– 3 tablespoons butter
– 2 eggs, whisked
– 2 medium carrots
– 1 small white onion
– 1/2 cup frozen peas
– 3 cloves garlic
– salt and pepper
– 4 cups cooked and chilled rice
– 3-4 green onions
– soy sauce (to taste)
– 2 teaspoons oyster sauce (optional)
– 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
I bet you didn’t read those numbers.
I’ll let you in on a secret – I didn’t either.
The ingredients above were copied and pasted from the first Google search result for “fried rice recipe.” But, without any disrespect to the recipe’s owner, I can tell you it’s wrong.
The only true fried rice recipe is no recipe at all. There are no measurements, no exact instructions, no timer for how long something should sizzle in the pan. There are only smells and feelings and memories. I learned to cook fried rice on the rickety stool covered in Blues Clues stickers, surrounded by the scents of my nainai’s Minnie Mouse apron, my yéyé’s cashmere sweater, or my mama’s Pantene shampoo; in the comfort of our cozy condo and our sweltering Hángzhou apartment; by watching the eggs crack over delicate china bowls, tossed and stirred in woks using slanted wooden spatulas. We used however much leftover rice we had, however many eggs we found appropriate, and a combination of anything and everything or nothing sitting in the fridge.
I’ve always been more of a baker than a cook. I enjoy recipes – I enjoy the process of being exact and finding details, tweaking and leveling and weighing. Other people will have recipes passed down from their great-grandparents; I will have memories, held dear, but no way to pass anything on besides the recreation of childhood moments. From a young age, I found solace in the meticulous baking recipes found in Western cookbooks.
This coveting of all things exact doesn’t flow into the rest of my life. My mom will tell you my desk is a mess – I call it “room for creative license.” My mom will tell you my closet is also a mess – I call it “fashionably curious.” My mom will tell you my life is sometimes, you guessed it!, a mess. I call it MAPWIFOWISTBSIDMOTBOML, also known as “my-artistic-phase-where-I’m-figuring-out-who-I’m-supposed-to-be-so-I-dumped-myself-out-to-be-organized-much-later.” That’s a mouthful, so I shorten it, obviously.
On the flip side, I like measuring the liquid in my graduated cylinder from the exact bottom of the meniscus. If your text message has a typo in it, I feel the nagging urge to annoyingly correct you. If the origami swan I folded has an uneven tail, I will take it apart and start over. (This was certainly detrimental to my life during my middle school’s mission to fold 3,000 paper swans.)
But I understand the beauty of spontaneity and organic creation. There’s something special in realizing that no two recreations of my grandpa’s fried rice will ever be the same, and really, isn’t that what life is? Creation, without recipe?
It’s funny. This may contradict everything I’ve written thus far, but the more I bake, the more I realize perhaps baking is spontaneous too. I don’t always need to weigh my flour beforehand in order to get perfect cookies, nor do I really need to add the copious amounts of sugar the recipe calls for. My signature food is brownies, but I challenged myself to use a different recipe every time. You’d be surprised at how different brownies taste when you add an extra egg, and you’d be especially uncertain about my baking skills if you tried my brownies that had wayyy too much baking soda (trial and error…).
I’m learning to love improvisation. It’s not mutually exclusive with loving precision, and it’s such an integral part of my culture, I’d be missing out otherwise. Coming to terms with and embracing the unknown is scary and definitely a process, but I assure you: One day, I’ll master my own fried rice.
Admissions Committee Comments
What we learn about Jess from her essay is a willingness to experiment, to take risks and find failure, and to learn from the past—whether it is from her parents and grandparents or just her own experiences. Her essay is clever and well written, but more importantly it shows us her willingness to try different things, to embrace the different interests and aspects of her own personality, and to approach different things with a positive attitude.