In Chinese tradition, qingming is a period in early April when people visit the burial sites of loved ones who have passed away. They clean the headstones, offer food to the deceased, and say hello. Due to the pandemic, for the past two Aprils I haven’t been to see my grandparents’ graves, but this year I came up with an alternative way to honor their memories: I decided to learn to make some of the dishes they used to cook for my brother and me while my parents worked. I remembered most of the ingredients, but for specific recipes I either asked my mom or found good options (like this one) online.
With Chinese cuisine — and most famously with dim sum dishes — food is sometimes cooked by steaming (called jing hei in Cantonese). The method requires no extra fat and results in a clean, juicy flavor. My grandparents steamed chopped pork belly, beef, egg, and other concoctions for us using a wide bowl that sat on a trivet above the rice in the rice cooker. When the rice was done, so was the food.
I used a similar setup in my kitchen, placing a bowl of food on a trivet raised above a couple of inches of boiling water in a saucepan. My first time trying to replicate their chopped beef dish, I ran into a problem. I couldn’t pick up the hot dish. I tried the most protective thing I had — a wet, cold towel — but it was still too hot, and I ended up dropping the dish and food in the sink. That’s when I remembered how my grandpa would pull out a big pair of metal tongs that opened up like jaws to securely grip the bottom of the plates. It was a safe, simple design, and it required only one hand.
Before I cooked (and possibly dropped) my next dish, I decided to buy a similar set of tongs for myself. I found a two-pack on Amazon that also includes gripper clips for grabbing the edge of a hot plate. They are inexpensive, feel durable, and easy to use. The exact ones I bought are sold out, but there are plenty of other options online — like these from Spirgo. If you prefer to try them out first, you should find them at any Asian market, but these have served me well.
Using my tongs, I’ve steamed frozen Chinese buns, pre-made dim sum, and the same exact dumplings my grandparents used to make for me. The food has been delicious, and while I like not burning my hands or dropping plates, what I’m most thankful for is a new way to connect with the memory of my grandparents. Even more than the tongs, their memory is an essential part of continuing my family’s tradition of food.
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