When I sit down on quiet nights to reminisce about my childhood, all I can think about is food. The little time that I got to spend with my father when I was a kid was always after dinner. My father would snuck me out, quietly away from my mother who’s rather strict about our diet then, and we would drive 20 minutes into town just to get satay.
It wasn’t particularly amazing satay. We would stop by to get a stick or two, happily munching away in front of the stall while getting smoked smelly. On the way back home, I would fall asleep in the car and my father would willingly carry me back home and tucked me in for the night.
Nowadays, when I obsessively jot down my day in my journal, the first thing I need to write down is my meals. What did I have? At where? Was it good? I even started a little notebook filled with recipes and notes about my little experimentations with baking. (More flour to add chewiness to my chocolate chip cookies.)
When I began my journey as a photojournalist, one of the projects that caught my eye was this photographer who went around documenting people who ate alone in our society that can’t seem to stomach ‘being alone’. And I started documenting bits and pieces about everything related to food – markets, stalls, recipes, people dedicated to food.
Throughout the years, my observations and experiences in documenting people showed me how easily food brings people together – just like the satay excursions. Almost every major festival has a symbolic dish of its own. Think eggs on Easter day, pineapple tarts on Chinese New Year, turkey for Thanksgiving, the list goes on and on. Families spend ages in the kitchen cooking up a huge homey meal during these festivals. Some families have their own secret recipes for certain dishes, and they have to have those dishes every year!
When dating a guy whose background was completely different from mine, I found the easiest way to introduce him to my culture was through food – my mother’s fried rice, fried mee hoon that I love, a warm bowl of porridge that will cure anyone’s homesickness.
Never would I have thought there will be a day I have to write about food for a living. Some truly happy moments that I have experienced involved me rolling my eyes back in satisfaction as I savoured food that tasted out of this world. But how do I translate all these feelings into words? How can I make people who are sitting behind a screen, taste?
I feel severely incompetent in expressing those moments. The people that I see talking about food are experienced brash chefs who spent years and years toiling away in the kitchen (think Anthony Bourdain, Gordan Ramsay). To be honest, on some days when I write about food, I feel useless. How can I make someone eat something with just words?
How can I convey the happiness that I feel when I eat something so tasty that it washes away all my stress from work that day? Or when I need a pick-me-up, I huddle in a corner with a tub of ice-cream or a simple chocolate bar and that would cheer me up instantly?
Seven years in the news industry, and I have chosen this path. I have made quite a few turns, far away from what I envisioned myself to be five years ago.
I have chosen this path. I know that I love documenting everything about food, especially the people who work so hard creating them. I love food – and here’s to hoping I am able to be my truest self when writing about it.