Growing up food didn’t bring me an immense amount of joy, I was a painfully fussy eater, only picking through my limited pre-approved list of meals. Now as an adult, I’ve dropped the fussy eater part, but I’ve maintained the ‘painful’ element, and carefully distributed it throughout various facets of my life.
I despised seafood. To the point of my parents bringing out any seafood separately at Christmas lunch, once I had finished and left the table. As mentioned above, ‘painful’. Pretty much any protein that wasn’t chicken breast, or processed lunch meats was off the cards for me. A Sunday roast, steak at a BBQ, or anything besides honey chicken at a Westernised Chinese restaurant was a definite no go.
My parents would consistently serve well balanced meals, in which I had little to no care for and would happily pick around my plate. Reserving space for savoury carbs or in some instances, be completely insulting and skip the meal they’ve made for me entirely and opt for a slice of Vegemite toast instead.
Diverse, nourishing, plentiful meals did nothing for me, and yet they are now fundamentally instrumental in my day to day life. In keeping with all other aspects of my life, this comes with a contradictory element – I have always loved to cook and be in the kitchen for as long as my somewhat battered memory will allow me to recall.
Whilst venturing down memory lane, my childhood is swamped with memories of my parents taking my sister and I out to an array of Vietnamese restaurants in Bankstown for Pho. I, of course, had the chicken version and would always request a second smaller bowl, so when my soup came out I could scoop out all the noodles and just focus on that, move the chicken over to my father, and save the broth for later to sip on.
I know, I should really insert a synonym here for ‘difficult’, but I think we’ve got the picture now.
When we moved to Campbelltown, the tradition continued as we scouted more places to go. One of my favourites was just around the corner from my primary school. I’d go every few weeks with my dad who collected me from school in the afternoons, as he was a night shift worker at the time.
Now, Queen Street in Campbelltown doesn’t have much to offer in the best of times, especially right now as most of the shopfronts are empty and boarded up or labelled with “For Lease” signs. Although, one long standing and iconic shop that comes to mind for me is Yasmin Bakery, located down a laneway latched onto Queen St. The place that started my obsession with Man’oushe, and the venue I hold responsible for my reluctant nature to pay over $3 for Za’atar Man’oushe in the city.
It has been about 17 years since my last visit and the unexpected close of my favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Campbelltown. Walking into the eatery always made me feel at ease, somewhat at home. Although, I’ll caveat that from a purely aesthetic perspective it was the opposite; you know the drill, clinical fluorescent lighting and glaring white walls contrasted by the black laminate tables and mismatched chairs. As soon as we entered, the ritual began – a quick glance at the menu, heads propped up like meerkats scanning the room to signal with eye contact that we’re ready to order, followed by my systematic routine once the meal is received.
Fast forward to 2021, earlier this year my father and I were catching up in Newtown, eating our respective bowls of Pho. I pushed my bowl closer to his and picked out the slices of rare beef with my chopsticks, ready to shift over to him – but as I looked up I watched him roll his eyes in which he then proceeded to mutter, “here we go”.
In that moment it became glaringly obvious that he is not a fan of my mix and match meal approach, and for almost the entirety of my existence he’s always just been subtly accommodating my fussy ways.
Pushing my brain into overdrive mode, I quickly created a mental slideshow of all the times in my life I had divided up meals to pass along all the bits I wasn’t so fond of, and how he never hesitated to take on whatever I was passing him. Imagine that, for almost 3 decades taking on someone’s offcuts, because you knew their enjoyment would be heightened, even if you’re slightly inconvenienced.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, for me this is an example of true love. Yes, correct – me being able to fling meat across to someone else’s bowl is my idea of love. This one act is consistent, thoughtful and a clear cut proof of compromise and care. Whenever someone asks me what my love language is, I confidently respond with “acts of service”, with only food related examples coming to mind.
Much like my parents, I’ve morphed into a ‘feeder type,’ I prefer to showcase my care, love and affection for people by ensuring they know that there is someone who is consciously looking out for them. Because really isn’t the dates out, dinner parties at home or a baked treat on your birthday.
It’s the subtle acts of kindness that gently work their way into everyday life;
The “I know you’re working late so dinner is in the fridge”, the double checking how someone likes their cup of tea, then using their favourite mug to make it, it’s monitoring your co-workers and ensuring they’ve stopped to have lunch, it’s sharing a recipe with your foodie pal, making a conscious effort to remember your friends dietary requirements, it’s the people in your life who top up your glass of wine after a hard day, then hours later swap it out for a glass of water because it’s been a long night (OR pick you up a Powerade from the convenience store the next morning and leave it on your bedside table, either all).
It’s the attention to detail and the level of care and consideration someone has for you, when you don’t have it for yourself.
My childhood view of food has vastly evolved, well beyond me coming to my senses and extending my list of preferences. Food to me now exceeds nourishment, it is representative of history, culture, tradition, nostalgia, community and love.
I know my revelation sounds like the teaser of a dramatised reality cooking show or perhaps is reminiscent of one of those excessive preludes on an online recipe that no one asked for. But much like this blog, all of these things serve a common purpose; they kill just a little bit of time and up leaving you with more questions than what you started with, mainly, “why did I just waste my time with that?”