The following article by a 17-year-old Poi Lam High School student who won an international competition, the International Youth Food Culture Contest.
By Angie Lee Xiao Fong
When I think of food, the first thing that pops up to my mind is my parents. They’re a lovely bunch − the best parents I could ask for, and the only ones I would ask for. They’ve filled my entire 17 years of life with 17 years’ worth of delicious food, so I’m dedicating this essay to them. I love you Mom and Dad!
I was born and raised in a country that’s unique for its culture and diversity − Malaysia. A mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban and Kadazan cultures gave birth to a brand new mesh of distinct yet intertwining cultures. The people here colloquially call our culture “rojak”, which is also the name of a Malaysian salad where all sorts of different fruits and vegetables are thrown together, just like how our different cultures are thrown together and made into something unique and colourful, with a special blend of spicy sauce added! Our lifestyle, cultures, even language are fused into something so unique that words are inadequate. A fusion of Malay style, Indian Style, Chinese style, along with the different provincial styles for cooking, gives rise to a Malaysian food culture just as unique as the country and its inhabitants. Spices, herbs, soup bases, and oils – they are the very foundation of a local meal and they are the very embodiment of what food here is. Imagine, with each style of cooking using their own sets of ingredients, you put a variety of distinctive cuisines close to each other, allowing their aroma to mix in the same air—you’ll see a whole new genre of food, a whole new chapter of culture – Malaysian food.
My father is a cook, a true Malaysian cook. He’s the type of man that mixes with everyone, no matter your race or religion – a characteristic that allows him to cook the best of all worlds. With the help of people he meets, he is able to create cuisines from any worlds: English, American, Indian, Chinese, Irish, Taiwanese, Malay, Korean, Japanese, Italian and the list goes on. He can combine herbs from one style of cooking into another, and he can switch around the whole style of cooking—Indian spices mixed with Chinese herbs, Malay cooking style mixed with a signature American dish. One of his favourite cooking styles is to mix everything together. His outstanding cooking has earned him great respect from the far to the close, and from the old to the young, including myself.
I once asked my father how to become a cooking expert like him. “If you want me to teach you how to cook, you’d first have to step into my shoes, and walk the path I’ve walked. It took me sixty years of living to cook, and it’ll take me that long to teach you. So just live and learn.” These words from him always ring in my head, reminding me constantly the very truth about cooking – cooking isn’t just something you learn in a jiffy, it’s a lifelong process if you want to create works of art.
As a famous Malaysian proverb says, behind every great man, there is a greater woman. My mother plays an important role in perfecting my father’s cooking. My father is usually the inventor of the recipe, and my mom is the person that prepares and ensures the quality of the materials. From the sauce, to the marinating of the meat, to the steaming of the dish, she carries out my father’s visions with great diligence. Without my mother, I’d not have learned about the many details necessary for great cooking. My mother knows my father’s small slips here and there, even the way he holds the wok; and together, they help each other make the best food you could imagine. Herbal Chinese Chicken, Korma Lamb Curry, Rendang Chicken, and Potato Salad are just a few signature dishes they have created. My mother is also the one who is in charge of garnishing the dishes, making sure that the food is rich in taste, texture, and appearance.
Aspiring to be as good as my parents, I couldn’t help but try new recipes of my own. Many times, I was disappointed. “You learn how to be extremely patient when it comes to cooking. You might fail once or twice when trying out a new recipe. But it’s worth it when you create something delicious. The look of joy when the kids eat makes me happy.” It is my mother’s simple words that keep me continuing my spirited exploration of new recipes and cooking styles, hoping one day I would create a recipe book as colourful and diversified as my culture.
Sometimes when my parents cook in the kitchen, you can hear them argue with each other. But coming from my parents when they cook, these are arguments filled with love and passion. Food is our love; love fills our family. I dedicate this essay to my parents—thank you for all the years’ worth of delicious meals that you raised me up with and for many more to come! I also dedicate this essay to my country – thank you for the wonderfully diversified, vibrant cultures that celebrate not only food, but also rich humanities!