Sunday, 10 May 2009


I love to eat. So I learnt to cook. Simple meals for one at first, as a young adult striking out on my own in a foreign land. More elaborate, heartier fare in later years for an expanding circle of family and friends. 

In the past two years, I have cooked my way through many milestones: the birth of my son, the loss of my mother, a serious illness of another family member, moving house and country along the way, finally returning to Singapore. 

I cook best when I am happy. When I wasn’t, cooking got me through some bad times…made me feel useful, gave structure and sense to a crazy world in which I seemed to lurch from one crisis to another. Cookbooks – not valium – helped me to relax, gave me some much-needed shut-eye when I faced sleepless nights while recovering from a C-section, exhausted by the cycle of breastfeeding and burping baby, even as scary thoughts of mortality (mine and my loved ones) and what-if scenarios raced through my head. 

Just thinking about food makes me feel good. Pottering about the kitchen…slicing, dicing, mincing…the sizzle of garlic in hot oil, the comforting bubble of a slow braise…the whole process is rather like culinary yoga, far better and cheaper than therapy, with a tasty bonus thrown in at the end of a session. While I enjoy having the occasional pizza or curry delivered to my doorstep, cooking for those I love is the best gift I know. In that sense, it’s nice to know there’s a little bit of my mum in me. 

Mum, who did no more than boil water until she got married and moved to New York with my dad for a brief spell in the 1960s, learnt fast, since cooks and amahs were in short supply there then (and now). A wonderful cook, she dished out an array of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Western and some concoctions all her own, feeding us lovingly over the years. My fondest childhood memories involve coming home from school to Mum’s fried meehoon, fish congee or a giant omelette for lunch. I hold on to those memories, and the incomparable feeling of being loved, secure and safe from danger. 

Food love. Call me old-fashioned, call me names (please, anything but Martha Stewart), but preparing meals for my family isn’t just about feeding hungry mouths. It’s about…the look on my husband’s face when he digs into a second helping of curry and rice after a long day at work…that same look of contentment as my 2-year-old son chomps on a chicken drumstick. Now, I enjoy having a quick bite with my daughter, 3, when she gets back from playschool at lunchtime. Her face lights up when she sees we are having her favourite noodle dish, and she chatters away happily about everything and nothing in particular while we eat. I hope there will be at least one good memory in these modest moments of everyday life to sustain my loved ones when they need it most.

Food Love. No wonder, then, that Mum’s last words to hubby before she passed on, were: “Have you eaten dinner? You should go and eat something.” So, this Mother’s Day, and whenever I share a meal with those I love, I will think of her and resolve to live – and eat – well. 

Thanks Mum, for the lovely meals and loving memories. Your yong tau fu is, and always will be, the best.

- by lk


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