At its best, cooking and eating are cultural, spiritual practices. They draw together a plethora of ingredients and sensations meant to be felt and savored in combination and sequence. There is something symbolic about preparing my countertop—the ritual in bringing together and sharpening my knives, the intention behind rinsing produce, the rhythm in slicing and chopping. And then there are the aromas that fill the air. The smoke from searing meat and veggies. The warmth of the kitchen.
I grew up cooking with my family. One of my favorite questions to ask people is about a food that reminds them of home. I moved around frequently—often every year—so geography has little bearing to my perception of this home. For me, home is feeling, a memory, a concept. My most vivid memory of food and home comes from rolling lumpia, the Filipino style of egg rolls, with my family. While my parents worked over the stove in the kitchen, my aunt would sit with me and my cousins at the table, teaching us how to roll tight, uniform lumpia. There was a precision to it, yet at the same time, my family never measured anything. “You can’t taste with your eyes,” my dad would laugh. My dad was always happy in the kitchen.
My parents sent me home with lumpia over the Thanksgiving weekend. They were lovingly wrapped in foil and waiting in the freezer. We typically have lumpia with sweet and sour sauce, but I didn’t have any at my apartment. Just like my dad taught me, I adapted a sauce with what I had. My dad taught me a lot about cooking, and one of them was enjoying the process. “What’s the worst that could happen? Just add lemon!” my dad would smirk.
So I put together my interpretation of sweet and sour sauce for lumpia. Sambal, honey, patis, brown sugar, rice vinegar, water. I found my dipping sauce to taste less like the traditional sweet and sour sauce of my lumpia and more like an amalgamation of Southeast Asian inspirations. Growing up next to Little Saigon and living in Long Beach, I transported myself to a home of homes.
It rained today, so I delayed my grocery run. I reached into my freezer and pulled out frozen steaks. I didn’t use lemon, but I squeezed some lime and sprinkled some sea salt and crushed black pepper on each side. I’m a novice when it comes to cooking steak, but I think I did all right this time.
What’s a food that brings you home?