When my grandmother recently turned 74, I called to wish her a happy birthday. We sifted through our regular topics: school, friends, family. Uniquely, the rise in Asian hate crimes came up — since this time last year, attacks against Asian people have risen by nearly 169 percent. And while my grandmother shared her fears, she also told me she’s been finding solace in cooking, her form of self-care. It was then that I confided in her my shortcomings when it comes to traditional Chinese meals. I had just moved into my new apartment and was struggling to cook authentic-yet-easy Chinese dishes. After a brief pause, my grandma laughed and said, “不应该这样,” or “it shouldn’t be that way,” a phrase she often uses to chide me regarding my (lack of) knowledge of Taiwanese culture. A few days later, an Instant Pot arrived at my door. I called my grandmother to thank her. “Now you have no excuse to not cook our food,” she replied — then we set up a time to make dinner together.
A week or so later, we reconvened and she taught me how to make one of her classic recipes, which also happens to be one of my mom’s favorite dishes to eat growing up. A staple Taiwanese dish, Lu rou fan (braised pork rice) is a soy sauce marinated pork belly over a bed of rice. The dish was originally popularized by farmers looking to sustain themselves with a simple, filling meal, she told me. The Instant Pot was perfect for a braised dish like this because it functions as both a slow cooker and rice cooker, as well as a pressure cooker — it can be ready to eat even faster.
By the end of our hour-long FaceTime call, I came away with a strong understanding of how to use the Instant Pot for Chinese dishes, but an even stronger understanding of my family history — cooking lessons tend to resonate outside food. My grandma is from Taiwan, which some argue is home to the best street food in the world, and always says food has played an important part of her life. She learned this recipe from her mother, who passed away shortly after sharing it. As we sprinkled garlic, ginger and five spice powder over the pork, I realized I was now part of an invaluable family tradition.
Unlike my grandmother, I am not an experienced cook. However, after discovering the push-of-a-button convenience of the Instant Pot, I am eager to try out new recipes. The device is easy to use and does the job of a rice maker and steamer in one appliance — those happen to be the two functions I use most frequently.
The Instant Pot Duo is a cult-favorite pressure cooker that is used to roast, make stews, saute and bake, among other functions — unlike my preconceived notions, it’s not only useful for American recipes. For those who love congee or custard buns, I can attest that the appliance is good for both and is generally versatile. Not only does it have 13 pre-programed features, but it can also prepare a wide variety of foods and keep them warm for 24 hours.
The Instant Pot Duo series comes in three sizes, including 3, 6 and 8 quarts. I have the 3 quart Mini version, which is designed for parties of one or two people (as well as for those with limited kitchen storage). Not to mention, as one of the more affordable electric cookers on the market, it has garnered an impressive 4.7-star average rating from more than 150,000 Amazon shoppers.
Other essentials from my grandma’s kitchen
Another versatile kitchen appliance in my grandma’s kitchen is a cast iron wok. With Joyce Chen’s wok, amateur and professional chefs alike can stir-fry, roast, steam, boil, pain-fry and braise food. Designed with a flat bottom, this wok is compatible with any stove, unlike their rounded base counterparts, which only work on gas stoves. The wok is made with carbon steel, which “works as well as cast iron for cooking, and is also naturally non-stick after you season it,” Diana Kuan, author of “Red Hot Kitchen", previously told us. The 14-inch diameter wok has garnered a 4.3-star average rating from almost 1,900 Amazon shoppers.
And with the wok comes its all-important sidekick: the lid. My grandma prefers this one from Dexam because it has a domed lid, which will divert condensation away from the food. Made from aluminum and fashioned with a wood handle, the lid has a 4-star rating from over 35 Amazon shoppers.
With a 4.7-star average rating from over 1,100 Amazon shoppers, this spatula by Helen’s Asian Kitchen is my grandmother’s choice. Her favorite feature is the angled edge that makes it easy to get the hard to reach parts in sloped skillets. Made from 100-percent natural bamboo, it is safe to use on nonstick cookware as well as metal pots and pans and won’t scratch your kitchen appliances. What’s unique about this spatula is that the company also offers a left-handed version, slotted iteration as well as a longer, 15-inch spatula.
Made from 34 layers of stainless steel, this 7-inch Shun knife is made from a VG-MAX steel formula, which makes the knife more durable than competitors, according to the brand. Featuring a D-shaped handle craft of PakkaWood, it is moisture-resistant, strong and hard wearing. The knife is also beautiful to look at, featuring a watermark design of Damascus. Also for those who don’t sharpen their own knives, Shun has a lifetime free sharpening program where shoppers can send their knives to be sharpened and, within a few weeks, get them back.