Favorite childhood dishes

Community members share about revisiting recipes during quarantine

Brian Xu

For as long as he can remember, Assistant Principal Nico Flores alternated celebrating each Christmas with either his mom or dad, after his parents were divorced when he was young. And each time Flores spent Christmas with his dad, he looked forward to his dad’s classic rice dish recipe.

“When I was with my dad, I don’t often remember him cooking very much,” Flores said. “And so when he would have this Christmas rice dish, it always just resonated with me. And it stuck with me — besides barbecuing, that’s the one thing I remember him really taking pride in in regards to cooking. And so as the years [went] by, and we’ve been spending a lot of Christmases together, and our families have continuously just grown and grown, everybody loves the rice dish.”

The role of learning to cook this rice dish has been passed down to Flores, and even now, his dad often gives him reminders as he’s cooking it for his family. The dish consists of Uncle Ben’s long grain rice, monterey jack cheese, sliced jalapenos, sliced almonds and sour cream. Flores describes the dish as a “feel-good” and “belly-warming” side dish that complements prime rib or turkey.

“I’ve expanded it from not just Christmas, but also to Thanksgiving, and everybody loves it,” Flores said. “It’s just the staple of the dinner table. And it’s been fun messing around sometimes. I got a little too hot one year and did pure jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. People were like, ‘No, no, it’s too hot. It’s too hot.’ So I had one year [where] I did one hot, one mild, and it’s been fun. I hope to pass it down to my boys when it’s time for them to start chipping in a little bit more.”

Senior Malavika Eby has also developed an interest in cooking after enjoying meals her parents prepared. As a child, her favorite dishes to eat included fried chicken, fried fish, lamb curry and biryani, a rice dish mixed with masala. After moving to America when she was five, Eby also became fond of pizza with black olives, pineapple and chicken. 

However, Eby herself didn’t start cooking until 2020. Her parents both made elaborate dishes each meal, and Eby realized how dependent she was on their cooking after attending an out-of-state summer program in 2019. There, she realized that she relied on her parents for a lot of day-to-day help such as doing laundry or cooking. Spending more time at home due to the shelter-in-place restrictions has given Eby the chance to experiment and become more self-sufficient by cooking her own dishes. A memorable dish Eby cooked was paneer biryani, which required her to cook paneer and biryani separately before mixing them together at the end — it was one of her favorite dishes her mother made as well.

“Something that I always struggle with is that I have really little patience,” Eby said. “[For example,] with my art, I always rush my brushstrokes and I make mistakes because I’m just ready to finish. And with cooking, definitely cooking that dish in particular, I was pretty proud of myself for really [taking] it through each of those steps and not giving up halfway.”

Like Eby, senior Katherine Li has also taken advantage of her free time over quarantine by cooking. She has enjoyed trying out new recipes and dishes that take a long time to make, as quarantine has given her the ability to spend an entire day cooking. On most days, she cooks at least two meals for her family, since her parents both work from home. 

As a child, Li particularly loved dishes that her parents didn’t often prepare for her including sushi and Hawaiian BBQ. She is excited to have the opportunity to make those now since she didn’t often get to enjoy these dishes at home as a child. Now, Li loves to taste Indian and Mexian cuisines at restaurants because she can’t easily cook these styles at home. One of her favorite restaurants is Sankranti, an Indian restaurant located in Sunnyvale.

“I was always fascinated by food as a child, especially with things like how certain foods brought me certain memories and eating good food always made me happy,” Li said. “This, combined with the fact that I liked to be independent and learn to do things on my own, meant I started cooking as soon as I was tall enough to reach the stove. My parents were pretty lenient in letting me learn to cook on my own, and I think this interest peaked some time in middle school. I  wanted to be able to cook so that I could create memories with those I love over a good meal.”

Flores has also found unexpected opportunities for cooking during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April of 2020, his family had planned to go on a trip to Hawaii — it was the first time in four years that his entire family’s spring break landed on the same week. 

“Obviously, the pandemic pretty much shut that down,” Flores said. “We had some things mapped out as far as where we were going to go and eat… And so instead, [it’s] not the same, but like [we were] going to [go to] L&L barbecue, so we got the Hawaiian barbecue and brought it in. And we knew we were going to go for a steak dinner, so we went to Costco and got some really nice steaks, and we barbecued those steaks. And so really bringing some of the flavors in was fun, and it kind of made you feel like we were in Hawaii. We had some tropical music playing and we had the boys put on some Hawaiian shirts for dinner.”

For those looking to try out cooking for themselves, like Li and Eby, Flores suggests establishing a positive atmosphere and also encourages being creative with food. Flores likes to prioritize having an enjoyable experience especially when cooking with family.

“Don’t be judgmental,” Flores said. “I mean, my son puts stuff on his food that I’m like, ‘What are you doing? You’re ruining it.’ But that’s not fair for me to say — that’s how he interprets the food, and he likes the food. Poking fun is always good, keeping the humor up, and laughing is never a bad thing. But doing it in the right context is important.”