Tag Archives: food

Home is The Kitchen Where Baba Cooked

“Baba, I caught it! I caught it!” My feet were submerged in the creek water and as I moved my toes up and down, the greenish brown water became murky, slowly covering my feet from sight. It was a nice day. Sun rays beamed through tree branches and green leaves, leaving a light reflection on the surface of the water. My jeans, though rolled up to my shins, were wet from me diving to catch our prize for the day. I looked down and saw the large, unsightly catfish squirming in my hands, splashing droplets of cold water onto my face and arms, and couldn’t help but grin with delight. My dad, Baba, ran towards me and patted me on the head while he looked at me with an approving smile. “Good work Bei-bee! We can tell the crew how you caught their dinner when we get back,” he said as he grabbed the catfish from my palms and dropped it into an ice-filled bucket.

After a long while, we arrived at the restaurant as the crew was cleaning up for the night. Scott, my favorite waiter, had just finished setting up a large round table near the back. Baba showed every person he encountered the fish I caught with great pride as I followed him into the kitchen. I stood by his side as he prepped the fish, diced some scallions, garlic, ginger, and yellow chives, throwing all the ingredients into a big wok. The chlorine smell that once permeated through the air slowly dissipated as the aroma of garlic, scallions, chives, and rice wine drifted out from the heated wok. Patiently, I waited with great anticipation, stretching my body on tippy toes to get a few good glimpses of the contents. My stomach let out a long grumble just as Baba offered me a piece of freshly cooked fish. As I chewed slowly to preserve the flavors in my mouth, I could feel Baba’s gaze on me. His love and approval of my appreciation of food became the foundation to my growing aspiration. That night, the whole crew shared an abundance of food and drinks. The sound of chopsticks clinking with rice bowls filled the gaps between slurping and laughter. This was the very first moment I truly fell in love with food; the curious textures and smells greatly appealed to me. However, it was the comfort and joy of seeing people enjoying food together that solidified my passion. The kitchen where Baba cooked was home to me.

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How it all began. Bittersweet

I’m in Charlotte, NC at the age of 4 or 5 (though grownups often mistaken me for a lot younger due to my size). The sun is beaming from above, rays bouncing off of grains of sand as I scoop them into my white ceramic mug. I know it’s the weekend because I’m the only kid at my babysitters’ house. Two sisters who looked nothing alike. The younger of the two was Marge, who had large short red curls covering her round head and light freckles all over her face and body. She was on the heavier side and usually wore plain capris pants with a loose t-shirt. Peggy was a lot more slender with an oval face. Her ash blond hair lay straight in a boyish cut.

Peggy was in the living room cutting coupons as I was sitting in the sandbox outside, playing with my own imagination as I usually do. Except at that very moment I was trying to make my imagination into reality. You see, they fed me very little and usually I could only hope for one meal a day, which on the weekends were a few bites of whatever microwaveable meal they were eating. I hadn’t had anything to eat all day and felt the muscles in my stomach contracting in agony. As I sat on the hot sand looking at the mug filled with sand in my left hand, I try to imagine the cup filled with soup instead. I open my mouth wide, bringing the mug closer to my lips. Tilting it slightly and thinking how great it would taste while I slowly start pouring in the soup. Dry. Gritty. Bitter. Reality hits. I immediately spit out the sand and start scraping the coating from my tongue and the inside of my mouth. I turn to look over my right shoulder through the glass sliding door to see if the sisters saw. How embarrassing I thought. But then I think, maybe if they did see me they would realize how hungry I am. No movement inside tells me I’ll need to come up with other ways to pass the time.

Weekdays are better because other kids get dropped of in the mornings and stay until it starts to get dark outside. I’m the only one that’s there every day though, always the first to get there and last to leave (if I even get picked up). My parents own the only Chinese restaurant in town and work long hours 7 days a week. Dad tells me he loves me very much and is working hard for me when I do see him, which isn’t often. Mom is a distant woman, always dressed very well. She gets mad at everything I do and complains about how much work kids are as she drops me off at Marge and Peggy’s house. For lunch, a group of 6 – 8 kids get to share a Hungry Man Fried Chicken microwaveable. We each get a piece of the chicken, with a few small bites of mashed potatoes and gravy, and half a spoonful of corn. All the others fight for bigger chunks of the brownie that’s in it’s own compartment, but I’m not a fan of sweets so trying to shove my spoon in there doesn’t seem worth the effort. As the sun starts to set outside, each boy and girl gets picked up one by one until I’m the only one left. I try not to imagine what they get to eat for dinner.

I know this is all a bit depressing for my first post, but there is a silver lining to the story. Over the years, I have come to realize that this was the beginning of my love for food. I was mostly quiet and kept to myself, so lunchtime on the weekdays were the only times I got to interact with others. I looked forward to the smell of that fried chicken every time. For those moments, it felt like I was part of a family. Then they would leave for the day and I’d be alone again – always feeling alone.

Surprisingly, I still crave the Hungry Man Fried Chicken tv dinner every so often and eating it always makes me smile. I now have a more refined palate at the age of 28, but childhood comfort foods will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m going through a discovery phase in life, and decided to write down my stories mostly to help myself understand, well, “me” better.  I hope food has shaped your life just as much as it has mine. There will be more to come soon as I piece together my past to find my future.

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