When I think of Halloween, I don’t think of candy, costumes, or even the Halloween movie franchise, though I do love Jamie Lee Curtis. Instead, I think of one thing: three slightly overripe pumpkins carefully buckled into the back of my grandfather’s 1993 Buick LeSabre.
Let me explain.
On Halloween night (almost) every year, my grandfather would set up a station of Chinese dishes in our front yard, open to any and every neighbor who found themselves in the general vicinity of our house between 6-9 PM.
While other neighbors passed out handfuls of Snickers and Starbursts, my grandfather choose to celebrate Halloween in the best (and honestly, most Asian grandfatherly) way he knew how: He’d invite neighbors over to snack on dishes made from recipes he knew by heart, typically ones he’d only make for those he considered family.
It was a tradition born out of my grandfather’s love of cooking, and merged with an appreciation for his adopted country’s traditions. Through this custom of sharing kindness in the form of food year after year, I witnessed how our neighbors went from knowing nothing about Asian dishes to becoming some of my grandfather’s biggest fans. And I saw how this could strengthen bonds in a once-anonymous suburban neighborhood.
Planning for my grandfather’s Halloween meal usually started the same way.
On Halloween morning, I’d hear the rattle of the engine from my grandfather’s 1993 Buick LeSabre, pulling into our driveway at about 6:30 AM. The trunk of the car would be solidly packed with crumpled paper bags of fresh Asian ingredients like Shanghai bok choy (上海白菜), stir-fried nian gao (炒年糕 or rice cakes) and wonton (馄饨) wrappers -- all carefully sourced from our local 99 Ranch Market the night before.
And in the back seat would be a sight which never failed to make me laugh: those three pumpkins (destined for an immediate future as savory pancakes) packed with the same care as a trio of Faberge eggs. It was always only three; I once asked him why he didn’t buy more pumpkins, just in case. He studied me with a look of bemused Asian frugality. “We don’t want to waste food, OK?” And that was that.