “I can’t, or I can only make my favorite scrambled eggs with tomatoes.”

When it came to cooking, her father became excited, explaining in detail how to make that dish, starting with choosing tomatoes.

“Break the shell of the eggs, put it into a bowl, and stir. Add the right amount of salt and water of about one-third of the egg liquid, so the egg will taste fluffier. But I don’t add water to the egg mixture when I make it,” her father said.

She suddenly understood this slight difference of cooking was why the dish in the restaurant never tasted right to her.

Lan listened to her father’s detailed explanation, recalling that when she was young, her father would cook her scrambled eggs with tomatoes whenever he was home. Tomatoes and eggs were common ingredients, but the dish looked bright, refreshing, and appetizing with her father’s cooking. And in the summer, when she returned home from school, her father always took out from the fridge her favorite sweet mung bean soup he had made for her.

Although Lan had been away from home for over ten years, the memories had not faded, bringing her unexpectedly closer to her father. She suddenly wanted to go home and eat her father’s scrambled eggs with tomatoes.

When Lan hung up, she realized that she and her father had been on the phone longer than usual, and she hadn’t felt the urge to find something to say or hang up the phone.

The next time, Lan made a video call to her father. She fixed the phone with a selfie stick on a tripod while she made scrambled eggs with tomatoes, and he instructed.

Although Lan’s first attempt looked delicious, when she tasted it, she was disappointed that it didn’t taste of home. She sighed.

Her father said, “You’ve inherited my cooking talent! My mother taught me to make scrambled eggs with tomatoes when I was seven years old, and I succeeded the first time I made it.”

“But Dad, it’s a little salty,” Lan said, lowering her head.

“That’s all right. It’s the first time you’ve made it,” her father said with a smile.

Lan’s father had rarely praised her. He always pointed out what Lan did not do well and urged her to work harder to improve herself. This was the first time in years that her father recognized Lan’s efforts. Lan felt a warm current flowing through her body.

She became less nervous about calling her father, and gradually, she called him once every two days. Sometimes when her father was watching a TV drama when she called, he would hang up quickly, but Lan would still feel unbothered. She knew that when her father watched his favorite TV programs, he was always in a good mood and never felt lonely.

It was only after ten attempts that Lan’s scrambled eggs with tomatoes began to taste like home. She looked at the mobile phone camera, spooned a tablespoon of soup, poured it on the rice, and ate it, and her father watched Lan eat it and smiled.

She said to her father, “Dad, summer is coming. I really miss your mung bean soup. Could you teach me how to make it?”

“Of course,” her father said, “my daughter can learn it right away.”

Huina Zheng: MA in English, essay coach, published writer (Pushcart Prize nominee), Guangzhou-based with family.