On food, memory and identity
I don't try to keep it a secret that I love to eat, in fact, I'd go as far as to say a lot of my friendships are based on a mutual love of eating. My social events are almost always accompanied by a meal, drink or dessert.
On my recent trip to Asia, my family was basically running on a schedule of running between restaurants and houses for yum cha or dinners. Anticipating yum cha with an uncle or aunt, we'd wake up in the late morning, wearily rolling out of bed (my preferred approach is the one-limb-at-a-time which takes approximately a quarter of an hour if I'm speedy), but slowly picking up the pace when our collective hunger grew to make us a little frantic.
Yum cha is not simply a Chinese brunch – it's a marathon event. One doesn't sit down and order – nuh uh. One particular morning we were at the PanXi restaurant, near the historic Lychee Bay area. We took our seats at a table and while waiting for the water to boil for our kung fu cha, Dad told my brother and I a story about how our grandfather used to come here in the summer, sipping on tea from mid-morning to afternoon, polishing off plates at a leisurely pace that would allow him to eat for hours, while periodically picking lychees from the fruit-laden trees that hung over him. Unlike here in Sydney, tea is served kung fu cha style, maximising the time to enjoy the tea and for conversation. According to Wiki, kung fu cha translates to 'making tea with skill', which in a yumcha context speaks to the Chinese appreciation of tea and the value it represents in social settings rather than the actual technicalities of brewing the Best Cuppa Ever™. The food comes out, plates at a time, each with morsels just enough to satisfy a craving you never knew you had (hence dim sum: to touch the heart).
Upon returning to Sydney I was catching up on the current season of Mind of a Chef (highly recommended). This season's chef is Danny Bowien, whom I've been following for a year or two, but mainly for his association with Thursday's Geoff Rickly. What resonated with me about this season is the journey by which Danny found himself, as the adopted Korean son of two American parents, through cooking Chinese food at Mission Chinese. He's defined and still is defining his own identity through what he makes and being acquainted with Korean culture through his wife.
It'd be very Eat, Pray, Love of me to say I find myself through food, but it's not entirely untrue..? It's weird growing up as an immigrant in Western culture but knowing very little of my background. Sometimes I feel as if I'm a bit of a hack, but I definitely felt closer to my culture overseas, but I'm not sure if I'm seeing it through Western eyes because everything seems new and novel. My school lunches were peanut butter between two slices of Wonder White (I upgraded to multi-grain somewhere in the later stages of primary school), I didn't have ethnic food that other school kids teased me about as is so often depicted in TV programmes or movies, partly due to being enrolled in a school with probably the highest concentration of Asians in the state. In adulthood, despite my natural inclination to try new cuisines and dishes, I've never really pursued Chinese cuisine, but put me in a Chinese restaurant and I'll start speaking in Mandarin to the staff. It's not even my native dialect!
I guess what this trip has spurred is an internal shift of trying to reconcile mixed messages from my youth and explore this nexus of culture, identity and memory through food. A big part of this is overcoming this lifelong misconception that it's not cool or trendy to be anything other than white and outdoorsy. I can't change my facial features (special thanks the girls who teased me in Year 1), my family (not that I want to) or have people take back all the confusion and pain I endured as a child, but I can open up a dialogue on my personal history and serve it to you as a side dish. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(Actually on second thoughts, MAIN DISH. I deserve to be a main.)