How “Italian Eggplant” Divided Us, and Then United Us in Love

(Photo by Alice Henneman via
(Photo by Alice Henneman via

The old saying goes that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But what of a woman’s heart? I have to wonder if that’s even more true for us, especially after the culinary feat my husband accomplished in the past few months.

In case you didn’t know, my husband is now the chef in our family. He’s the one who toils every evening in the kitchen to put together some of the most scrumptious meals I’ve ever tasted.

That’s quite a feat from a fellow who once shied away from the wok. Whenever people asked him if he could cook, he’d always laugh and reply, “I only know how to add in oil and salt.” He always used to claim I was the one more skilled in this arena, preferring to leave the spatula to me.

But in the past few years, my husband started shouldering more of the cooking responsibilities. Until at some point (I still can’t remember exactly when) he took over preparing all the meals in our home. It was a godsend in many respects, especially when I was in the hospital last year and couldn’t have managed the recovery without his support in the kitchen.

The last thing I expected, however, was for my husband to prepare that infamous eggplant dish, just for me.

Jun and I have a fascinating history with eggplant – specifically, a Chinese-style dish I’ve nicknamed “Italian Eggplant”. It’s one of the first dishes I ever prepared for him when we started dating years ago. It’s also a dish that led to one of our first heated (no pun intended) arguments.

I remember that muggy summer evening in Hangzhou, proudly setting that blue and white porcelain bowl on the dinner table after toiling over the wok. The whole apartment was redolent with the savory aroma of eggplant stir-fried with tomatoes, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, a dash of vinegar, and a touch of sea salt. I inhaled with satisfaction as I thought of all the friends who had tasted the very same dish, heaping on the compliments as big as the second and third helpings they enjoyed at my place.

Surely, Jun was going to love this dish just as much. Or so I thought…until he started eating.

“Too sour. Too much soy sauce. Too much tomato,” he said. Jun grimaced with every bite – and I could feel my anger rising with every complaint. How dare he insult the food I so lovingly prepared for him! Where was his appreciation for my hard work?

I let him have it, as I slammed my chopsticks on the table and asked him what the hell was wrong with him?

Admittedly, I was a little hot-headed at the time. But it had to do with how I’d been raised – to always say thank you to the chef, even if you didn’t like the food. It was a lesson I’d learned well after years of dining at my paternal grandmother’s house. She was a notoriously horrible cook who would entertain us with things like soggy, tasteless macaroni and veggies from a can. Even though I could sometimes barely stomach the stuff on my plate, I would force myself to say how good the food was.

When I told Jun about this, his face turned as red as the tomatoes in the dish. Turns out, he had a completely different experience growing up at the table. Every dinner included a course of blunt feedback about how everything tasted – even if that meant saying the food was unequivocally bad.

I apologized for my outburst, and he apologized for criticizing my food, instead of saying thanks.

Meanwhile, I figured that was the last time we would ever dine on my Italian Eggplant.

Except, it wasn’t.

Over the years, Jun surprised me by actually giving the dish a second chance – and loving it. It gradually became a favorite for us. Yes, a favorite! Who would have thought?

Then, after Jun assumed the role of chef in our home, he surprised me again.

One evening, our house was once again redolent with the aroma of dinner, courtesy of Jun. And it smelled very familiar. Was that eggplant and tomato in the air? And soy sauce? I followed my nose to the table, only to discover that Jun had cooked Italian Eggplant just for me, from scratch.

With one bite, I found myself in ecstasy once again. “Mmmm, this is so delicious!” I exclaimed, unable to contain myself over the delectable flavor. How had he so perfectly replicated the dish I once lovingly crafted for him all those years before?

Jun likes to say he transcended himself in finally learning to make this dish. I like to say he did it for love. But honestly, whenever it’s on the table, we don’t say much at all. We just eat and eat and eat, thankful that the food that we once argued over brought us together in delicious harmony.

25 Replies to “How “Italian Eggplant” Divided Us, and Then United Us in Love”

  1. Perfectly lovely recollection! As a guy who enjoys cooking, I’m certainly a big fan of couples doing it, as a team! As the saying goes, “The family that cooks together, stays together!”

  2. I agree with ManilaMemories. It’s nice when both of you know how to cook so you can trade off, and even better when you can cook together.

    Jocelyn, I was expecting you to say that when Jun made Italian eggplant, he made some small adjustments hoping you’d like his version. Instead, he decided it was more important to please you.

      1. Thanks also, Jocelyn. Indeed, I’ve actually been checking a few recipes online to get ideas and here’s a simple one that I’d like to modify….Originally described as a Japanese “Italian-style” dish, I’m thinking of adding mozzarella cheese and olives to it and I could also reconfigure this as a “meat” dish perhaps by adding hamburger, for instance….

  3. I must admit though, the idea of a tomato-eggplant dish is a new one for me. It has never registered in my mind that these two could go together….I’m curious to see what different online recipes I can come up with!

    1. Hi Christine!
      Btw, I enjoy your blog and in particular, a couple of posts entitled “What Would Attract a White Girl to an Asian Guy?” and the follow-up “What would Attract THIS White Girl to an Asian Guy.” Some of your observations and recollections really struck a chord that it has inspired me to begin writing down my own thoughts based in part on what you wrote.

  4. Tomatoes are not only part of the eggplant family, both of these are highly rich in antioxidants and compounds that help the body fight off cancer cells. Many Chinese dishes called Qiang Qiang Lian Shou are crafted to include two or more ingredients with high nutrient value to produce a supplemental effect. One of these is Broccoli and garlic stirfried together.

    1. Sure, Marta.

      It’s a really simple recipe. You just need some Asian-style eggplant (the slender ones), tomatoes, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and optionally green onion. I would say you probably need about 5 or 6 eggplants and about 2-3 tomatoes. For garlic, 1 to 2 cloves. For the ginger, a slice.

      Slice the eggplant into thin strips. Cube the tomato. Smash the garlic clove and chop into small pieces. Chop the ginger into small pieces as well. Chop the green onion into small pieces.

      Add oil to your wok at medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger for less than a minute to roast them (be careful not to let them burn, then add in the eggplant and begin stir-frying them together. After a few minutes, add the tomato pieces. Keep stir-frying until the eggplant is very soft and the tomato has turned into a sauce for the dish. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. At last, add the green onion and stir-fry for about a minute.

      Then you’re done!

  5. I´ll tell you about another one that is actually one of the best. Here in the US a lot of mainland Chinese shows are broadcast on two New York channels and one of those my family watches all the time is Health Kitchen. This one is asparagus and a certain kind of mushroom called Xing Bao Gu. (I am not sure of the English name for it but if it is available here in NY Chinatown it should be even easier to obtain in Hangzhou. Both the asparagus and Xingbao gu are sliced up and then stir fried with slivers of ginger thrown in. According to the resident doctor always present on the show, this kind of combo brings out all of the antioxidants present in asparagus that protects the kidneys. In the US kidney disease is very prevalent among Chinese due to working extremely long hours and failure to get enough rest so when this dish was introduced both asparagus and Xingbaogu became high demand items. My family just made it two days ago.

  6. i just tried this dish and it is delicious !!!!!!!!! now i know how to cook eggplants !!!! ( i used to cook just eggplants with garlic, with salt and pepper ). for this dish, i used the chinese sweetened black vinegar, not the white vinegar.
    do you have any more recipes to shares ??
    thank you!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: