“Number one granddaughter, would you like some chicken eggs for breakfast?” my grandfather greets me as I shuffle in the kitchen on a Saturday morning. I can’t help but chuckle at his quirky mannerisms and endearing nickname. “Of course Pop Pop, you make the best chicken eggs,” I reply as I grab the glass of orange juice he has left for me. I slump into one of the chairs at the kitchen table and patiently watch him prepare my chicken eggs. “Why do you call them chicken eggs?” I ask, partly playing along with his joke. “I just want to make sure you know what type of egg you are eating!” Pop Pop says with a laugh as he heats up the skillet. He and I both know there is more behind his joke; something deep within his mind, a memory suppressed and half forgotten. Underneath his eccentric personality and playful spirit is the memory of a life long ago, a childhood lost and riddled with pain and hardship. However, sometimes he lets his façade of happy memories fall away when he cooks and shares stories of his childhood with me. These are my favorite times spent with my grandfather where I learn about his most guarded memories and the life that he keeps close to his heart.
Pop Pop has taken great time and care into making sure all his ingredients are ready to be transformed into my chicken egg omelet. He picks the Chinese chives and thyme from his garden, washes them gently and chops them into tiny morsels on a cutting board. Along with the herbs, he cuts slices of cheese into strips – the last preparations before the eggs hit the skillet. Into a small bowl he cracks the eggs one at a time. He tells me, “Make sure each chicken egg is good; you don’t want to ruin the whole omelet with one bad egg.” The Pop Pop whisks the eggs together until they are pale yellow and heats olive oil in a pan. The olive oil, he claims, creates a lighter, fluffier and healthier chicken egg omelet than using butter. As my grandfather pours the egg mixture into the hot skillet, the familiar sizzle and smell of Pop Pop’s chicken eggs omelets fills the kitchen. Thus begins his stories of his time in the hotel kitchen in Malaysia.
My grandfather was born in 1931 in the Hainan province of China as the second eldest son of six children. When he was an infant his family relocated to Kulau Lampur, Malaysia to escape the invading Japanese forces. The Lim family bought a hotel and opened up for business. As fate would have it, Japanese soldiers took over the hotel as their regional headquarters. From here, the story gets fuzzy with only bits of detail here and there during our time spent together cooking. The next definite chapter of Pop Pop’s life is his journey to America. Fortune smiled upon the Lim family when my grandfather was eighteen; a Methodist missionary from Pennsylvania paid for my Pop Pop to travel to the United States to attend university. Through the kindness of this woman my grandfather studied engineering at Pennsylvania State University and started a new live in America. The rest of his life story I have heard countless times; Pop Pop is always ready to talk about his work as lead engineer on the Three Rivers Stadium or how he worked in the World Trade Center Towers in the 90’s. My grandfather’s life before America is often left to our family’s imagination or the bits of information we collect from older family members. My mother has tried countless times to get him to write his memoirs, but somehow he gets out of it or forgets. As my grandfather gets older, he becomes more set in his ways of life and often forgets details of his oldest stories and memories. My mother and grandmother begin to fear that he will never divulge his life story in its entirety. Lucky for me, I have the opportunity to learn from him while he still remembers and sometimes I can get him to divulge a little more detail than before.
The one side of the omelet is cooked and Pop Pop flips it over in the pan with a flick of his wrist. He lays the cheese strips gently onto the fluffy egg pancake then sprinkles the herbs atop the omelet. “I used to cook omelets just like this in the hotel, you know,” my grandfather says pensively. “Yup Pops,” I reply, “How old were you again?” I keenly ask, hoping for more detail than my last attempt. “I was about your age when I worked in the kitchen, making omelets and other dishes for the guests of our hotel.” Of course he and I both know these so called guests were Japanese soldiers, an unspoken understanding. According to my grandfather’s younger brother, the soldiers essentially took over the family hotel and forced their family to move into the jungles where they ate and slept. My grandfather and his family’s life in the jungle was not easy. Their mother sewed a special pouch in onto the pants of the boys to sneak rice from the hotel kitchen to feed the family each night. She also collected the leftover tobacco and hair grease from the discarded cigarettes and hair tins of the soldiers to sell on the black market for a meager income. I can tell by watching my grandfather flip over the omelet one last time that he is thinking about these times. As he slides the omelet on to my plate he thinks about the hardships of his childhood. He must be drawing the parallels between serving the Japanese and his number one granddaughter the same omelet just fifty plus years later. I can read his eyes; they are sad with memory and heartbreak.
Just as soon as I catch this moment, it passes, and my Pop Pop is smiling at me once again as he hands me my chicken egg omelet. I cut into my omelet, and he begins to make his own. The first bite of my omelet is magical, warming my heart and bringing a smile to my face. I know the love and care my grandfather has put into this simple yet special meal. Each time my grandfather makes an omelet he relives the part of his past he does not talk about. I feel honored to be let into the sanctuary of this memory. “How do you like your chicken eggs, number one granddaughter?” Pop Pop questions me. “They are the best chicken eggs I ever had Pop Pop,” I reply. We smile at each other, and I can’t help but think that he knows exactly what I am thinking.
Haley French is a freshman at American University studying International Relations and International Business. She love culture, reading, and eating.
SELF | May 1998
Yield: Makes 1 omelette
1/4 to 1/3 cup filling
1 teaspoon butter (or 2 teaspoons if sautéing filling)
1 tablespoon milk or water
salt and pepper to taste
First, prepare the filling. A basic rule of thumb is that you need one quarter to one third cup of filling for every two eggs. If you are using a filling that needs to be cooked — such as apples, mushrooms, onions, peppers, leeks — quickly sauté in a small frying pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter. If you are making a cheese omelette, either slice the cheese thinly or grate it finely and put aside.
Crack the eggs into a small mixing bowl. Stir gently with a fork until well-beaten. Add the milk or water, salt and pepper, and any herbs, and set aside.
Heat a 6- to 8-inch omelette pan over high heat until very hot (approximately 30 seconds). Add the butter, making sure it coats the bottom of the pan. As soon as the butter stops bubbling and sizzling (and before it starts to brown), slowly pour in the egg mixture.
Tilt the pan to spread the egg mixture evenly. Let eggs firm up a little, and after about ten seconds shake the pan a bit and use a spatula to gently direct the mixture away from the sides and into the middle. Allow the remaining liquid to then flow into the space left at the sides of the pan.
Continue to cook for another minute or so until the egg mixture holds together. While the middle is still a little runny, add the filling. Put in sautéed vegetables or fruit first, near the center, then sprinkle any cheese on top.
Tilt the pan to one side and use the spatula to fold approximately one third of the omelette over the middle. Shake the pan gently to slide the omelette to the edge of the pan.
Holding the pan above the serving plate, tip it so the omelette rolls off, folding itself onto the plate. The two edges will be tucked underneath.
Recipe From: Epicurious