Thoughts on Chopping

I love the act of chopping. Sometimes even when it just needs to be done in quick, rough chops for a stew, or when I have an afternoon and want to pay attention to the fineness of my julienne, the attention to detail that I find incredibly satisfying after seeing a nice, fluffy pile of thread-like vegetables on my chopping block.

Check out that bolo (aka itak, a traditional Filipino knife, often used for cutting grasses, general household work & breaking a coconut open in one fell swoop. I would love one.

My grandmother makes a standard mince look effortless. With her lumpia (fried spring rolls filled with vegetables and meat) the level to which each carrot, red onion, green onion, and sprig of cilantro is minced puts the most aspiring cooks in my family to shame. My grandmother makes trays – literally, catering trays full of these vegetable oil-fried delicacies – that each one of her 21 grandchildren (from 10 of her children) gets to take home a snugly wrapped package in cling wrap or tin foil after coming over to her house for some sort of celebration, often birthdays grouped together or Christmas and Easter celebrations.

When it gets cold and windy outside my apartment in Toronto, and I’ve arrived home from a long day and an awful commute, sometimes I just want to take a bunch of carrots out the fridge and chop, chop away. The rhythm of repetitive motions – big lengthwise slice, smaller perpendicular slice, stack and align layers together, chop a little more – is something I find calming, even on occasions when I feel more in tune with rage than frustration and desperately want to hack away at the carrot tops over and over again.

I’m not likely going to get to my grandmother’s level of dedication of chopping everything into miniscule cubes (a reason for a food processor to be on my wish list), but I do find it comforting; not very long ago, I learned how to cook from people who took the time to prepare their meals because they had to, because beautifully chopped vegetables that you could visibly make out from the well-mashed, puree-like mixture of pork seasoned with fish sauce, vinegar and spices, was a delight on its own to eat. Being the oldest grandchild had its perks, best of which was hanging around the kitchen while my grandmother made these savoury treats, and being the first to pluck those spring rolls (about as tall as my grandmother’s middle finger, she cut an entire roll in half to feed more) cooling on a wire rack, fresh from a hot potful of oil.

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