For two days this is my house:
This is my room.
This is my hallway.
This is my backyard (it changes a lot).
This is my dinner.
This is my family.
Adorably gnome like with the kind of sumptuous edges that could be used as a billboard for hugging. When she moved her hands each of her fingers expressed themselves independently like a dance of silken worms. Most of the trip she sat cross legged happily gnawing on fried chicken or sticky rice. She offered me food and I helped her lift her bags. She didn’t speak english but she said a lot in her smiles. When a hawker came through the carriage flogging treats she told me what to get.
“No don’t worry. It just needs a massage,” he said. He laughed and affectionately weaved the luggage folds out of his bag as if they were fatty knots in the back of war veteran.
He’s a unique man – equal parts family man and independent traveller. He spends half his time cutting hair and raising his sons and the other half befriending the world. I saw him like one of those dads who had successfully traversed the notoriously rocky border between fatherhood and friendship.
We talked about food, sex, politics, race and friendship – all the really juicy stuff. Sometimes he gave me advice.
I’m going to ride to his place on my way to Kuala Lumpur. He’s going to show me what a real curry is (we had an argument about this), take me to some local fisherman and cook me a fish that’s ‘ugly but delicious’. Sounds fucking excellent.
I think there’s two main ways to produce excellent food, with precision or with love. They’re not exclusive and neither is necessarily better than the other. I think of precision as the use of knowledge and skill – attention to ingredients and knowledge of how to make them taste good. I think of love as intent – how the maker feels about the food. I can broadly categorise things in two columns.
Peanut butter lunch box sandwiches, squished into balls
Gelato I made for my friend Haley
Heston’s christmas feast
Whatever your mum makes
It’s probably obvious where my allegiances lie. My relationship with food, or you could say my love for food, is in a large way thanks to the influence of my step mum. She’s an amazing cook and has for most of her life told people she loves them by making them food. I’ve been happily indoctrinated to want food this way.
I don’t think making food with love imbues it with some kind of spectral tastiness. It’s the feelings from the maker transferred from them into the me that acts as a kind of emotional seasoning. Sometimes it’s obvious and straight forward – a friend makes me spaghetti and they’re proud of it – in a way I consume their pride with my meal. Other times it’s more abstract – I eat at a michelin starred restaurant, I’ve read about the chef, why they make the food they do and when I eat it I can understand, whether accurately or not, their intention and care. So there is no spiritually induced molecular change or anything just a change of perception.
This definition is how I understand my obsession with seeking street food, why I feel awkward buying pre-made supermarket food and my dreams of being invited to home meals. It’s my way of seeking food made with love. It’s also why I’ve loved Thailand. It’s an inseparable part of their culture to love food. Eating bland food is unacceptable good food the norm – everyone cares about the food they make. Wherever there are Thais eating I know there is food that’s being loved.
People in South East Asia wave differently. It’s rude to show your palm. Instead raise your arm and hover your hand palm down. When you wobble your hand it should like snake’s head nodding in agreement.
I’m in Penang now waiting to meet a local. We’re going to eat together.
* This list is in no way scientific, comprehensive or objective