Yoshi’s Co-Owner Says Dumplings And Mochi Are The Way To Sweet Togetherness
To Ping Chen, dumplings are the universal East Asian food that symbolizes togetherness – "something with happiness inside".
Ping Chen, a transplant from China, first made her way to the States with her family several years ago. She was one of the 10 restaurateurs whose food was featured at the YUM fundraiser on April 6, which supported the work of The Welcome Project. The seventh annual fundraiser coincided with the 30th anniversary of Somerville’s sanctuary city status, and The Welcome Project’s existence.
"When we were small, every time we had a holiday, we were eating dumplings, and we were all together," Chen said of her youth in the Chinese town of Guang Dong Gaitai Shan. "Dumplings meant we were together."
Chen and her husband Tony run Yoshi's, a combination Japanese and Korean restaurant in Somerville. This particular evening found volunteers serving some of Yoshi’s-goers' favorites: soba noodles with chicken, and dumplings.
Chen remembers making and eating dumplings and sticky, sweet little rice dumplings, known as mochi, with her mother for holidays like New Year's when she was young. To traditional Chinese, Chen said, if dumplings mean the eater will find happiness inside the dumpling, which represents the coming year, the mochi is eaten to make that happiness a sweet one, one that ensures you and your loved ones will "stick together."
Her family’s practice of making dumplings and mochi held even after they moved from China to the United States. There, Chen’s mother had to be flexible: where she had fresh pork and vegetables that literally came straight out of the ground from the family’s garden in China, she was confronted with frozen pork and days-old vegetables stocking grocery stores' shelves. The vegetables they were accustomed to in China were not available in mainstream American grocery stores, so the taste changed a little bit, too. But this didn't matter to them. "It was a good change, because we were still together, and we still had time to eat dumplings together," Chen said.
The food wasn’t the only thing that changed, though. After they arrived in the United States, Chen found herself unable to spend as much time as she would have liked with her mother. In China, she said, it was the men who were expected to go out and make money for the family. But "here, we worked, too."
Growing up and starting families made together-time even more of a challenge, but, like her mother, Chen found ways to adapt. She still lives close to her mother, with whom she, her husband, and two young boys eat at least once a week. It isn't that their lives have gotten any less hectic – running a restaurant is no easy task, even when one has a business partner – but both Chen and her husband believe that spending time together as a family is important, and plays an integral role in passing on their heritage.
And she wants to teach her children to cook, when they are old enough. To Chen, the act of teaching one's children to cook is perhaps one of the most important gestures of familial love. It is an act that both gives and receives, and teaches the recipient to adapt.
"When they are hungry, if they don't know how to do anything else, they must know how to cook. You also cook for your family," Chen said. "Cooking is very important, because you are spending time, and talking."
Their first dishes? Dumplings and mochi, of course.
Yoshi's - 132 College Ave., Somerville, 617.623.9263, yoshis.net