My relationship with food in the early stages was stunted and noncommittal.
I drenched my meals with bowls of lukewarm herbal soup, drowning out the fragrance of Jasmine rice, whatever made it more gulpable. My younger meal times could probably break pitstop records.
As I grew older, friends and family noted this little Malaysian Chinese girl’s tendency towards “Western” tastes.
I chose baked beans and sausage over clear soup Kuey Teow noodles, chicken snitzel over collagen-prized chicken feet, and to their alarm, I favored non-spicy food.
“Are you even Chinese?” “Are you even Malaysian?” Questions about the way this little girl and her eating habits bewildered both my parents. They stuttered and protested, and eventually caved.
My pitstop times at the table began to slow to a crawl as they suddenly tried serving me things I absolutely distrusted.
Some nights, I would sit motionless in the dark for ages in tears, forbidden from leaving the table until I had finished every speck of food on the plate.
I rebelled. The relationship with food grew tenuous.
The Chinese have a belief that if you waste a farmers blood, sweat, and tears, that your future spouse will find their beloved skin marred by pocked marks. The more grains of rice left, the more scarred their visage. In short, waste rice, ugly wife (or husband).
But I didn’t care. I was a sneaky little tot. There were soon methodical experiments of cleaning my platter that still impresses me today.
Oh to be young again, and pattering off to the bathroom with chipmunk cheeks to flush the offending tastes away. The plants outside the kitchen window suddenly stood a little sturdier and up a few centimeters. Tissues to “collect bones” slowly gathered around my platter, getting plumper and plumper underneath their folds.
Then one day, it all stopped.
I left my homeland for the land of the Supersize Me steak, burgers, pizzas, chops, and Southern hospitality. There my restrained appetite grew along with my girth, and I became insatiable.
No one could restrict me from chicken fried steak on Meaty Mondays, bulbous burritos on Taco Tuesday, Wednesday proferred student special brisket sandwiches, Thursday was always fried chicken night, Friday was great for late night, sloppy diner food. Oh and glorious weekends, we had BBQ, lifted off the grill to the loud cheering of American football.
It wasn’t until a year or two of this, that I woke up one morning sick to the stomach.
I craved rice.
Nothing would satisfy me but rice porridge, with picked vegetables and chicken feet. If there was braised bean curd skin, and boiled peanuts, then I would have kissed the cook.
But there was no cook, my parents and maid were ovens away, and the nearest Asian food store was a 3 hour drive away.
So my itch grew wild for weeks, overwhelming my desire for Hawaiian slices, and pink-in-the-middle steaks. General Cho’s failed to satisfy, and fried rice made me cry.
Finally, the other international students piled like clowns into a tiny car to make the once a semester roadtrip for supplies. We returned to campus with either another human or teetering piles of plastic bags on our laps. There, cross-legged on carpeted floor, around the warmth of a steaming hotpot, we feasted like kings.
From absence brews fondness, and from there, grew love.
When I graduated from my time in America, and returned to Malaysia, I became a full time staff food writer. This time, I ate spicy food by the local roadside stalls with as much aplomb as I did a wild mushroom parpadelle.
So that’s the story of how I got right with food. Except, for eggs, I’ll save that for another day