My Beautiful, Frugal yet Generous Aa-Ma

The beautiful lady with a toddler on her laps, that’s my grandma, my Aa-Ma. This photo is nearly 70 years old and was taken during the time of Japanese occupation in Taiwan.

Grandma is a big influence in my life. She moved in with my parents and I right after I was born so she could be my full time nanny when mom went back her to teaching job. She was a follower of Taoism and a vegetarian who did not believe in killing. Having lived through both wars and the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, she was very resourceful, resilient, frugal, yet very generous.

When I was a kid, she always told me to hold the apple peeler lightly, because taking off too much peeling is wasteful. She never just threw the pulp of rock melons or honeydew melons away. She’d get whatever juice out of them with a sieve and give the juice to me and my younger brother. They were so sweet like nectar and there is nothing to really compare to. Whenever I had friends around, she always told me to share whatever snacks I had with friends. And she always tried to get them to stay for dinner. The friends who stayed still tell me they remember the taste of grandma’s cooking fondly, after a good decade or two. And the common comment I get is they are amazed at how strictly vegetarian cooking can taste so good (Taoism vegetarians also do not consume spring onions or garlics).

Our dinner table often had a dish or two of vegetables she foraged from riverbanks or path sides. She had a great knowledge of what are edible. If some vegetable stems were too tough, she’d peel the skin off then pickle them, even if they are thinner than chopsticks. There are a few signature dishes our entire family loves: stir-fried sweet potato leaves, fried fine cubes of firm tofu, carrots, potatoes, beans and mushrooms, stewed seaweed knots and tofu skins, goji berry and gluten-bites soup, fennel omelettes, stir-fried black nightshade, properly known as solanum nigrum, which many people consider as a weed. These dishes probably sound all pretty peculiar to you, but they are our family favourites – frugal, wholesome, and yummy! Once a friend of mine teased me for growing weeds in my vegetable garden. Well they are all pretty tasty weeds to me!

Stir-fried black nightshade (solanum nigrum) with eggs

Grandma left us this morning when she dozed off. I’m incredibly sad but I also want to celebrate her 96 years of beautiful life! There were many tough years, but it was certainly a full and beautiful life. She drives me to be frugal and resourceful, and strive to lead a life with no regrets. I’m very glad I was actually with her recently, when we live some 10,000 kilometres away from each other.

I missed her and her egg fried rice terribly tonight. She often made egg fried rice for me when I was little. It contains only eggs and rice, and sesame oil and soy sauce as seasoning. It’s perfect in its simplicity, just like me wonderful Aa-Ma.

Simple but wonderfully tasty egg fried rice

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