"Aiya!" is a common Chinese expression typically used to convey something unpleasant, sort of equivalent to Homer Simpson's "D'oh!" In China, the expression is unfailingly employed in times of frustration and disaster, like burning your rice or dumping too much salt in your sauté pan. I was born in Wuhan, China and lived there until my parents moved us to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when I was 5. To this day, I still have blurry flashes of my grandma saying, "Aiya!" while toiling away in her tiny kitchen to make a feast for our sizable family (looking back, it really was quite marvelous how such massive meals could have come from a tiny woman of barely 5' tall). When she set the dishes out in front of us — rice-covered meatballs, mini lotus and minced pork sandwiches, tangy cucumber salad, the works — you'd never have guessed she'd encountered anything to "Aiya!" about while cooking.
But that's the beauty of the expression. Sure, it might be synonymous with frustration and disaster, but for so many (including yours truly every once in a while) that's what cooking is — frustrating and disastrous. When you first start out, you'll likely experience more mistakes than successes, but there's power in those mistakes. They teach you lessons, give you wisdom, and fortify your resolve to do better next time. That's the spirit behind this blog — to be bold and brave and expressive.
I loved art as a child; my charcoal pencils and acrylic paints were, sadly, my closest friends. I even went to precollege for art, but decided at the last second to switch majors out of inherited fear for my financial future (don't ask me how that logic led me to study creative writing). Around the age of 18, after years spent drawing and painting, I suddenly felt a pang to create something a bit more edible and, thus, I started my culinary journey. From day one I had ambitions to be as creative as possible with every dish, ambitions that I have never been able to shake. It took years of failed attempts and horrifying experiments to finally find my footing and balance between creativity and deliciousness, to make food that looks innovative but tastes timeless. (Don't get me wrong — I still make fumbles and I'm definitely still learning.)
Most of the recipes on Aiya! Kitchen are my original creations and have gone through multiple rounds of tweaking and experimentation, during which I've gasped, muttered, and loudly hollered, "Aiya!" countless times, but hopefully, you'll never be able to guess from the end results (although I'll never master that art quite like my grandma). Some of these recipes are complete inventions, some are adaptations of popular recipes that introduce my own twist, and some are just the classics, untouched. As a first-generation Chinese-American, my cooking is largely influenced by Chinese and Asian cuisine, but overall, my culinary journey has been a global one. And with the varying cultural influences comes varying techniques and manners of plating. Some dishes will look more homey than others, but the more elevated ones are meant to show that anyone can put out a visually stunning plate with very little fuss and training.
At the end of the day, my hope is that you'll enter my blog viewing these recipes as dishes you never thought to make and leave wanting to make them your signatures. My hope is that you get in the kitchen and express yourself.