When I moved out on my own after college, I was pretty frugal and didn’t buy much of anything. But what I did do was do ample research on Chinese cookbooks that were actually authentically Chinese, and I found one that was quite close to what I remembered my grandma made when I was growing up. And once I found them, I bought them and spent lots of time reviewing them. Taro root cake is one of my grandma’s specialties, and one that I always loved eating every Chinese New Year. When I started making it as an adult, I could actually hear her voice scolding me in the back of my head as I was measuring certain ingredients out, chopping others, and likely being too generous with some of the very expensive dried shrimp and scallop fillings. She never measured anything; the closest thing she’d use to “measure” was a rice bowl for things like rice flour or water. Other than that, it was all in her head. I don’t think I will ever be that way in the kitchen. Even if I do not stick with a recipe, I’m still measuring things out, even approximately, according to what I remember.
Every time I have made it, whether it’s been around Chinese new year, for friends’ gatherings, or even the one time I made it for my parents in their kitchen, I always remember my grandma fondly. The entire process is labor intensive, time intensive, but the end result always makes me so happy and feeling so accomplished. Part of it is because I think it helps me remember my grandma, and the other part of it is as though I feel like by making it, I’m keeping her memory alive. She left us no written letter, recipes, notes, anything… so all the dishes I like to make that she made are all from what I believe are as close to what she made based on recipes I have found, whether they are from cookbooks or on Cantonese food blogs. In addition, I know virtually not a single person who makes this from scratch, so it’s also a mini win in my head that I know I’m the only person I know who can and will make this. Store-bought versions and those on dim sum carts just pale in comparison to the homemade ones.
The one part of making this that gets me the most excited is when you combine all the filling ingredients with the steamed taro in the pan. That’s the moment you can see all the parts coming together to make this one delicious, rich, decadent savory cake. It is truly bliss.