Every Chinese New Year I get to taste the best food prepared and sometimes store-bought by my husband’s relatives and my Chinese friends who invited me over to their homes. Its dawned on me lately that all these older folks who prepared these food and know where to get the best Chinese delicacies will pass on one day. And then what will become of the food? To whom have they passed their culture to? Their own children have no interest in learning and are just happy eating their food. When I was in USA, I also found myself consciously recreating the dinners my father used to cook for me. And he, too, has not passed on his culture to me either. I then began to think that it is not very fair for the next generation, our children, not being able to not grow up with the food that my generation grew up with because we did not bother to learn how to cook from our forebears.
Since my husband’s parents have passed on and I know zero about Chinese cooking, I know enough about the kind of food that my husband grew up with from listening to him talk about what his mother used to cook for him, and what his dad used to cook for him. He ultimately loves oyster egg and generally he grew up on Hokkien cuisine. I, on the other hand, grew up with a mix of local Singaporean and Indonesian cuisine. My father used to work in Hong Kong and was an apprentice to a chef there so he is very fluent in some Chinese dialects and also Chinese food. I also love a variety of other dishes, but there are just some foods that connect to you deeply and I feel that it is my responsibility to learn them and pass them on to my children. The problem is how do I learn them when the grandparents are not around to teach them.
I’ve been actually going around asking my friend’s and husband’s aunties to mentor me. And whichever aunties that I come across who are like retired and sitting around at home. So far no one has readily accepted. The language for one is a huge barrier. Most of them speak in dialect and they don’t have written recipes. It’s all guestimations from years and years of cooking. So I have to figure that one out.
Another avenue is to practice at home on my own with recipes provided by the Internet. At least I know how the food should ideally taste like and I can tweak them accordingly. This requires a lot of hard work at the stove and I don’t really have the energy right now for it.
I also thought about cooking classes. I think it will be fun to join a cooking class. Make friends, cook and share food. What can go wrong?
I figured I have a long while to learn and get the recipes right. After the last 6 years of cooking. Yes I’ve only started cooking 6 years ago. I know its embarrassing! I found that that its really a lot of work and with each dish, your recipe gets better. My noble pursuit actually began as a grad student trying to save money then when I had Livia, I wanted Livia to grow up with the food her mother makes for her. Preferably, wholesome, healthy and memorable. Then I started reading all these food articles and had a whole new perspective on culture and home cooking. Like so many of my friend’s aunties made me confinement food after I gave birth. Who is going to give my girls confinement food when they give birth? Shouldn’t it be their own mother?
Basically, the longer I stay at home and the older the children grow, I began to see the meaning of being at home. Its not just about saving money. Its not just about being there for the children. Parents are the carriers of culture, and if more people understood that, then maybe mothers will get more respect in society. This parenting thing though is so tricky. I am finding myself cycling backwards as I go forward in life. Trying to recreate my childhood (minus the not so nice parts about it) for my children. Its more difficult to do so when the people who raise you are not around to guide you along in your parenting journey.