A BRIEF HISTORY VIA EGG
by MELISSA XU (United States)
Issue 1.2 September 2019
I grew up eating an excessive amount of eggs. Actually, that’s a little misleading. A more accurate statement would be that I grew up eating an excessive amount of fried rice, and thus in conjunction, ate an excessive amount of eggs. Whenever I had a day off from school, be it a holiday or a sick day, my dad would invariably ask, “Lili, ni xiang chi shen me? What do you want to eat?”
And I would invariably blurt out “Fried rice!” My dad would shake his head and sigh, but despite his exasperated reaction, I would always catch a glimpse of a smile as he turned to gather the necessary ingredients: a carton of eggs, microwaveable bacon, soy sauce from the cabinet, and leftover rice from the day before.
I don’t know what was different about that day, but instead of expertly making fried rice like usual, my dad handed an egg to me. “It’s time for you to learn how to make your own food.”
Maybe it was because I had become a middle schooler and was now somewhat qualified to handle the kitchen appliances. Or maybe it was just because my dad was tired of making fried rice, I mean, to his credit he had played the role of my fried rice chef for my entire preteen existence. No matter the reason, the egg was in my hands now.
Is this a challenge? I smirked. Accepted. I wasn’t so spoiled that I had never cracked an egg before. I tapped the egg on the edge of the granite countertop, and smoothly pulled the alabaster halves apart—perhaps with a little more zeal than necessary as I attempted to show my competence. I looked back to my father, trying to gauge his reaction to what I thought was some peak-performance egg cracking. Unimpressed, he impatiently circled his hand in the air, this mere rotation of his wrist somehow managed to say, “Okay, can we get on with it now?”
Fine, I see how it is. I’ll do even better on the next step. I wielded my chopsticks in my fist. I’m freaking Achilles, ready to decimate the Trojan enemies. Except I was a skinny eleven-year-old girl, and my enemies of the day were three unbeat eggs; although a daunting task, I admit, it wasn’t quite on par with those of legendary Greek heroes. I took a deep breath and then proceeded to whisk the eggs as fast as I could, only stopping when the goldenrod yolks and egg whites became indistinguishable from each other. While I had been consumed in my task, my father had cut up the bacon into small wood chip slices. He took the bowl of whisked eggs from me. Apparently the hands-on part of my learning ends now, I thought as we walked over to the stove.
“Always cook the egg first,” instructed my father as he turned on the flame and drizzled oil into the pan. “If you add it in later, it’ll clump up with all the other ingredients.”
I nodded sagely in corroboration. Clumped up fried rice was definitely a no no. My dad put the bacon into the microwave, and we pulled two stools closer to the stove. With the hum of the microwave and the slight sizzling of oil as background noise, we sat together in comfortable silence, watching the eggs slowly solidify. After a couple of minutes, my dad took out a spatula and began to break apart the thin yellow egg film, scrambling them into bite-sized pieces. He reached over to the microwave, pulled out the now crispy bits of bacon and mixed them in as well. He quickly turned the heat to low.
“Remember to always microwave your rice before you add it in—especially if it’s leftovers. It needs to be soft to mix in well.” With this final instruction, my father quickly finished the dish, flattening the rice in the pan and pouring in a quick splash of soy sauce.
Soon, two steaming bowls of fried rice sat before us. I grabbed my chopsticks and began shovelling the food into my mouth. It was still piping hot and I sucked in cooling air, carefully moving my jaw up and down to prevent myself from inhaling the rice. My father snorted “Are you a dragon or something, puffing like that?”
I glared up at him, cheeks bulging out from my overstuffing; and yes, I continued to employ my “dragon-puff” cooling method.
“I don’t know why you always want fried rice. You know, when your mom and I just got to America all we ate was eggs and rice. We didn’t have the money for anything else, and by the time I finished my education, I was sick of eggs.”
My mom walked down to the kitchen in time to catch the end of my dad’s reminiscence. She sat at the counter and said, “It wasn’t even that bad. Remember back in China when we didn’t even have eggs everyday? Whenever we had soup, I would always be able to tell whether or not an egg had been used to make the base. It didn’t matter how much water my parents put in it, I would always know. My mom used to say it was my hidden talent.”
I looked down at my fried rice, a mosaic of gold-tinged grain, crisp red bacon bits, and privilege. My parents, who had come from a village in who-knows-where China, went from no egg, to too much egg, to providing me with as much egg as I’d like. My parents’ egg diet had been out of necessity, but from their struggle I could eat it on the slightest of whims. I took another large bite of rice, wondering if my silver spooned tongue would be able to taste the egg in watered down soup.
Melissa Xu, 17, is a senior at the Hill School. Although academic life is full of STEM, STEM, and more STEM, she always finds time to wind down and write.