I sat silently at the last row of hard plastic seats, flanked on both sides by strangers who spoke what sounded like Mandarin. I pulled out my boarding pass for my connecting flight and examined it under the dim, yellow lights.

China Airlines Flight CI0008. Taipei to Los Angeles. September 7.

It hit me. It finally hit me. What I had been preparing for and looking forward to for months was now real. It was now unfolding.

For days, I was preoccupied with a flurry of sendoffs from family and friends. I met friends from work, friends from school, friends I had not seen for years. I was surrounded with family who wished me well, who teared up while wishing me well. I was showered with so much attention, so much affection. Then, suddenly, I was alone. I felt strangely alone while I waited in the crowded terminal, while I waited to board a plane that would take me to the biggest adventure of my life.

Fifteen years have slipped by since I came to America, since I was fresh off the boat, fresh off a China Airlines Boeing 747-400. I had two grand in hundred dollar bills, tied together by a rubber band and stowed surreptitiously in a pocket in my pants. I had a passport and a student visa. I had a suitcase packed with my best clothes. With family photographs and mementos. With Hallmark cards. With Tupperwares full of my mom’s chicken and pork adobo, and beef tapa [tah-pah], frozen so they would last the long trip.

I had dreams. I had plans. Finish graduate school and find a job. Start over. Start again. I didn’t think I would stay. But I did. I’m happy I did.


Beef Tapa Recipe, makes four servings

1 lb sirloin or ribeye steak
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Slice beef across the grain into 1/4-inch thick strips. Whisk together salt, sugar, and freshly ground black pepper in a small bowl. Rub beef with salt and crushed garlic and refrigerate overnight in a sealed container.

Before cooking let steaks rest at room temperature for over an hour. Fry steaks in oil in a pan over medium to high heat until done, turning only once to give the steaks a good sear. Serve with sinangag and fried eggs.

Tapa is so simple to make so splurge with the best cut of grass-fed beef you can find. It can be made ahead of time and frozen in Ziploc bags. Make sure to let the meat completely thaw and rest at room temperature before frying.


Beef Tapa