I’ve always been a fan of food. Not for sustenance or out of necessity, but because of how the flavours can remind you of home, a friend, and a story. Food to me is a story of sharing and relationships, but I didn’t realise this till later in life. As far back as I can remember, I organised gatherings over food. In high school, I would get the guys together to take breaks from our girlfriends and have lunch once a month as a bachelors. When we all moved from our home town, I’d send mass-texts out to get everyone to catch up over shu mai and fung chow. While I was in South Korea to detox after long teaching hours, we’d spend Wednesday nights eating spicy chicken and celebrating all newcomers with a birthday cake stabbed and eaten with chopsticks. It is hard to even think of a fond memory in my life that didn’t revolve around food or drink in some way. In fact even my most painful and heart-wrenching moments in life could be framed by a cup of coffee or zucchini loaf.
In 2000, I traveled back to my native land of Laos. A third world country that has seen more than its fair share of war and poverty, but one thing that holds it all together is how food brings a community together.
On that first trip home, my uncle (who is a year older than me) was going through a Buddhist version of confirmation, and my grandfather wanted to hold a party in the neighbourhood. A party that required a great deal of food and help to prepare it.
Women from all over came by and wrapped rice in banana leaves for a couple of days. I was amazed at how full my Grandfather’s house was of helpful people.
Lao people schedule so much around food, and we try to include as many people as we can when do something special. While my uncle was in the temple for a few days, my family took a road trip to a giant lake for some fresh fish. I expected a few people to go, but was surprise when two cargo vans showed up to transport 18 of us for lunch on the lake. Even eating out for 18 at a huge table cost us less than $60 CAD.
Sometimes tables are really just an inconvenience to a Lao family, so most of our parties end up on the floor of a house or a driveway. Plates and bowls full of fried fish, papaya salad, crispy spring rolls, sticky rice, cucumber slices, herbs without English names, traditional meat salads, lemongrass soups and on and on and on. I think that if a meal didn’t extend out passed the doors of a house wouldn’t be a successful one for my family.
It is quite true that not everyone in this world has enough to eat, but when they do, I’m sure that memories and bonds are formed each and every time. I know that I would not be who I was without my relationships and memories. What does food mean to you or how does food help define you?