August 8th was Chinese Father’s Day (or 八八節 babajie as it’s called in Chinese), which is celebrated in Taiwan. This very belated post is my way of celebrating my dad, the original entrepreneur hero of our family. Never one to be content with the way things are, his signature dish perfectly encapsulates the creativity and forward-thinking spirit that my dad brings to whatever he encounters.
A few days after my 18th birthday, which I celebrated at home with my family, I was looking over the photos we’d taken and was startled by a picture of my dad and I, smiling over my birthday cake. Why? Because in that photo, our resemblance was unmistakeable. I could no longer deny the truth that was literally staring me in the face:
I was my father’s daughter.
For 18 years, I held this strangely persistent belief that physically resembling my dad wasn’t something to be proud of. Perhaps it was borne out of a childish association that resembling my opposite gender parent meant I somehow looked like the opposite gender. Or perhaps it was a symptom of my complex childhood relationship with my dad. Either way, I always cringed internally whenever someone said, “Oh, you look just like your dad!”
I don’t want to look like him, I’d always think rebelliously. I want to look like Mom!
I grew up being deathly afraid of my dad, to the point that my mind would go completely blank if he so much as raised his voice a single decibel. To be on the receiving end of his displeasure was the ultimate nightmare, even more so than things like bugs or spiders (which terrify me). No one else in my family understood my fear. Any time one of my younger sisters talked back or threw a tantrum in his vicinity, I’d watch in horrified anticipation of his wrath. When they sometimes continued misbehaving, I’d marvel at how they could be that brave when they’d just been shouted at.
When I was in middle school, there was a two-week period where my dad stayed at home with my sisters and I while my mom went back to Taiwan to take care of some personal affairs. Going into this arrangement, I was deeply skeptical about how things would go, particularly where meals were concerned. As I mentioned before in a previous post, my mom was the one who always cooked for us and packed our lunches. Although my dad occasionally joked about being a great chef back in his grad school days, I never really believed him because we’d never experienced his cooking.
The first morning after my mom left, I was surprised by a packed lunch that my dad had prepared. However, I was inclined to be skeptical and told myself not to have any expectations. When my mom packed my lunches, she was always adamant about including some fruit. I seriously doubted my dad would take the time to prepare some, so I was completely shocked when I opened my lunchbox to find not only some freshly cooked dumplings, but a full-on fruit assortment, nicely arranged in my little plastic container. It was so nice that even my friends, who typically scoffed at fruit, commented at how good it looked.
Maybe it was just a fluke, I told myself. After all, he’d never prepared my lunches before and perhaps he just wanted to make the first one extra special. But I was wrong. For the remainder of the time my mom was gone, all my packed lunches came with a fruit assortment of at least two varieties. To this day, he still proudly brings up this story from time to time whenever packed lunches come up in conversation.
One night during dinner, my dad introduced us to his signature dish: tomato and eggs. “There isn’t one like this in the entire world,” he told us. “No one else makes it the way I do.” Tomato and eggs is a classic dish in Chinese home cooking, and I’m sure all families have their own version. In my dad’s version, the secret was in peanuts, which aren’t part of your typical tomato and eggs dish. I didn’t personally have an affinity for peanuts, but knowing how much effort he’d put into cooking dinner, I shoveled in a few bites, bracing myself for a potentially unwelcome taste.
Once again, my assumptions were wrong. While it took some getting used to the crunchiness amidst the creamy mixture of egg and tomato, the peanuts weren’t unpleasant and it quickly became an addictive taste. We polished off the rest of that dish and I could tell we made my dad very happy in doing so.
To me, the examples of my dad plating my fruit and his tomato and eggs dish epitomize who he is: a father who cares intensely about his kids and family, and a creative, innovative individual who can connect the dots between seemingly unrelated things and come out with a harmonious result. It’s no wonder that the first company he started as a 30-something year old went on to grow successfully and resulted in an acquisition that exponentially propelled my family’s quality of life.
As a kid, I was too young to understand the struggles and sacrifices he made to provide for us as a family. All I knew was a dad who wasn’t home very often and if he was at home, was usually working. But I know now that he was working extremely hard to make a living, not just for himself but for all of us. When he started traveling frequently between Taiwan and the U.S. for business, I never once considered the toll it must have taken on his mind and body to be flying so often, for so long, and doing it all alone.
As an adult now, I realize more and more what a unique person he is and how lucky I am to have him as my dad. After I graduated from college, I spent two years living in Taiwan with him and my grandpa, and it was there that I really started noticing how alike we were. Parts of our temperament, our sense of humor, and our shared taste and appreciation for food were all things we had in common.
Although his disapproval is still something that makes me nervous, even when it’s not directed at me, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for him setting an example as a self-made individual who never stops dreaming and looking for a better future. And for that, I’m immensely proud to be able to say I’m my father’s daughter.
A few months ago, my youngest sister, who’s currently a college student and an accomplished home cook herself, asked my dad for his tomato and eggs recipe. In classic fashion, he surprised us all by recording a video (!) of himself making the dish to ensure that my sister would know exactly how to make it. I thought it would be a fun project to edit the clips and put in some subtitles for anyone who might be interested in his version of tomato and eggs. It’s admittedly not the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but the taste is 100% worth the smushed tomatoes.
Dad’s Tomato and Eggs
- 3 medium tomatoes (or 2 large ones)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 stalks of scallions
- handful of unsalted peanuts (~1-2 tablespoons)
- 1/2 – 1 cup of water
- 1 tablespoon of cooking oil
- Salt to taste
- 1-2 teaspoons of sugar (optional)
- Cut tomatoes into thick slices and scallions into sections (~2 inches in length). Beat the eggs and set aside for later.
- Heat up a pan to medium-high heat and put in the oil.
- When the oil is hot, put in the peanuts and stir-fry them for a few seconds. Throw in the scallions and stir-fry for another couple seconds until they start turning bright green. Remove from the pan and set aside for later.
- Put in the tomatoes and stir-fry them for a few minutes. Once they start softening, cover the lid and let them cook for a few more minutes.
- After 2-3 minutes, uncover and start stir-frying the tomatoes again, mashing them with the back of the spatula and occasionally flipping them. Do this for a few more minutes.
- Pour in the water, which should be enough to barely cover the tomatoes. Lower the heat to medium or medium-low, and continue pressing on the tomatoes to help release the juices and mix with the water. Cover the lid again and let simmer for a few more minutes.
- Once the tomatoes have pretty much liquified, add the peanuts and scallions back in. Mix them into the tomatoes and then pour in the eggs.
- Stir the entire mixture a bit and then add salt to taste. If your tomatoes are on the sour side, you can add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar to help balance them out.
- Turn off the heat and stir everything together, making sure all the ingredients are well incorporated. Pour into a dish and serve!