I’ve been struggling with writing this week, as over the course of writing this post I inevitably realize that it’s probably worthy of two or more separate posts, and then I get all concerned with how best to divide up the topics so that they make sense. But it’s only fitting that something so essential in my life would be so pervasive and broad in scope, and there comes a time when your brain has gone in enough circles that you just need to hit “Publish”. I mean, to really explain the extent of my passion for food, I’d probably have to write an entire book – and I sense that most of you, however interested or supportive or just plain curious you may be, have a plethora of other things keeping you busy.
I would much rather be called a gastronome, gourmand or epicure than a foodie (which to many has become a term rife with unflattering connotations), but whichever way you slice it – I am just someone who really loves good food. Food, to me, is many things. Shared with others, it is an act of communion. Thoughtfully prepared, it is respect and admiration for that which gives us nourishment; and the desire to do justice to every last bite of it by realizing its full potential. Enjoyed by oneself, it is whatever one wants to make of it, and the freedom to choose is a wonderful thing. It’s said that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and since we must eat in order to live, it would behoove us to dine as well as we possibly can.
Part of my childhood was spent living in close proximity to maternal extended family, who are all incredibly fond of food and see it as a way to bond and show their love. We spent countless days at our grandparents’ – my grandmother always saw to it that there were at the very least three different main dishes on the table and an abundance of rice; my grandfather marinated chicken and ribs for the grill while we collected ripe plums and crabapples from their backyard trees – and countless hours in restaurants, sometimes driving almost an hour outside the city just to visit a particular restaurant that my grandparents (and by extension, the rest of the family) favoured, where they carved our meat tableside while we watched with greedy eyes, and laid dish after dish on the table(s). Over mouthfuls of food we talked and laughed, and ate till we were stuffed, and there were always plenty of leftovers to take home.
My paternal grandmother was also a great cook, an expert in the traditional Chinese cuisine of her home region. Her sticky rice dumplings wrapped in banana leaves, stuffed full of fatty pork, duck liver sausage, salted egg yolks and all manner of other delights were unparalleled, and each time I received one to open it was like being gifted a little edible treasure chest.
Loving food for food’s sake, though possibly simplistic, is understandable. I get it. I stand there proudly. But I also see the act of its consumption much as my grandparents saw it – a sense of familial communion, of food produced with sincerity, generosity and love, of joy in what nature and skilled hands can provide us.