By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 18, 2008
The March issue of Food and Wine runs my essay on my struggles of learning how to use the oven. One of my favorite essays on food, by Jhumpa Lahiri, about how her parents would carry food back from India to Rhode Island before the days of easily accessible ethnic supermarkets, ran in this exact feature many years ago.
Anyway, the deal is that homes in China, even the supermodern apartments in Shanghai so not in general have ovens. Because Chinese people, in general, do not bake. They love steaming, but they do not bake.
As I explain, when I was growing up in New York City in the 1980s, we rarely used our oven, an ancient gas-powered model from the late 1950s with no internal lights, no window, no timer, no beeping alarms to let you know something was ready or going wrong. The oven was so old, it had to be lit with a match (which once resulted in a kaboom! and singed bangs when my babysitter only remembered that step several minutes after she turned on the gas).
So our dark, creaky oven served as an extra dish rack and a convenient dumping ground for unsightly, awkward appliances, as my mother could not let valuable storage space go to waste in our cramped kitchen. We could go for months without opening the oven door. If something wanted to set up a nest in our oven, Iâ€™m sure it could have bred many generations before my family would have noticed.
As a journalist, it’s actually quite nice to write a personal essay once in a while
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