ISSUE #4 WINTER
白蘿蔔 白萝卜 lobak 菜頭 củ cải trắng หัวไชเท้า 무우 大根 मूली مولی mooli
all content produced by: Hanna Stephens Isabella Normark Jade Chao
Minying Huang @minyingh
Jess KumwongpinJess Routley Barnes
Kay Stephens Jiawen P April Lin
Jasmine Lin @allthatjasss
Claire Takami Siljedahl
Tatyana Jinto Rutherston
@ a_ _ _ _ _ _ suka Joanna Lee cargocollective.com/ asuka @joanna_brl
Miz PennerHashimoto Laila Ho
Jae Hyun Sul
Rebecca Choong Wilkins 钟碧琪
Sri McKinnon Sally Lin
Jess Szu-Jun Chen
@shappyk Jessie Yoon @initsdelirium katherineshapiro.com
Mei Ling Routley
front and back cover images by Kaitlin Chan
Manifesto We are a group of self-identifying South East/East Asian womxn and non-binary people living within a European context. We have created this zine as a platform for Asian voices that are so often underrepresented and undervalued in mainstream political and feminist discourses. We believe in empowering each other through highlighting the collective frustrations and nuances of our intersectional experiences as a starting point for building a wider platform of solidarity. We aim to share our opinions, celebrate our creativity and build up a stronger collective voice for South East/East Asians. daikon.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
Jae Hyun Sul
The Haunt of Hunger
One Person Pad Thai Recipe (To Eat When Homesick And/Or Hungry) 12
Love letter in lotus leaves
Styrofoam love poem
Recipes by Jeng
Sai Mun Zai
A Recipe For Chicken Tinola
Heritage / hunger / feed
Fried Carrot Cake
Across the table: researching identity through food 33
Food as Language
Malaysia, Truly Asia
How to eat “THE SMELLIEST FRUIT IN THE WORLD” 40
Jun Pang Jessie Yoon
Green Papaya Fish Soup
Gendering the preparation and consumption of food by unravelling the myth of domestic Korean men 44
Ve Wong Sesame Chicken Noodles looked so healthy before its passing... 46
Eating with Jade
Claire Takami Siljedahl
Daikon For Strength
Miz Penner Hashimoto
Recipe for a broken-hearted britishjapanese girl, or: how to love nihonshoku again 54
Untitled Still Life
Tatyana Jinto Rutherston
Anti– Food Porn
A Som Tam recipe for diasporics
Rebecca Choong Wilkins
laksa, lakča, loksha, lokshyna, luksh or loksh61
What’s inappropriate about appropriation?64
Mei Ling Routley
The Science of Agak-agak
Have You Eaten?
Editors' Note Daikon* works to explore the experiences of those who live, in some way, between cultures; be it as mixed race people, international students, or as first/second generation immigrants. For many of us this means navigating complex feelings of longing and belonging, home and family, pride and loss. It can often be hard to clearly articulate how we feel about such issues; the process of identity-making is constant and ever-evolving. It is interesting how something seemingly simple and everyday like food is such a great starting point for exploring and processing more complex experiences. . We are lucky to have such a wealth of submissions for this issue: far more than for any previous issue. Perhaps this is because food is necessarily such a big part of all our lives â€“ every day we get to experience the joy, creativity, sometimes even frustration of eating and cooking. All of us have something to say about what we like to eat, what we find comforting or what we canâ€™t stand. Beyond this, the topic of food offers a rich point from which to explore deeper issues of identity. Throughout this issue we see the various ways in which food plays a part in the making of the author. For some, food is a site of loss and frustration, as worries of inauthenticity and grievances about the gendered nature of cooking make it at times difficult to enjoy it. For others, food is a site of validation, as it connects us to traditions and anchors us to parts of our identities that we donâ€™t always feel confident in.
Our earliest food memories come from having it prepared for us by our caregivers, so it becomes impossible to untangle food from the potent issues of family, home and belonging. This makes food a insightful topic for addressing intergenerational exchange and relationships. We are happy that this issue contains contributions from a wider range of ages than our previous issues, and we hope this continues in our future work. In this issue we also see how food is: a remembering device which transports people to places and past times; a reminder of struggles with health and body image; a subject of a neocolonial disgust and relish and well as a means to resist this; a caring connection between friends and/or lovers. There is a lot to be gained from this issue; our contributors have offered a wealth of experience and insight, a lot of which is relatable to any reader. It has been incredibly valuable to collect such varied pieces, as food can often be viewed too heavily through the lens of ‘authenticity’. It can be frustrating as part of a diaspora to be asked for your ‘authentic’ recipe or restaurant recommendation, or at other times, to feel incomplete because you don’t know exactly how to cook something your grandmother makes. This issue pushes us to accept that our own take on our food is valid and that there is no one single way to prepare or enjoy a particular dish. What we eat and how we eat it will always evolve slightly from generation to generation, but what always remains true is how powerful food is in shaping us. Love, The daikon* Team
words by Jiawen P art by Vivien Chan
We haven't sat down to dinner together for a while. It happened before anybody realised. We were just too busy getting on with our lives, filling out those applications, then packing our suitcases and settling for a few years of cheese omelettes and dried-out buns served at high altitude. Under the glow of an in-flight TV screen, the stewardess slides me another tray. Over time, I’ve grown used to eating alone, but without privacy, forced to 搭枱 even as the plane takes us further from home. On my right, you unfurl the aluminium cover to reveal your stir-fried noodles, delicately topped with a sprinkle of shallots and spring onions. I should've had that. We should've had it at the airport, along with a bamboo tower of steamed buns, white rice topped with minced meat patties, cheong fun. But we were rushing, like always. There was always something on my food list I would forget to have. I imagine you thinking the same thing. I tried to picture the family you thought of when you pushed the food into your mouth, or the cafes you'll think of when you call for your third cup noodle six hours into the flight. For a second, as the plane hurtles across oceans, the gap between us narrows. Then I return to my movie, put the egg into my mouth, and wash it down. ***
It was five, maybe six weeks into living together when she began to regard the sizzle of garlic and ginger hitting the pan as a showing of culinary prowess. “Smells so good. You look like you have your shit together”, she remarked, sliding her tray of frozen chips into the oven. “Matt is always eating readymade pizza, and Sam just empties canned fish onto a plate.” I remember those days, when I stood with a spatula under the whirl of the fan, anxiously willing the broccoli to soften in the pan. For each grain in the fried rice to come undone from the others, and hoping that none of my flatmates would wrinkle their nose at the kimchi or curry. In those days, I had friends over occasionally. We emptied chicken stock cubes into a pot of boiling water, threw in some leaves, and cracked eggs into the soup. In those days, we were not trying to make good food. I often recalled the hawker centre auntie patiently waiting for the pancake batter to bubble, or the man with a towel around his neck, fanning himself languidly while grilling chicken over an open flame. Did we ever figure out how to transfer a patience, practiced and perfecting in waiting for food at home, to our attempts to make it far away? We were balancing recipes on condiment bottles, combing through the town’s Asian supermarket, and splitting expensive bak choy between three or four of us, just trying to survive. ***
On my first Chinese New Year away from home, we spend the whole night on our feet. Predictably, nobody notices until it's all over and we're on the floor by the sofas, a few bottles of beer between us. In the other room sit the leftovers 8
of tonight's hotpot dinner, an oily sludge coagulating on the metal pots. I stretch out my legs, and lean back into the cushion, feeling a growing sense of betrayal. “Eh, did you notice that all we did tonight was give people food?” I ask. She picks at a knot in the carpet and replies without looking up, “yeah, it’s supposed to be CNY but we didn't even get to sit down for dinner.” I know from her look that we are thinking of the same thing: our families in a different time, clinking beer bottles with extended family over hotpot that will give way to snack platters that carry us into the night and into a new year. And you. You should have been here. We would have made our own yusheng: shredded dining-hall veggies, splurged a little on Whole Foods Smoked Salmon, and arranged them on a tray in the right order with the corresponding festive greetings. Together we'd have thrust our chopsticks into the mixture and thrown it about and at each other. I imagine us trying to see who can toss it higher. Laughing, then wishing for the that 4.0 GPA or a good internship. For winter to end soon. Happiness and Health. Prosperity, I guess. And more time for another meal together.
搭枱 (daap toi): the practice of sharing tables with strangers Yusheng: raw fish salad consumed during Chinese New Year festivities
The Haunt of Hunger I'm seven years old, and my mum takes us to the mountains where my grandfather is buried. We climb up and lay out our offerings of fruit, rice cakes, and rice wine on his grave. We wait until the milky wine seeps through the jagged net of grass, into the dirt, before we climb down, holding hands, dragging our feet through the chalky dust. My great aunt points to the fields, to the wild- growing grass, to the tangled weeds. When there was no food, she says, the village people would go out into the fields to fill their tummies with the poisonous weeds. So that their tummies could be full one last time before they died. My grandma carefully scrapes her potato skins with a bronze spoon, because too much flesh is taken off by the careless, excessive blade of the vegetable peeler. Her old knife rotates artfully around the end of an onion, until all that is left is a tiny circle of hairy root. She says eat, eat, eat, and means I love you. And we do. Three sisters, three tummies around a table ballooning to a peak, just like the mountains. *** Korean children are told that every grain of rice is equal to a drop of sweat on a farmer's brow. So we scrape, scrape, scrape the bottom of our bowls until not a single grain is left. When we burn the rice-cooking pot, we boil water in it until the browned, hardened rice softens, and then thickens into a soup. Our mothers feed it to us when we're sick, with a touch of soy sauce and sesame oil. *** There's a myth that I heard when I was a kid, about how chilies were introduced to Korean cooking. When the Japanese invaded, a long time ago, they destroyed the land and left us starving. Out of spite, they planted chilies in the fields, so that even if we wanted to eat, our burning mouths would stop us. Instead, we came to love it so much that we eat chilies almost every day. It's a fanciful tale but nonetheless reflective of the resilience I see in my people. When life gives you chilies, you make yourself gochujang. And when we sit down at the table its legs are groaning under the weight of kimchi, nakjibokkeum and steaming jjigae, all our delicious, spicy, chili-laden food, and it's hard to think that we were ever starving.
words by Jae Hyun Sul art by Sri McKinnon 11
One Person Pad Thai Recipe (To Eat When Homesick And/Or Hungry) I’ve been cooking a lot of pad thai lately. I’m researching it at university and I mostly end up having more questions about food, identity and authenticity than I need. Here’s my simple bastardised recipe.
guideline. If you can’t find Chinese chives, use spring onions: a) they’re cheaper, b) they add the same flavour c) I can’t be fucked for this ‘authenticity’ hierarchy. If you’re sensitive to salt, don’t used salted roasted peanuts. It’s about enjoying food.
You can add extra stuff like fish sauce in and prawns/chicken, but this is halfway between my mum’s recipe and my own, and made so one of my best friends Harveen can eat it (she’s a vegetarian).
Honestly, and importantly I no longer care about proving my Thai-ness to people. I used to, I'm dealing with it. I'd rather make good, easy food for people I love, in this land I sometimes (mostly) hate.
This isn’t a set recipe, but a general
INGREDIENTS: tamarind paste block OR use tamarind ‘sauce’ or white vinegar as a last resort. palm sugar (any kind of sugar) soy sauce miso paste/umami paste, if you have it spring onions or Chinese chives dry salted roasted peanuts garlic coriander brown onion/shallots pickled turnip, if you can find it, it’s fine without eggs beansprouts firm tofu
Soak half a pack of rice noodles in water an hour before you start prepping stuff. PREP: Get one of those blocks of tamarind paste and soak a quarter of it in some hot water, soak for 20 mins, or longer if it needs. Use hands and sieve to make pulp out of it and then strain any seeds/stringy parts out. Put it in a small saucepan, add two heaped tablespoons of palm sugar, 4 tablespoons of soy sauce. Heat over low flame until sauce is kinda thick, thick kinda ketchup consistency. When cooled, add white pepper and if you have it, a large teaspoon of miso paste (that umami flavour y’know) and mix. Cut up a couple of rinsed spring onions or Chinese chives into thumb length pieces. Chop up some rinsed coriander pretty fine. Crush a handful of dry salted roasted peanuts (useful if you have a pestle and mortar). Crush a couple of cloves of garlic. Cut up some firm tofu into half-thumb size pieces. Slice a brown onion/ some shallots. Cut up some pickled turnip.
COOK: Heat some vegetable oil in a large flat pan, medium heat (unless you have a SUPER well-seasoned wok, it’s actually way easier to use a frying pan). Fry your shallots/onion until a lil soft, then add the crushed garlic. Put in the soaked noodles and soften in the pan, with a little added water. Push them over to one side of the pan (see you needed a big pan), and add a lil more oil. NOTE: this is not a ‘healthy’ recipe, except for the being healthy to the soul. Crack in one or two eggs and scramble them in the pan (you can add meat via this method, nearer the end so it won’t overcook). Mix it all together. Add a few tablespoons of your sauce and the tofu and pickled turnip. You may need to thin out it with some water. Stir fry, until noodles and vegetables are evenly mixed and coated in sauce. When noodles are soft enough to eat, add in a handful of beansprouts, the spring onion. Stir fry for a minute. Finish off my mixing in peanuts, spring onions, coriander. Serve and THEN season to taste individually. Does it need more soy sauce? Chilli? A wedge of lime? Crunchy shallots? Probably! Add them!
words by Jess Kumwongpin-Barnes art by Laila Ho
Love letter in lotus leaves ( how to make zongzi 粽子)
words by Nina Powles art by Jade Chao
1. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the Dragon Boat Festival, we remember the story of the poet Qu Yuan who drowned himself in the Miluo River 3,000 years ago. It is said people threw parcels of rice wrapped in leaves into the river to prevent fish from eating his body. In another version, Qu Yuan becomes a water spirit. They threw rice into the river to feed his ghost but the rice, it was said, was being eaten by a water dragon. The spirit of Qu Yuan returned to show them how to wrap the rice in river-soaked leaves so no water dragon would take it. 3.
Now we make dumplings in the shape of ox horns, of pyramids, of crescent moons and boats and birds.
In the stairwell outside my flat in Shanghai I pass the auntie next door carrying a big blue bowl full of zongzi, bundles of sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves. They have been freshly steamed. I can feel their heat rising up into the air between us. The scent of tea and rice and wet leaves fills the old house. It gets inside the cracks in the wooden floor, floats up under our door and doesn’t leave for days. The downstairs windows are always coated in steam.
2. spread out the leaves (smoothing and uncrinkling) now watch her hands: how she curves and folds them into a cone in her palm scoops sticky rice inside
In the afternoons, the aunties sit outside in the courtyard beneath the washing lines, drinking tea and cutting, mixing, folding, wrapping. The sound of their laughter carries down the street in the heavy, humid air.
and seals them shut knotted tight with red string like small dragon hearts sealed in magic cloth to be secretly untied & bitten open in the dark. 14
4. Tip the plump yolk of each duck egg into tiny bowls. Place one yolk on top of a bed of sticky rice, a row of perfect suns on the tops of low mountains. Fold them into tight parcels as if wrapping a small gift. Tie neatly with string. Press them close into the bamboo steamer and wait, licking up bits of glutinous rice from the bowl as you do.
5. Shanghai in May, a city’s slow unfurling—
When they are finished steaming, carry them home with you in thin plastic bags with the handles knotted twice.
skin damp & wrists limp against the pane
Wandering home in the lush wet of late spring, imagine untying the first zongzi when you step in the door.
thick air & clouds hold still river colours hold themselves still white unwrapped cakes of steamed rice
When the string is cut, watch the long leaves uncurl to reveal a soft heart made of salt and gold inside.
bear the imprint of deep-ridged leaves azaleas bear the memory of rain
Styrofoam love poem my skin gets its shine from maggi noodle seasoning packets / golden fairy dust that glows when touching water / fluorescent lines around the edge of / a girlhood seen through plastic rainbows / chemical green authentic ramen flavour / special purple packaged pho / mama’s instant hokkien mee / dollar fifty flaming hearts / hands in the shape of a bowl to carry this cup / of burning liquid salt and foam / mouthful of a yellow winter morning / you shouldn’t eat this shit it gives you cancer / melts your stomach lining / 99% of all this plastic comes from China / if we consume it all maybe we’ll never die / never break down / and I’ll never be your low-carb diet queen / I’ll spike your drink with MSG / find me floating in a sea of dehydrated stars / on the surface of my steam shine dream / my plastic Chinese dream / lips swollen with the taste of us 15
Recipes by Jeng As an individual who was born and raised in the UK, I’m extremely conscious of the fact that my experience of my cultural heritage is miles apart from my parent’s experience, who grew up in Hong Kong. Although I’m grateful for the life we have in London, I’ve realised that I’ll never know how it feels to be a Hong Kong person in the same way my parents do and never know the same things about our culture that my parents do; I’ll always be out of touch with that part of me. Of course this hasn’t stopped me trying to establish some kind of connection with Hong Kong culture, and over time I’ve realised one of the best ways I can do this is with food. By learning about cuisine in Hong Kong I learn Hong Kong history, popular culture, politics, and more. Not only am I learning, but I’m also given the chance to involve myself with others who love Hong Kong food, my parents, my aunties and uncles, my grandparents, and my friends. Most of the recipes I’ll be sharing are a variation of a recipe given to me by these people, each of which have a special place to my life.
words by Jeng Au photos by Kin Au
班蘭蛋糕 pandan chiffon cake 130g self raising flour 130g caster sugar 1 tsp baking powder ½ tsp cream of tartar 85ml vegetable oil 85ml water 6 eggs 2tbsp matcha powder (optional) 1tsp pandan essence (optional)
Every time one of my aunties visited, she would always arrive with multiple bags and boxes filled with various homemade treats for the family in tow, often 花生饼 (peanut biscuit), 萝卜糕 (turnip cake), and (班蘭蛋糕) pandan chiffon cake. I’ve since convinced her to teach me how to make it, despite her insisting she’d just bring more cake, and this is the recipe she has made for the family since I could remember.
1. Preheat your oven to 190°C 2. Sift your flour twice and place to the side.
7. Pour the final mix into an oiled and floured cake tin.
3. Separate the egg whites and yolks into two large bowls.
8. Raise the tin about an inch and drop onto a hard surface a few times to get rid of any trapped air.
4. Begin whisking the egg whites until it begins frothing, then slowly add half of the sugar and cream of tartar until the egg whites form stiff peaks. 5. Add the rest of the sugar, oil, water, flour and any flavourings into the bowl with the egg yolks and mix until incorporated. 6. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, about a third at a time.
9. Bake at 190°C for 15 mins then at 170°C for 40 mins. 10. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately turn upside down onto a cooling rack. 11. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes before removing from the tin.
馬拉糕 steamed cake 170g self raising 150g brown sugar 18g baking powder Pinch bicarbonate of soda 1 tsp custard powder 3 eggs 100ml vegetable oil 100ml evaporated milk ¼ tsp vanilla extract
馬拉糕 is just one of the simple pleasures in life, it’s not too bold or in your face, it’s good ol’ 馬拉糕. If you’re ever craving a piece without the hassle of making it, I recommend picking up a bag from a small factory outlet hidden in Dansey Place in Chinatown. It may be a dodgy doorway in a dodgy alleyway, but you’ll find the best value produce including noodles, 腸粉 (cheung fun) and, of course, 馬拉糕.
1. In one bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, custard powder and bicarbonate soda together.
7. Oil the cake tin, mix the batter a few more times to create larger air bubbles then pour into your cake tin.
2. In another bowl/jug mix all the eggs, evaporated milk and vanilla extract together.
8. Place the cake in the steamer then cover. If you have a setup that doesn’t involve a bamboo lid then wrap the lid in a cloth so that condensation doesn’t drip onto your cake.
3. Slowly add the wet ingredients to dry ingredients while mixing together. 4. Mix for about 2-3 minutes, I normally use a hand whisk, if you want to do it manually just make sure all the ingredients are fully incorporated and the batter is thick and airy.
9. Steam the cake for 40 minutes, do not lift the lid unless you have to top up the water, if you do then be quick to retain the steam. 10. Stick a wooden skewer in the cake, if it comes out clean of batter then the cake is cooked, if not then steam another 5 minutes. Repeat as necessary.
5. Leave the batter to rest for 10 minutes. 6. Meanwhile, set up a steamer with enough water and bring to boil.
湯圓 glutinous rice balls 40g glutinous flour 6g sugar 36ml water 2g matcha powder (optional) 30g black sesame paste (optional)
In celebration of Lunar New Year, I thought I’d share one of my favourite desserts during this time, 湯圓 (Tang Yuan). Although this is typically a festive dish, this can be enjoyed during any time of the year; don’t let the lunar calendar get in the way of your cooking. Traditionally, 湯 圓 is a sweet dish, though many people enjoy savoury versions. My personal favourite is black sesame filled 湯圓 served in a warming sweet potato and ginger soup, which is what I’ll be going over in this recipe.
1. Mix the flour, sugar, matcha powder (optional) and water together until it forms a dough. It should feel a bit like putty in your hands.
re-roll the 湯圓 in your palms to make it a smooth ball. 4. IF NOT ADDING FILLING: Simply break off pieces of the dough and roll them into round balls.
2. Break off a small amount and roll it into a ball in your hands. If the dough is too sticky and won’t form then add some more flour and if the dough cracks when rolled then add a bit of water.
5. Place your 湯圓 on a plate or tray, making sure they are not touching each other. 6. When ready, drop your 湯圓 into some boiling water, rolling a few more times just before you drop them so that they are smooth.
3. IF ADDING FILLING: Break off a ball of dough, about an inch in diameter, flatten into a disc, poke a dip in the middle, then add your filling of choice into the centre and pull / fold the dough edges together to encase the filling, then
7. Once they are floating drain the water using a sieve and drop the 湯圓 into some ice water to stop them cooking.
Soup (serves 4): 1-2 sweet potatoes 1-2 inch ginger 1 (60g) slab rock sugar 4 bowls of water 8. Mix the flour, sugar, matcha powder (optional) and water Peel and cut the sweet potato into 1-2cm cubes. 9. Peel and cut the ginger into slices. 10. Bring the water to a boil then add the ginger and sweet potato. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the sugar and let it dissolve. 11. This soup, as with a lot of Asian cooking, is all down to personal taste so add more of anything to suit your preferences. 12. Drop in the ćšŻĺœ“, let the soup boil again, then serve. 21
words by Saeng-Fah photos by Hanna
A Recipe For Chicken Tinola Garlic, unspecified amount. Add it at some point between the beginning and end of cooking. Ginger, unspecified amount. Add it before the garlic. Onion, unspecified amount. Add it with the ginger but don’t burn it. Reserve the water you washed the rice with. You’ll see how much water you’ll need. Chicken, unspecified cut. I always buy the best. Make sure it’s organic and free range. Also there are some other things to look for. You’ll just have to watch me buy it. Chayote. This will take between 0 and 20 minutes to cook. Just watch me. Watercress. I know other recipes say you can use baby spinach but it won’t be as good as mine.
one forty-second video of her cooking the onion. (I assume it’s a bit like when you start working as a hairdresser and you’re only allowed to sweep the floor for a year.) We never ate Filipino food outside of the house in the UK. It is not as good as my mum’s, and there isn’t any point. For a long time, I wouldn’t cook Filipino. It had to be perfect, or nothing at all, and I believed my mum’s food was without compare. Even though his food looked great, I supported my mum unquestioningly in her rivalry with Ernesto from church and never even tasted his food (apparently he used too much MSG and his pork adobo was dry). Even now, I can’t imagine anything better than the taste of a square of her cassava cake, snuck from the fridge where I would keep a knife in the tray for ease and speed of slicing. Or her crisp, sweet turon: plantain coated in brown sugar, wrapped in spring roll wrappers and deep fried. Food was one thing that brought our family together, joyfully, and the tastes of my childhood are imprinted deep within me. Food was also something my mum used to control us and keep us down – we could all enjoy her cooking as long as we all agreed: she was the best, and we would never match up to her.
There are one million ways to get chicken tinola wrong. I learned this when my mum sent me out to buy “watercress, and if they don’t have watercress, try another shop. Don’t bring me spinach.” I learned it as I watched her poke and prod chicken carcasses – reaching to the very back of the supermarket fridge for the best use-by date, then holding them up to the light to examine their colour, weighing them in her hands or pulling at their skin. (The most important things you must understand about her criteria for picking the chicken are that a) these criteria cannot possibly be put into words and b) she is the only person who knows them.) One time, she said she would film herself making tinola for me and I received
I don’t talk to my mum anymore. For a few years, our relationship had been strained. In those few years – whether it was out of spite for her withholding recipes, or longing to be closer to her – I began to cook. I made sinigang
with tilapia that was on the turn, and we had to throw the whole lot out. I made turon that didn’t quite go soft in the middle, and cassava cake where the grated cassava had too much bite. I made chicken adobo which tasted nothing like my mum’s, but was delicious all the same, and I shared it with my girlfriend and she now makes it all the time. We wrapped up suman rice cakes in banana leaf and served them with coconut syrup and it tasted as good as any I’ve ever had. I lost touch with my mum – the one link I had to my Filipino heritage – and somehow found it all and more in a pack of instant puto rice cakes.
The food we love the most – the dishes we remember and crave when we’re down and bang on about to our friends and partners – isn’t our favourite because we used the most expensive organic rice flour, or got the texture just right, sous vide. Our favourite foods, whether that’s shepherd’s pie or kimchi pancake, groundnut soup or borscht, are served to us with love, not ego, and when food is served with love, it might not win awards, but it’s much less likely to leave a bitter taste. I still struggle sometimes, when I cook leche flan and pandesal, because it feels like I’m betraying her somehow – tainting the recipes and tainting myself by eating them. But I love Filipino food, and I keep cooking. I’m excited to show my own kids, one day, how to make chicken tinola in all the wrong ways.
The truth is, you can feed someone with pancit or Filipino beef steak or lechon until they’re fit to pop, but if you serve it with a side dish of fear and inadequacy, they will never grow. 25
words by Leah Pritchard art by Jess Szu-Chun Chen
Something Saccharine Treat / self, sickly-sweet / gorge / gouge / gauge self on reflections in lollipops / jewels melting in heat, artificial (stifling). Toffee oozes through teeth / clamped vice-shut sugar ossifies / eyes terrified / stuffed by Joanna Lee
A 먹방 (mukbang, “eat room”) is a space which performs the satisfaction of your hunger for you. The girl on your screen consumes as much in an hour as you would in four days. You wonder how she stays so small. You wonder why you cannot.
words by Joanna Lee 27
the lone magpie pecks a few grains of white rice dark chopstick beaks grasping at the infinite void
Have you eaten yet? Congealed and cold the oatmeal lump sat dejected at the bottom of the bin. Want to grab lunch? Mimed mastication Licked stale bread moldy mixed with pocket lint.
Heritage Steamed buns in dim sum carts a flurry of chopsticks around the siu mai shrimp noodle rolls and delicate egg tarts teapot lid askew, when will they come by
How about some takeout? General Tso battle Sickly sweet chicken sticky dripping vulva sweat. Can I please feed you? Comfort in congee Lemongrass perfume lovely warm sesame dreams.
Hot pot dinners on a crisp fall night fish balls, tofu puffs, and choy sum scoop till you're full, a steamy delight me, asleep, on the lap of my mum All my earliest memories are of food my heritage steeped in sesame oil and spice herbs and scents that conveyed a mood but for passage to the West, we paid a price Condemned to a land of fast food junk our souls cried and our taste buds shrunk
words by Sally Lin art by Jeng Au 28
previous page: art by Wuon-Gean Ho
by Minying Huang
purple vegetable, more green than purple, you stained glass window. little girl with the bowl cut holds you up to the light, transfixed, her bowl of rice ready to catch glass when it falls. don’t shatter my hand like the wood in my hands splinters to fray the skin on this forefinger trapeze act. the hooks and barbs not salty, not sea-grown, not gorgeous like you. they made you mosaic, made you small. compressed lava roasted thing colours me purple, tickles me glow, turns us wolf under roof. we up sticks and eat. we grow into our sticks and your sheets but still lick you off the table when we can’t hold you together. who fetched you from the seabed? limber diver, somewhere out there, is gathering lissom threads treasured gunk. I watch her rise, watch her balance you on the rocks, scorch you in the sun, imagine you mystic; and maybe you’re my holy but you grow on precarious raft or hanging rope like pause in my chest. where you are is safe suspension in my vague blue. promise of glade. I bask in lush shades of you, inhale you, find slit eye slain and mastic, build the first hint of sight into this body. revival in stagger, in stumble, in as many steps as it takes to earn my place in your surge. did I sacrifice you that day? gave my comfort, your light offbeat tang, to thorny tongue on the coach ride, wrung out our heart when they hurled. reckless I treat you tangram but you stay calm soaking cool, strong in subarctic, sultry and flinchless in fire. would that I could flinch less, blink less. you, you don’t forget your roots even after the diver destalks you for plastic slab and sale. yuè liàng zǒu wǒ yě zǒu. we are slippery in the moonlight and scraggly alien on the shore. childish wonder swings me back over my bàba’s shoulders; is the wing beat in my blood. come, crowd round the scent of glasswork as it braces bone clear in broth. salt-sting in my cuts. to send myself to the bridge, I shop for you everywhere I go.
Across the table: researching identity through food words and photos by Vivien Chan
Growing up in the East Midlands, my four-person family used food to sustain the Chineseness that would otherwise barely be present in our everyday life. It was even more important when at age thirteen, my maternal grandmother moved to suburban Nottingham from Hong Kong. Language, morals, and life expectations clashed between three generations of Chinese women. Somehow food was the bridge in our relationships – plates of chicken steamed with unrequited affection, grocery shopping conducted to quash a sense of guilt, second bowls of soup drunk to simultaneously reassure and yet mellow our countering opinions of what our lives should be like. We feasted regularly at Chinese restaurants together, mainly to dispel boredom, but also to remind ourselves of ourselves. My relationship with Chinese food was very much about family. Whenever we holidayed in Hong Kong, it was one of the few ways I interacted with the wider network of aunts, uncles and cousins. Chinese food is a comforting reminder of being in a place where I sort of looked like everyone else, hinting at the places I have been, people I have met, food in other times and spaces I had eaten in other times and spaces. But it was also anxious because I was no longer an individual – conversations held about me, a ‘me’ that didn’t reflect who I was, flew across dinner tables between my parents and their friends; accusations at my poor chopstick etiquette; probing questions on why I wasn’t studying medicine, like my mother. Anxious because this was not something I shared with my Western peers at home in England, nor did I really have too many other Chinese friends to relate to. Only in recent years have I been able to explore my relationship with Chinese food, and my sense of Chineseness. Somehow it became the centre of my research for my Master’s in History of Design – I decided that I wanted to use my degree to integrate what I love and with learning about this place that I was supposed to be tied to, but was also somewhat shunned from. I asked my parents what they remembered from their childhood in Hong Kong that had all but disappeared today. They said dai pai dong, a kind of street food stalls found in Hong Kong. We talked about whether I had visited one before in the many trips we had to the chaotic city, and both exclaimed no, that this was not somewhere they had taken us as children. They themselves had barely been to many, already considered dirty, unhygienic, and 33
unmodern in their childhood. From there I set out to research this overlooked assemblage of objects, not only as a piece of design but also as a sign of a specific Hongkongese identity. Dai pai dong started out as hawkers, vying for business through the delicious smells and performative displays of their wares. Dai pai dong were always there in working class life through the 20th century, stabilising, growing, and transforming alongside the community it was feeding, which would rise to become one of the most important global export centres in the world. The food is far from delicate, and is not for the faint-hearted â€“ innards and fish balls, noodles and pungent flavours cooked in heavy oils. But nevertheless, hearty meals for the blue-collar workers of the 1950s and 60s. With widespread modernisation across the city, dai pai dong have rapidly been cleared in the last 30 years, reducing from the hundreds to a mere 24. More recently, street food has become the centre of arguments about preservation and local identity, in the face of a deemed â€˜Mainlandisationâ€™. I spent over a year researching a writing about this grimy collection of objects. It all came to a head with a research trip to Hong Kong for six weeks, the first time I would visit on my own terms. I would be staying with my grandmother and my aunt from America, and in the meantime visiting archives, libraries, universities
and most importantly, exploring the city. I ate a lot of food and visited a lot of food spaces, both street-side and air-conditioned. I would take buses across Hong Kong, walk for hours just to look, dine alone in-between library sessions, and speak more Cantonese than I had ever felt comfortable before, feeling proud when someone mistook me for a local. Finally, I was allowed to speak for myself, and talk about something that was so intrinsic to this city. Speaking to my relatives gave me important details about their experience as illegal hawkers, young lads playing mah jong and eating noodles after school, little girls with pocket money to spend on sweet sesame dumplings. We talked and they were interested in what I was doing, and maybe even excited for my career researching Hong Kong. My aunt, an incredibly powerful and influential person in my life, shared her experiences of being inside and outside of her Hong Kong identity and I could finally articulate how I feel about my Chineseness, all through this medium of food. I look back now at this trip as a monumental point in my relationship with myself. It proved to me that I didn’t have to deny myself an identity inside and outside of national boundaries. For so long, I had overlooked those aspects of Chineseness that mean so much to me, and then been confused when white people treated me with disdain. I couldn’t assimilate with either Chinese or Britishness, stereotyped as one or the other, or seen as being too much one or the other. I’m still working out where I fit into the grand scheme of it all, but it has taken a long time to realise that I don’t have to please anyone else. I can allow myself to feel the comforts and anxieties of this transnational life that I have come to embrace as part of my career. Reaching across the table has never felt so exciting. 35
Food as Language Cha siu baau, lo baak gou, ha gaau, siu maai. These were pretty much the only Cantonese words I knew up until the age of 22—our dim sum order at the usual place in Chinatown. Mm goi, I’d say, carefully pronouncing each tone while my Po Po sneaked some food from her bowl to mine, smiling approvingly. The language barrier has always been a problem between us, but food is the unspoken way we communicate—the ritualistic coming together for yum cha. I might not know the stories of her childhood, or her thoughts on politics. But I know her favourite restaurant, her intolerance to spicy food, and her order off by heart. words and photos by Sophie Cooper
Malaysia, Truly Asia
words and photos by Nicole Fong
Whenever I meet other immigrants around London, we somehow always end up talking about the pitfalls of British food and how much we miss food back home. Being away from Malaysia has made me realise the importance of food in my life and how it is more than a means of sustenance. That the food of a country reflects its culture and the relationship people have with their food. The food here much like the weather, is dull, lacks a whole lot of seasoning, and is largely processed. People here love their Tikka Masala as their national dish but don’t like to acknowledge their colonial history with the origins of the dish. Despite the global acknowledgement that British food is terrible, I have encountered people defending their chip butties and bread sauce to the death. This photo series represents my never-ending loving relationship with the vibrancy and sheer beauty of Malaysian food.
Maggi Goreng & Mee Goreng: These two dishes can be found at ‘mamak’ eateries which has become a quintessential part of Malaysian culture.
Satay: Delicious, meat skewers barbequed to perfection with cucumber, rice cakes, and peanut sauce.
Banana Leaf Rice: A selection of South Indian side dishes and curries eaten with rice and poppadum on a banana leaf.
Kuay Teow Thng: A Kuay Teow broth with fishballs, chicken and pork strips, garnished with spring onions and pork lard.
Wan Tan Mee: A dish with Chinese roots so deep that you can find slightly varied styles of preparation depending on where you order it in Malaysia.
Penang Curry Mee: This bowl of noodles represents the longest of traditions with two sisters having made it for the past few decades.
How to eat “THE
SMELLIEST FRUIT IN THE WORLD” by Casey Duong, art by Mel Lou
In Vietnamese, durian is known as “sầu riêng”. In the West, it is known as the one, the only, the “smelliest fruit in the world”. (You’ve probably watched that BUZZFEED video. Or, at least, seen those clickbait Youtube videos titled ‘TRYING DURIAN FOR THE FIRST TIME’ or even ‘WHITE MEN EAT DURIAN’ featuring convulsing white people that you questionably care about). If you didn’t know from those videos, durian is a fucking delicacy, only to be eaten in certain special occasions, like when your unreliable friend dares you in the hope that your throat closes up in utter revulsion and you die of inhaling an edible Asian fruit, or when you’re living that #wanderlust life in South-East Asia and globetrotting in your five dollar ‘I love pho’ shirt and harem elephant pants or, obviously, if you’re a white person looking for a disgusting gimmick to get likes on Youtube. However, the sad fact is, many of us will never have a chance to eat “the smelliest fruit in the world” in those exotic circumstances. But fear not, I am here to tell you how to eat “the smelliest fruit in the world” in the most authentic and flavourless way possible. Thank me later when you go viral on Facebook for vomiting up yellowy-white stuff.
Ingredients • “The smelliest fruit in the world” a.k.a. that fruit with the spiky shell and the mushed yellow insides • White superiority • Butcher’s knife. • Strong gag-reflex – I know you’ve got it in you! • Maybe a video-camera Method 1. Welcome. I’m glad you’ve made it this far! Hooray, you didn’t chicken out and return to your peanut butter sandwiches, or resort to gentrified Asian food! J You’re relatively lucky, because the first step is by far the easiest one, you’re probably doing it already! If you’re not, your initial call-toaction is to focus on everything you know about Asia because it is the fucking truth. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise, not me, not your Asian friends, not even the Dalai Lama, whose quotations you have on your wall. Don’t you remember the rumours your classmates spread about their lunchboxes? Like, if you’re going to eat your god-knows-what in that disgusting fish sauce, have the human decency to eat it outside, far away from the canteen – or at least, have the courtesy bring corner-shop-noodle-box fried rice instead. Everyone loved the fried rice, so much that she had nothing left. But not too much flavouring, too much flavouring is too spicy and anything you cannot handle is too exotic for you. It belongs in fucking China with the Chinamen, not here. 40
And what about that weird drink with the little balls? You don’t know why you’re a little wary of those drinks that they love, the drinks that the international students are always drinking. I know why – don’t you remember LOTE week at your prestigious private school in Grade 8? You were holding the bubble tea when a boy came up to you and warned you that the little black balls were made out of octopus balls. Yes, octopus penis, and even the teachers believed it! Balding Mr. Johnson threw his out immediately – ‘I don’t know what it’s made out of! What if it’s poisonous?’ And even though they assured you that nobody has died, or felt even remotely nauseous after drinking the conspicuous-sounding drink ‘Boba’ because there are a thousand chain bubble tea stores across the country, you can never be sure. Never mind that billions of people safely consume
it daily. After all, that stuff originates from…Asia, and you can never know what those bloody Asians put in their food. 2. Pick up the durian fruit, tentatively, as if you’re about to cradle an unconceivable monstrosity…and drop it on the chopping board because you absolutely cannot bear to have it in your arms for a second longer. The smell, goddamn you cannot even smell it yet but it’s there, you know it’s there. Now, it’s time to take the butcher’s knife and slam it into the durian fruit with all the superfluous disgust that’s festered until it opens with a bone breaking crack. 3. This is the most important step! By now, you’ve noticed it…the repulsive smell that everybody loathes...it’s impossible not to know that it’s there because it punches you, invading 41
from every single direction. “That’s DISGUSTING!” You shriek at the top of your shrivelling lungs (they happen to look like the durian fruit), before your body uncontrollably shudders and convulses. You reach to block your nostrils so that you can escape that smell and be within yourself– oh god, it’s everywhere. W-W-What does it smell like? It smells like ass? It smells like wet trash? (You’re doing great so far!)
But you can’t. How could you? It’s gruesome. (Turn on Video Camera) You try to masticate on its flesh, your gummy teeth gnashing on yellow meat, its texture too stringy, too soft for your wolfish salivating mouths. On plagued impressions, it is not for consumption, it is so different, so disdainful that you must reject it. Your body immediately enacts its fight-or-flight mode, as the millions of ancestors have done before you, so much that deadly reactions are instinctual.
But…that’s not good enough. You’re not good enough. Dig your trembling fingers into the fruit because it’s your first time and you spread her wide open with a silver butcher’s knife, and with curved, calloused man-hands, extract the vital organs of the durian. Your hands, dripping wet with sticky, yellow juices, get less apprehensive and greedier and greedier as you, with gleaming hopeful eyes, realise that despite your fear of the foul smell, despite the forced bile rising up your guttural throat, you must have it and you must mark it as your own and steal it with civilised armies tainted in permanent red, parading their ‘discoveries’ like dangerous circus animals that can only be looked at from a television’s distance. This fruit from Asia, it no longer belongs to them, it belongs to you now, presented so as to be hammered to the wall like the thousands of frozen animal carcasses hunted by your arrows and venom, their shadows still breathing the elements that sustained them.
It is not ‘too smelly’ for your consumption. You cannot consume it because it is a part of the other. You choke on the other. Gag on its romance, try to expel the poison from your precious sanctity of wretched self-discovery. Finally, ask yourself aloud, “Who on Earth could eat this mortifying piece of shit that is mine?” You cannot think of anyone. 4. Well done! Congratulations for turning durian into your own trendy, gimmick J Pat yourself on the back because you’ve completed a very difficult challenge – trying an ethnic fruit! Click here for ‘How to eat CHICKEN FEET’.
Scoop up your durian piece and swallow it whole.
Green Papaya Fish Soup after “Papaya” by Leung Ping-kwan You scoop out the seeds and leave the flesh cleaved into perfect halves, never to slide back into imperfect place. Nimble and proud, your shadow sits casting light on the kitchen bench; you say it’s better to make soup out of the suggestion of fruit than to spend your days stewing in it. So many years simmering on a stovetop; so much time spent looking for the more beautiful things to say. Is there a word for silence? My mouth, the radical; Your tongue, the sharpest edge. I ask and you have no settled answer, just the thinnest residue resting on flimsy oil-skin. Ripe fish heads fermenting in ginger brine – you have already decided what is best for the life I am learning to claim as mine.
by Jun Pang
Gendering the preparation and consumption of food by unravelling the myth of domestic Korean men
by Jessie Yoon (they/them)
I’m staring at the blank page, hoping my first submission won’t be about him.
And he chopped the onion after I called him three times to come to the kitchen, when he was lying on the sofa where he spends most of his time, reasserting his dominance over the central space in the house. After I called him three times, tinnitus growing in my ears, after I called him three times, with my mom ignoring his oh-so-familiar laziness that has meant she has been ignored for 28 years.
It’s about him. On my last night in Seoul, my dad told me that I should know how to make Bulgogi, a typical Korean soy-marinated beef dish. He started to give me a man-lecture about how to make it easily, without all the unnecessary, ‘frantic’ steps that mom takes. I feel disgusted.
He came, chopped the onions, and when I jokingly tell him that he did not do enough to take credit of the final result he posted on Facebook, he replies, but I chopped the onion!, jokingly, he replies that the ingredients are the most important part. If I or mom took this seriously and refuted him, he would say that we women (I am not a woman) do not know how to take a joke.
He is a proud fashion feminist. Women in his office envy my mom and envy me, saying you will never find a man like him anywhere in South Korea. I feel disgusted. Ever since I started school and he got Facebook, taking pics of food and bragging about it was his daily routine. Despite all the shallow food porn he posted, despite all the comments praising the food and how good he was as a man, the figure of toxic masculinity I had to grow up with was an absent father. I feel disgusted.
He is a man with a tiny heart. He is a man who becomes happy when comparing himself to my mom’s sister’s husband, who abuses his wife. He is a good man who does not punch my mom and who knows how to be in the kitchen, unlike his dad, who believed his penis would be cut off if he stepped into the kitchen (yes, it is a proverb). He is a good man who knows how to chop an onion yet he is a good man who reduces my mom’s three hours of effort that she poured into making this soup by saying it could have been a bit saltier.
He is a man baby, or simply, a man. He brags about how good a husband he is when he participates in the most trivial bit of cooking and dismisses the rest. He chops the onion when my mom makes a soup, a heartful soup boiled for three hours with tens of ingredients, including chili paste from grandma, sesame oil from her best friend’s mom, even a teaspoon of shrimp paste that has been through tens of women’s hands and hospitality.
A few years before I left Seoul, he was diagnosed with diabetes. Throughout his whole life, eating was his joy, and now 44
that he couldn’t eat as much as he wanted, he started to victimise himself while obsessively criticising everyone else’s feasting. When I go out, he asks what I’ll eat. When I return to the house, he asks what I ate. I ignore him and go to my room, where I can hear him picking his teeth. I still get extremely anxious when I have a full stomach. I still feel my tinnitus get higher and higher when somebody is in the kitchen while I’m cooking. I still feel my nerves tingle when someone tries to look at what food I’m making because I feel supervised and judged by him. Having stayed away from him for 6 months now, he still asks what kind of bread there is in London. I feel disgusted. Cooking and eating have become crucial parts of so-called K-culture. Loads of cooking shows with chefs who were trained in Europe, all men. Cute K-pop idol girls sit in the panel praising how the chef – who is often more than 10 years older than her – is her dream boyfriend. This trend has blown up, at least in East Asia, and I come across posts that compare Korean men who cook with their male who don’t. They don’t. That is why that becomes a show. My dad loves watching these shows, saying that he is so touched that the world has changed so much that now men can cook in public. Men cooking in public validates those men who don’t cook privately, like my dad, who still believes that he does. One misogynistic alt-right website, Ilbe, posted something that went viral. They shared a picture of a flipped table full of food, showing their outrage towards a ‘woman that can’t cook’. A meal made by their mom, girlfriend, or wife who works just as long hours as they do was turned into a scapegoat by these men, who flip the table to show off their masculine dominance. People shared their observations on how these women’s behaviour changed after they did it. 45
Does this example feel unreal? This is not an anecdote about my father, but about South Korean masculinity in general. Preparation of food has always been a woman’s job, and now, even when we are bombarded with male chefs in the media, it is still our kitchen. The only thing that has changed is that men have started to wank over their moral goodness when they help out with the smallest kitchen job. This is not the start of some seismic change, as they like to think it is. Instead, it is a cultural appropriation from Korean masculinity – now that feminism is a woke trend, they claim their legitimacy where they have had a thousand year long history of taking advantage of our mother’s labour. These relatively woke men who grew up seeing their dads being violent towards their moms, who loathed it yet internalised the toxic patriarchy in their hearts. Those men served in the military glorifying their moms’ and sisters’ sacrifices, yet did not do anything for them. We all have that friend who stays home to help their dad reheat the meals that their mom made before she left for a trip, because these men apparently do not know how to use a microwave, even when they have a mouth to judge the taste of the meal and the arms to flip a table. We all have the experience of hating a holiday because the women are tied to the kitchen and all the male counterparts are enjoying a new year or full autumn. One Korean feminist wrote an article on how Korean women’s liberation is impossible without ‘Bap’ (rice, or broadly, a meal) liberation. I laughed at the triviality of this motto, then shivered at how painfully real it is. Disclaimer: I defy any assumptions about my identity based on this piece.
Ve Wong Sesame Chicken Noodles looked so healthy before its passing... words and photos by Asuka Lin
it was only last year that i started referring to myself as japanese-taiwanese and not just japanese. having my early childhood in japan, and only being close to my japanese relatives throughout my life familiarized only one portion of my mixed heritage. my dad told me that one day he will show me my great-grandfather's grave in taiwan; his gravestone was the biggest in the village. when he was alive, he was the president of the ve wong noodle company, and i remember eating their ramen crackers as a kid. that being said, my dad never knew my great-grandfather's name. i found an eerie parallel to the japanese colonization of taiwan to my own upbringing; the erasure of my taiwanese heritage because of an overbearing imperialist power that echoes within the interpersonal relationships within my family. as if the knowledge of my taiwanese past was not valuable enough to be passed down to me like my japanese side. as a reactionary gesture to this discovery and curiosity about the past i have not lived, i took a pack of ve wong sesame chicken instant noodles and cremated them to ashes. i gave the noodle pack a proper funerary altar complete with an urn and memorabilia, loosely inspired off of the traditional japanese way.
Eating with Jade I remember one of the first times I ate with Jade. We got some takeaway Vietnamese food in Camden and took it on the tube. She got out her phở on a really busy carriage and just started slurping it up, mixing in different condiments to her taste. I could see people staring and her just completely ignoring them, too immersed in the experience of eating. There was something so cool about her complete lack of self-consciousness and the way she unapologetically ate something deemed “smelly” in western culture in such a public space. Since then we’ve shared lots of meals together and I find the way she really enjoys her food to be really inspiring. I haven’t had the best relationship with food over the years and sometimes it’s still connected to some bad feelings. Food is an integral part to how we diasporic people connect with our own culture and others but for me this connection has been tinged somewhat with an eating disorder. But Jade can have a way of making me feel at ease which she brings to the table when we eat together. She eats with such purpose and really savours and enjoys her food. Seeing this encourages me to do the same.
words by Hanna Stephens photo by Jess Xuan
Daikon For Strength words by Claire Takami Siljedahl art by Claire's mum
I have never really liked daikon. I always found it a little bit too bitter, or too sharp, meaning that whenever it surfaced at the table, marinated in oden or pureed next to grilled fish, I would always politely have a nibble but leave the rest. I knew it was meant to be healthy- my mum’s chat about the health benefits of various ingredients is one of the most consistent things about our meals, wherever we are or whoever we’re with. Unsurprising, given her 20+ years of experience cooking meals meticulously customised to her family’s health and moods. Feel a cough coming on? Expect that the dumplings for dinner are stuffed with ginger and garlic. My self-diagnosed anaemia making me sluggish? She prescribes mounds and mounds of spinach. Feeling congested and constipated? Boiled konyaku would feature. My mum owns very few cookbooks- she prefers to rely on her own notebook, full of recipes and worn and torn from years of care. However, those that she does have are often Japanese cookbooks designed specifically for health cooking. It’s very much different from the Western cookbooks telling you about “clean eating”, or what sort of protein-rich foods will make you leaner or stronger. These cookbooks contain knowledge derived from a combination of science and tradition. Ginger for illness. Garlic for health. Konyaku for cleansing. Moving abroad to England for university meant that for the first time in my life, I was without my mum’s food for months at a time, and, with the exception of a care package or two with vacuum-packed ingredients for gyōza, I was wholly in charge of what I ate. In one sense this was an exciting opportunity- if I wanted to eat a whole pot of mac & cheese for dinner, I couldbut also one that quickly became challenging. I had never really bothered to teach myself to cook up until the point of moving away, confident in the knowledge that I’d be able to pick it up later on. After all, my mum had always said that because I’d grown up eating good food, the ability to cook good food for myself would come naturally to me because I would crave it. Little did I know that what I’d crave would be the sort of stuff that wouldn’t be as easy to make. The concept of cooking Western food felt
simple because it matched the cuisine of those around me, meaning that I had recipe inspiration whenever I needed it. But, without many Japanese friends, my arsenal of non-Western recipes was distinctly lacking. Eating Western food all the time meant that I started feeling unhealthy. I hadn’t realized until then how crucial it for my health and general well-being to have Japanese food in my life. My diet felt distinctly unbalanced in a way that, had I been at home, I would have complained about extensively to my mum. As it turns out, I didn’t have to. When I went home over the winter holidays, I was welcomed by rice, miso soup, and grilled salmon topped with pureed daikon- a perfect, simple, quintessentially Japanese meal. I was about to pick off the daikon when I stopped and thought better of it. My mum had served it despite knowing that I disliked it- meaning that there must be some health reason behind her decision. So I ate. It was my first meal of the day, which made it feel almost ceremonious- after a term of uninspired meals hastily squeezed between study sessions, I found myself savouring each bite. The saltiness of the salmon with the crunch of its slightly-charred crust, the comforting miso soup, and the daikon just tangy enough to complement the meal. I reached for the bowl of daikon-suri and poured more onto my fish. It had never felt just right before, but now it felt like healing. For my mum, cooking is a labour of love for the people she cares about most. It nourishes both physically and spiritually. I’m teaching myself more about Japanese food now and gradually incorporating it more and more into my diet. I’m rewarded by how much better I feel- whether it’s because of the restorative power of the food I eat, or the lessons from my mother that come with it. So when I find myself cooking for myself now, I add ginger for illness. Garlic for health. Konyaku for cleansing. And for the first time, daikon for strength.
Budaejjigae It’s 10.48pm and we’re standing behind the bar, watching the last few tables finish picking at their pork belly and plum wine. They come here to drink, mainly, in the evenings. One guy turns around and calls me over, pink cheeked and wobbly. I get halfway there and he picks up his empty green bottle and waves it at me – he wants more soju. So I get him more soju, and pick the empty bottle up, because if these guys forget how much they’ve had to drink it’ll probably make them drink more, and that’s good for business. The guy opens up the bottle of soju and pours it out for his friend, and the friend holds up his glass with reverence. In Korea you don’t pour your own drink; that’s the height of rudeness. You pour everyone else’s drink and wait for someone to pour yours. If you’re drinking with your boss or anyone older than you, you turn your head to the side out of respect, so that you don’t affront them with the reason why your cheeks are steadily getting pinker. His friend pours his drink, and they drink together. I suppose they’re friends. 10.48pm. 12 minutes left until yashig (midnight snack). We get fed every day here and I’ve never eaten so much Korean food in my life. On the very first shift I did at Hozi my manager asked me to stay late, and by 11 I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, but then for yashig the cook brought out these steaming stone pots of samgyetang, and we lifted the lids and saw chickens braised in the tenderest bone broth, and I stuck my spoon right in but managernim stopped me to anoint the chicken with a glass of ginseng soju, the sort of stuff that gets
words by Jemma Paek art by Hyunha Lim
saved for special occasions, and told me that the good stuff was stuffed inside, and it was: brown rice and glistening jujube berries and huge cloves of garlic. Hail oppa laughed at me, because I was wiggling my shoulders in delight, and he told me that our people eat samgyetang on sultry summer evenings. This is the first time I’ve ever had Korean friends. Jongne oppa comes out from the kitchen, beaming, eyes gleaming, and tells us that we’re getting budaejjigae tonight, and Hail oppa whoops quietly and managernim laughs. Bu-dae-jjigae: army stew. I practice writing it in my head. When I first started this job I could barely write in Korean, but now I write words like bulgogi and yachae twigim and ojingeo dupbab automatically, absentmindedly, when I’m on the phone or on the tube or in the bath. Bu-dae-jji-gae. Mamma once told me that budaejjigae was first invented during the war, when starving Koreans would smuggle surplus food from U.S. army bases and feed their families with it. Nowadays it’s the sort of food you eat with friends, round a table, with drinks and pink cheeks and lots of toasts to people’s health – a huge bubbling brothy pot of noodles and spam and sausage and kimchi and baked beans and cheese, mixed up by the most capable of the group, served out in gold bowls and eaten hot hot hot. They’ve all served in the army, these boys I work with. Hail oppa, pretty lanky Hail oppa with the sticky out ears that go red when managernim tells him off for eating a piece of kimchijeon as it’s on its way to somebody’s table, did his 52
military service in the riot police when Park was being impeached. It was very busy, he smiles, but it was fine. We all have to do it. Jongne oppa nods in agreement. The worst bit was the food, he said. One time they made us eat burgers filled with jam and drenched in milk for lunch. Hail oppa makes a face. That wasn’t the worst bit, he says. The worst bit was your weekly phonecall, lining up like little soldiers and puffing yourself up and joshing around with your friends, pretending to be a big man, pretending to be cool and calm and collected, watching out of the corner of your eye as every single little soldier got to the phonebox and called their mamma, watching their shoulders hunch inwards as they tried not to cry, telling their mamma they loved them, that they missed them, that all they
wanted was a bowl of rice and their mamma’s kimchi and to be home. Bu-dae-jji-gae. The minutes are dragging on. It’s always slow at this time in the night: people are chewing the last of their pork belly and drinking the dregs of their plum wine. That guy and his friend get up unsteadily, put on their coats and come to the front to pay (a Korean thing). Fantastic meal, they slur, pink-cheeked and smelling of soju. Such good food. The cook emerges from the kitchen holding a steaming, swelling pot of budaejjigae, and the men gasp, their pink cheeks wobbling. Budaejjigae! they cry. We’ll order that next time! We hear their chortling voices going up the stairs, onto the street, part ways. The budaejjigae begins to bubble. 53
Recipe for a broken-hearted british-japanese girl, or: how to love nihonshoku again 1. this girl has always loved bread. baguettes! bagels! pasty white hovis loaf! bread, bread, bread. this was the girl whose parents could take her to fancy european restaurants without fuss, because she would sit quietly in a corner once handed half a baguette and a carton of apple juice. 1a. ironically, this girl was named mizuho (ç‘žçŠ‚) by her parents: the ancient name for japan, land of bountiful rice. ironically, she also spent most of her childhood in england. 2. her mum makes the same packed lunches as her english (read: white, irish-catholic) classmates' mums do. this is because the girl likes sandwiches more than onigiri, and so sandwiches she will get. there is no embarrassment over natto or tamagoyaki to be remembered forever, only a sense of smugness from wielding boxes of Pocky alongside cheese-and-onion crisps. 3. things change a lot when her family moves back to japan. rice in obento for lunch, no more readymade shepherd's pie or prawn and mayonnaise sandwiches for dinner. oh well, she thinks, at least the sweets will be better.
by Miz Penner Hashimoto
4. in japan, her identity can be summed up in three phrases: out-of-place, depressed, missing england. japanese people are obsessed with rice, she thinks. her grandparents claim that japanese athletes do better because they eat rice. her classmates talk about how much they love gohan. when she goes off to ski training camp in the winter, she sits quietly in the corner, grumpy and annoyed when they only serve rice for breakfast. bloody rice again. 5. she kind of hates rice now. her increase in rice consumption is strongly correlated with her unhappiness. remember when dad used to go and buy croissants and pain-au-chocolat at the skiing resort in france? 6. she hates misoshiru too, and tells her mum so. her mum, who herself prefers bread over rice, nearly cries. she can't really bring herself to tell her mum that sheâ€™s also in love with her female best friend. 6a. at least Pocky is still good.
7. when she finally moves back to england, she never cooks japanese food. her chinese flatmate, who reads japanese magazines and has a rice cooker, is better at it anyway. 8. would her grandmother please shut up about being able to cook japanese food in order to find a husband? 9. here, however we add the secret ingredient: time. nature's own deus ex machina. 9a. time, and a woman who is the host mother of many of her friends (and, incidentally, her future husband): a loud, gossipy, headstrong woman nearing 60 who is possibly the coolest japanese adult she has ever met. she also happens to be the greatest cook she has ever met. all deus ex machinas should be good cooks. 9b. there's no-one like an eccentric japanese adult to make you believe that japan can be fun again. 10. there also nothing quite like being around people who love food. for example, her future husband eats about twice as much as she does and picks up rice grains from off the table. her future husband, who grew up eating all the delights of jewishamerican-israeli-venezuelan cuisine, and who says such things as: 'i didn't like natto until i ate it every morning for a week, and then i loved it'.
10a. (she doesn't really get why he had to eat it every morning for a week, but anyway.) 10b. 'well, the natto was there. also the other options were like soggy fried potatoes.' 11. the food they eat together in the host mum's dining hall includes: gohan, sukiyaki, kozakana no shioyaki, sashimi, tsukemono, okura, salada, nihonshu, biiru. here, misoshiru is optional. 11a. it’s hard not to love nihonshoku when there’s plenty of nihonshu and biiru to go around. 12. It’s even harder when you’re eating with two people whose love of food is rather contagious. 13. does she still love bread? yes, it’s her all-time favourite food, it says so on a number of social media sites. do she and her husband eat scrambled eggs and baked beans (with half an english muffin each) for breakfast everyday? another yes. 14. but the truth is this: she finally owns a rice cooker.
Untitled Still Life
I’ve grown up eating Asian snacks that I considered to be “special Asian things” that weren’t eaten by my white friends. Whilst some of these were Japanese, reflecting my mum’s cultural heritage, I also ate a lot of Chinese snacks and kind of considered them also to be part of this Asian experience I had. I felt a sense of comfort and belonging going to eat in Chinatown or Oriental City and going to Asian supermarkets and being amongst people who “looked like me”. I think this reflects the way I have understood what it means to be Asian in a London-based context. Like I can identify in some kind of broad way with other people who are diasporic Asians without necessarily having the same ethnic background. I don’t know if this is a product of internalising a narrative that we are all the same or whether my snacks of choice even resonate with other Asian people, but I think that they represent an experience of identifying with a feeling of the way Asianness is constructed in a British context in general. words and photo by Hanna Stephens
Antiâ€“ Food Porn by Tatyana Jinto Rutherston
I started this project when I moved to Japan last September. Eating out with friends after a long day at work soon became an important part of everyday life here. With most people living alone in small, isolated apartments, there is nothing better than going to an izakaya at the end of the day, drinking, eating and gossiping with those friends that are like family. The food served at these izakayas is delicious but never pretentious. It is also so affordable to drink and eat out because this is how people in the city relax and unwind. One of my pet peeves when scrolling through social media is seeing girls post photos of their sourdough, poached eggs and avocado, accompanied by the hashtag #foodporn. It occured to me whilst looking at the remains of our feasts that this was the antithesis to an 'instagram-able brunch'. The grease stained napkins, cigarette butts and ambiguous floating noodles showed we had enjoyed the evening, guzzling food and just having a good time.
A Som Tam recipe for diasporics
by Bella Normark
Ingredients Shredded carrot (originally green papaya) Green beans Sliced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes Toasted peanuts Cloves of garlic Small red chillies Sliced lime Palm sugar (I’ve used normal sugar before but it does make a difference to the taste) Fish Sauce (I’ve used soy sauce to make it for friends who aren’t as happy to compromise their vegetarianism as I am - it also works but does make it less tangy) To serve with: glutinous rice (soak for 24hrs before preparing)
Som tam has a very special place in my heart. Although I love most Thai food (this was not always the case growing up), I definitely have a bias towards Isaan food. Often neglected on Thai take-away menus, Isaan food is what I ate when I visited family in Thailand, and it is where I’m from. Growing up in Sweden, I have lots of memories of my mum making and eating som tam. Burning on her tongue, som tam was both her longing for home and her way of making cold winters warm. She always looked strong by the mortar. Green papaya is expensive and hard to get in Sweden, but you can use carrots instead (both my mum, and my aunty in New Zealand do). You’ll see that I haven’t put any measurements for most ingredients - the art of som tam is in finding a balance between the salty, sweet, and tangy taste, and of course adding as much spice as you can handle. My advice would be to start in small amounts and do lots of tasting as you go. One of my happiest moments in London was finding out that my partner had a mortar. It’s possible to make som tam without one (the most important part is that you blend the flavours of the lime, chili, sugar, and fish sauce and distribute it well in the rest of the salad), but for me the joy is also in the preparation - making those familiar sounds from my childhood, and maybe serving it to someone that I love.
Instructions Put red chillies, cloves of garlic, and toasted peanuts in a mortar. ตำ�ตำ�ตำ�, until they’re all mashed up in smaller pieces. Add palm sugar, fish cause and lime. ตำ�คำ�นำ�, so that the sugar disintegrates and the flavours mesh. Try it, and add ingredients to balance the flavour. Add some tomato and ตำ�ตำ�นำ�. Finally add the shredded carrot and some green beans and blend it all to make sure the flavours mix into the salad. Steam the soaked glutinous rice for about half an hour, and serve the som tam with sticky rice! แซ่บ! 60
laksa, lakča, loksha, lokshyna, luksh or loksh by Rebecca Choong Wilkins 钟碧琪
I really, really, really like noodles. That’s the long and the short of it. I wake up wanting to eat noodles for breakfast. Around 3pm, between lunch and dinner, the craving returns. Dinner staves this off for a while but by 9pm, it’s back in full force. I think about noodles all day long, and because I think (and talk) about noodles all day long – I get a lot of photos of noodles. Friends living in Beijing, or Tokyo, or travelling through Malaysia, my cousins in Singapore or other academics, will send me photographs of the noodles they’re devouring. Zooming their way through fibreoptic cables at 1015bits/s, it’s a gesture of mutual appreciation, a virtual noodle network pinging its way across earth. Of all the noodles dishes in the world – and I’ve tried to find noodles everywhere I’ve ever gone – I’ve never encountered a dish more controversial than laksa. All over Southeast Asia – in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Indonesia – I’ve found people ferociously insisting the real, the best, the authentic laksa comes from Penang or Malacca. Or Medan or Palembang. It should have a coconut curry base – or a clear mackerel and tamarind stock. It should have thin strands of the finest vermicelli, or flat thick slices of rice noodle, or thicker white udon-like strands, and sometimes it absolutely must include yellow egg mee. It might have prawns, cockles, and a spoonful of sambal. Or shredded coconut and pineapple – or thinly sliced omelet and slivers of chicken. For me, laksa has a terasi base – crushed and fermented shrimp – with the deep, warm heat of dried chilies balanced by creamy coconut milk. This is called curry laksa, or nyonya laksa. It is, in no uncertain terms, heavenly. And how could anything other than the divine induce this kind of controversy? This kind of nyonya laksa takes its name from the women born into Peranakan communities – nyonya – and laksa is often labeled a quintessentially Peranakan dish. But Peranakans are as varied as the dish itself. The term Peranakan is a Malay word meaning “person born here, descended from elsewhere.” It refers to several distinct communities whose descendants married into indigenous populations across Southeast Asia.
The Peranakan Chinese migrated from Mainland China’s southern provinces and married into the indigenous populations of Southeast Asia in the 15th century. They settled in the ports across the Dutch East Indies, Thailand, Burma, and the Melaka Straits. Those who settled in Melaka, Penang, and Singapore – later part of the British territories known as the Straits Settlements – are also known as the Straits Chinese. But Peranakans don’t just represent Sinophonic migration. There are also Chetti Peranakans whose descendants came from the Tamil Nadu, the southeastern coastal state in India, and the Kristang Peranakans whose descendants were white Portuguese colonialists. In some ways – in their cuisines and clothing – Peranakan communities have more in common with each other than their elsewhere country of ‘origin’. They’re often labeled as “hybrid” cultures, and often laksa is seen as some syncretic mixture of influences too. But of course, Peranakans (and laksa) is only hybrid if we insist on thinking along national, and nationalist, lines. After the rise of independent nations in Southeast Asia during 1950s, many Peranakan dishes came to be subsumed into nationalist narratives. Laksa came to be the unique property of nation states – now quintessentially Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian, or Thai.
art by Katherine Shapiro 62
We find laksa in ports all over Southeast Asia and we find Peranakan communities here too – but correlation isn’t causation so this isn’t a clear indication of laksa’s magical origins either. Here, the history of words gives us a different glimpse into (one of) laksa’s inception stories. The word laksa doesn’t exist in Malay texts before 20th century but if we look beyond Southeast Asia’s borders, we find find lakča in Turkic languages, loksha in Russian, lokshyna in Slavic languages, and luksh or loksh in Yiddish – all of which mean noodles. These terms probably wiggled their way across the world from the Persian term lakchah, lakshah and lakishah meaning “vermicelli, or slices of pace put into broth” – a translation discovered by the historian Peter Lee in an 1829 dictionary of English, Arabic, and Persian terms. Lee’s theory is that Dutch colonialists brought the term from Persia to Southeast Asia on their journey eastwards during 16th to 18th centuries. The earliest reference to laksa is found in a letter in 1719 from Chuan Jamqua, a Peranakan from Melaka, conducting business with an Englishman, John Scattergood. In the letter’s postscript, Chuan asks, “Be kind enough to bring on my account two picos of Misoa, called in that land Laqasi, for incidental expenses.” The 18th century’s version of a fibreoptic network of noodle exchange. (And a man after my own heart.) It tells us that before it became any of many dishes we have today, laqasi, or laksa, was probably just used to refer to a noodle. So here, at long last, I’d found my evidence: of all the noodles, in all the world, in name, as well as flavour, laksa is the ultimate noodle, the first, and the best. Noodle allegiances are hard fought and hard sought. There are those for whom this will never be true. I believe a bowl of laksa, any kind of laksa, has the power to soothe your soul. But I also believe laksa is an alternative history of the cosmopolitan trajectories which noodled their way across Southeast Asia and the world. Laksa confounds nations, transcends borders, spans oceans, and links languages. It couldn’t be contained by the rise and fall of colonial occupations or nationalist movements. It is a story about connection and communion: our story of being here and elsewhere.
What’s inappropriate about appropriation? by Kay Stephens
The concept of cultural appropriation is often taken to represent the peak of millennial oversensitivity, especially when it comes to the issue of food. Unlike perhaps religious symbols or traditional dress, food is something that seems ripe for cultural exchange outside its original context – why can’t a white British person learn how to make kimchi, or enjoy a biryani? I think it’s worth starting with what cultural appropriation isn’t – at least, what it cannot be if we want to acknowledge there is something problematic about it. In terms of food, cultural appropriation is often taken to involve simply cooking or eating the food of a culture other than one’s own. But it’s hard to find anything wrong with sharing your Mum’s signature som tam with a friend who isn’t Thai, or attempting a xiao long bao recipe as a non-Chinese person. In fact, it seems the cross-cultural sharing of foods has some positive social value: it can forge connections between different groups; facilitate acceptance of other cultures; and create economic opportunities for immigrants, e.g. in ‘ethnic’ groceries and restaurants, which can further act as sites of community and solidarity. Maybe, then, cultural appropriation is about the way in which we prepare and consume the foods of other cultures. One way in which the debate about cultural appropriation is often framed is in terms of authenticity, where the problem with cultural
appropriation is that certain foods and surrounding practices are inauthentic due to its makers being outsiders to, or insufficiently familiar with, the culture from which the food originates. However, it’s not like there is some truly ‘authentic’ original of every dish out there to replicate to a greater or lesser degree of accuracy, and recipes or cooking methods are constantly adapted to taste, or to available ingredients and equipment. Sure, we may want to preserve an old family recipe, but this is - for instance - to relive memories of our family and eating with them, or out of respect for a tried-and-tested method, not purely for the sake of ‘authenticity’. The reification of authenticity can also feed into the phenomenon of foodies seeking out ‘authentic ethnic food experiences’ in white-dominated Western contexts. Here, as Lisa Heldke has argued, marginalised ethnic cultures are often mined not only for nourishment and enjoyment of the food itself, but to amass social capital—the foodie’s ‘discovery’ and consumption of ‘ethnic foods’ anoints them with ‘worldliness’ and ‘sophistication’, securing them a particular social status. Moreover, this is a social benefit that accrues primarily to white people. When minority ethnic populations consume their own food, they are more often either stigmatised or fetishised—it is a either a mark of their strangeness, or their exoticism. Further, authenticity is often (at least 64
implicitly) understood by the foodie in terms of what is most unfamiliar or unusual to them. Having to eat with one’s hands in an Indian restaurant, or tripe on the menu at a Chinese place are deemed marks of authenticity, thus framing what is ‘other’ as most authentically or essentially Indian, Chinese, etc., and exerting pressure on diasporic communities to perform otherness for the sake of the - usually white - Western consumer. This replays certain colonialist attitudes: non-Western cultures are treated as a resource that exists for the benefit of the West, accessibility to that resource is required, and the resource is often consumed without much if any meaningful engagement with the culture or people that in some sense originated the resource. This notion of ‘authenticity’ as ‘otherness’ can also erase the multiple conceptions of cultural identity within diasporic communities. For instance, Chinese takeaways are often seen as ‘inauthentic’ even when they are created by Chinese immigrants, emerging as a product of their complex cultural context. Getting bogged down about authenticity then at best makes little sense, and at worst essentialises and fetishises certain cultural food practices, reinforcing (neo) colonialist attitudes and practices. This is not to say there’s not a legitimate critique lying behind complaints of inauthenticity. When certain food is sold as ‘Asian’ or ‘Japanese’ etc., the lack of resemblance to any foods actually consumed in Asia or by Asian people suggests certain cultures are being commodified as little more than a branding strategy to lend a certain exoticism to particular food  Thanks to Jade Chao for this point! 65
products or eateries. For example, the chain itsu, founded by Julian Metcalfe - a co-founder of Pret A Manger - markets itself as a healthy fast-food shop, with a menu that “[celebrates] the stunning flavours of the Far East”, welcoming the consumer to the “fast food of the future [...] Asian-inspired, good for you and delicious, power packed with zen goodness”. This capitalises off certain constructs about ‘the East’ as a (monolithic) place of spiritual enlightenment and cleansing - primarily for white Europeans - to promote the company as a ‘healthy’, even ascetic, brand. Of course, this kind of branding strategy would still exotify or other ‘Asia’ even if its products resembled food consumed in certain parts of Asia or by certain Asian people - which, needless to say, itsu food doesn’t - but such exotification seems blatant when there is an obvious lack of connection to those foods. Whether or not we want to call this kind of commodification of culture ‘appropriation’, it is problematic to reinforce exotifying narratives through food, and especially to do so to line one’s pockets. This is where it becomes disingenuous to excuse such behaviour by touting the value of ‘cultural exchange’ – respectful cultural exchange and understanding does not happen through dominant groups mining the flavours and recipes of marginalised cultures for their own gain, or using whole cultures (or constructs thereof) as a brand to sell their products. But nor does it necessarily happen by gaining knowledge of the original contexts of the foods one consumes or sells. Although such knowledge may indicate a respect for the originating culture
and its history, it may also treat other cultures as a curiosity or object of intellectual fascination, which - as Uma Narayan points out - may again be pursued in order to enhance the ‘worldliness’ of the consumer. If there is anything individuals can do, then, it is more important to cultivate an awareness of the politics of existing food practices – in relation to ‘ethnic food’, to consider, for instance, who gets to profit economically and socially from the local production of ‘ethnic cuisine’, who gets to define what constitutes ‘ethnic food’ and control its acceptability; and more generally, to consider things like the race, gender, class, or immigration status of those who own restaurants compared to those who work within them, and the relation between the food on one’s table and exploited labour, particularly of ‘Global South’ and migrant workers. A consideration of some of these issues can help articulate some of the frustrations about the appropriation of ‘ethnic foods’, which I think is best understood roughly as the production and/or sale of the food of members of marginalised groups in a society by members of a dominant group. This definition captures what makes cultural appropriation a distinctively political issue, which is that it occurs where there is an imbalance of power between the appropriator and those whose cultural products are appropriated. This doesn’t require that certain cultures exercise ownership over certain foods such that their members have exclusive rights over them. The food of a given culture can be understood instead as food that originated from a certain culture, and form part of the cultural practices of that group. Indeed, certain foods are vital parts of the history and economies
of certain cultures, and are often strongly tied to cultural identity. One problem with food appropriation is economic - due to wealth disparities between groups, dominant groups are often better able to profit from the sale of such foods. An affluent white person may have access to wealth that enables them to buy a food truck and rent a space in a popular food market to sell banh mi, while a Vietnamese immigrant is less likely to. Writing from the US context, Briahna Joy Gray has argued that white people are disproportionately endowed with the capital that allows them to profit from producing ‘ethnic’ foods, while minor ethnic populations tend to struggle to so profit, more often being relegated to low-wage roles in the food industry. Further, even in cases where wealth disparities are less pronounced between individual members of different racialised groups, there is still a general expectation that eateries owned and staffed by minority ethnic groups - especially where they are immigrants (the ‘authentic’ places) - should be relatively affordable, meaning that they command a lower price. Another problem is ‘cultural’ - due to their disproportionate power, dominant groups have greater ability to define popular conceptions of ‘ethnic food’. Not too long ago, in a race-based discussion group I’m a part of, a Chinese woman expressed her irritation when her white friend questioned why both tofu and pork would be included in a dish in a Chinese restaurant, since tofu is a ‘meat substitute’. She was worried she was being ‘oversensitive’. And in her book Eat Up, Ruby Tandoh writes about a Singaporean friend who is promised an ‘authentic Asian 66
experience’ by a white waiter at a white-run pop-up in East London. The source of frustration seems to be similar in both cases: a white Western understanding or conception of ‘ethnic food’ or ‘ethnic culture’ is being promoted as the conception of it, at the expense of other conceptions - indeed, instead of the conceptions of those who originated the food, or are members of the given culture. Moreover, dominant groups often influence constructions of identity and culture through the sale and branding of ‘ethnic’ foods in ways that reinforce ideological understandings of marginalised ethnic identities and cultures, as we’ve seen in the case of Itsu. Of course, oppressive ideologies are not only reinforced by dominant groups. The Indian-owned restaurant chain Dishoom, for instance, seems to capitalise off white imperial nostalgia through its cultivation of a colonial aesthetic. But it has a different significance when dominant groups engage such ideologies. If Dishoom were owned by a white Briton, the meaning of harking back to a colonialist era has a different inflection, given Britain’s imperial history and misplaced (white) nationalist pride thereof, by which they are not oppressed. In general, it is important to consider how the history of European colonialism and Anglo-American neo-colonialism bears 67
on the political significance of white people controlling the construction of ethnic food and culture, particularly when such constructions underpin white supremacist and imperialist ideologies. These economic and cultural issues with food appropriation are structural in the sense that the wrongs cannot necessarily be located in the actions of individuals, but in social structures that endow certain groups with disproportionate power. It is therefore not always useful to criticise individuals for ‘appropriating’ foods, at least without also contextualising their actions within broader oppressive structures. In general, appropriation is perhaps too simplistic a concept, and is often misunderstood, conflated with private production and consumption, or the violation of ‘authenticity’. What is important is that food exchange does not happen in a vacuum, and we must critically examine the hows and whys of our food consumption. Food can be a powerful binding force, and exchanging food cultures can bring together disparate groups who share in the enjoyment of each others’ food and company. But we cannot pretend that food exchange occurs in a vacuum, and the concept of cultural appropriation however imperfect - gives us a way in to critically examine the hows and whys of our food consumption.
April <3 Bokchoi Bokchoi, oh bokchoi with you by my side my days are filled with joy and my dreams have multiplied. More than just a cabbage, that’s what you are you’re the meaning of my life, a purpose, a star I don’t believe in marriage, but I’ll take you as my wife we will go far, persist through all strife.
by April Lin photos taken by Jasmine Lin
The nourishment you give me is beyond compare my stomach sings when you’re near me, the haters don’t get our affair, when did you become such a devotee? I confess, I wasn’t always aware of the pleasures of your existence, but now that the veil has been lifted, you are so crucial to my subsistence. Bokchoi, oh bokchoi you are a dream come true thank you for being here with us, and we are so lucky to have you.
The Science of Agak-agak Food is at the heart of being Chinese. We live, eat, breath, talk and dream food. However, this doesn’t mean that every Chinese person can cook. There are many who don’t cook, won’t cook or simply can’t cook. Me? I love getting my hands wet and attending to all the menial tasks that other people find tedious. I grew up peeling the wispy brown skins off small shallots, picking the tails off sprouted mung beans, releasing raw peanuts from their shells, squeezing coconut milk from grated coconut, pounding fresh chillies with sun-dried shrimps. Without the aid of modern electrical gadgets, there was no substitute for child labour in food preparation. I believe this was how my grandmother and mother, both formidable in the kitchen, learnt to cook. First by spending time preparing ingredients repeatedly and then only later being allowed to go near the fire and handle a wok. I would like to think that I am cast from the same mould as my grandmother and mother. The difference between us, though, is that I really do like precision and consistency. It drives me crazy when people say they cook by agak-agak, that is to say, they simply guess or make it up as they go along. I left Malaysia for England in the mid-eighties and it has taken me over 30 years to work out the recipe for the chicken curry and sambal that I have such fond memories of. Each time I returned home I asked for the recipe and was given a list of ingredients but not how much of each. It aggrieved me totally that my mother could not pin down the exact measurements of any dish. For example, the recipe for yam cake consisted of the following advice: cut the yam into cubes, pound and fry the dried shrimp, add the yam, salt, pepper and five-spice powder. Make a batter with one bowl of rice flour, two bowls of water and some cornflour. Mix everything together and steam in a tin. In the beginning this is what I thought of agak-agak. It is either a ploy by people who do not want to share their recipes or an excuse by those who do not really cook the entire dish themselves. Most households have domestic help and maybe the helper holds the secret to the recipes.
Lately I have wondered if agak-agak is really is about using your head, assessing the situation and forming an opinion that moves you further along the path you need to go. My generation is so caught up in yes or no, up or down, black or white. My grandmother and her generation were far wiser because they knew that life, like cooking, could not be so inflexible. In avoiding any element of agak-agak not only our cooking suffers, perhaps even our relationships falter because we have lost the courage to feel our way around and learn to trust our eyes, our ears, our hearts. My mother is nearly 80 and recently there has been a sense of urgency in her voice when trying to pass down my grandmotherâ€™s family recipes. I hope that enhanced cooking and enhanced living go hand in hand as I try to work out the ingredients and measurements and then translate them into precise recipes by way of several rounds of inspired agak-agak.
by Mei Ling Routley 71
Have You Eaten?
by Jess Routley
I was very touched to have my mum contribute to this issue of daikon*, most of our contributors so far have been, like us, in their twenties. This is understandable given the culture surrounding zines, and this being such an important age in terms of identity making. There is certainly a great amount to learn from the generations above us, and it is a shame that we often fail to search out their opinions and experiences. I have written this piece for two reasons really. Firstly as a response to my mum’s piece – to tell you what I learnt from reading it and how valuable it was to hear of her experiences. Secondly, I have written this as a sort of ‘thank you’ to my mum, who is always happy to pass on her knowledge of cooking to me and my brothers, and who has always provided us with the most delicious food. **** What struck me when I first read it was how much I related to it. I was surprised that she has her own frustrations about holding on to family recipes and learning from her mum and grandma. I have always seen my mum as incredibly talented in the kitchen, she can always answer any question on how to get something just right, where to buy that obscure ingredient, or what gives something that particular unidentifiable taste. At home we grew up eating incredible food - whatever my mum had ready after school it was always perfect and full of care (I’m living back at home now and let me tell you it is a JOY to be cooked for by my mum again). I am always in awe of her ability to make both the perfect roast and the next day, nasi lemak with homemade sambal. To me it seems that she just knows everything about cooking and entertaining guests. Our family is one that lives to eat, everything we do together centres around food. At home you won’t really hear us asking each other ‘how are you’, instead the first thing we ask each other is ‘have you eaten’. We don’t really talk about our emotions much, but we make up for this by always making sure everyone has something to eat and by spending time together over food. With everything my mum cooks, you can tell
straight away that she has put every ounce of care she has into it, and growing up in this environment has meant that me and my brothers instinctively know that to cook for someone is to care for them. I was moved when I read that my Popo has a sense of urgency in her voice when telling my mum about family recipes. I had assumed that my mum already knew everything about cooking Chinese and Malaysian food and was surprised that her mother felt she had more to teach. I found that feeling of urgency very relatable. Sometimes I will be cooking with my mum and though I am tired and hungry I find myself taking careful note of how she is cooking the beans, how small she slices them, and at what point she adds the eggs. I feel this urgency because I am scared of one day having to cook for my children and not being able to cook things right. Being mixed race and having grown up in England I often feel much less Chinese/Malaysian than my mum and I worry that my kids will hardly feel Chinese at all if I fail to provide them with the same food I received growing up. Reading my mums piece made me think that maybe it is just inevitable that we feel that we don’t know as much as our mums. We are lucky to have grown up with such good food that we feel desperate to ensure that our kids have what we had. Perhaps I need to make peace with just learning as much as I can about how to make sambal or eggs with beans, but what I am already sure about is that my mum has already taught me everything I need to know about how to show you care for someone through food. Recently I was cooking a dinner for about thirty friends and after I had made everything I panicked that there would not be enough to satisfy everyone, started again and made double – just incase. My dad saw this panic and laughed as he told me that I really am my mother’s daughter. Though in the future I may not be able to make my kids as many different Chinese/Malaysian dishes as my mum made for us, at least I know to ask them every day – ‘have you eaten’?
cảm ơn bạn
daikon* is a zine by South-East and East-Asian women and non-binary people in Europe. Issue 4 features the writing of: Jiawen P Jae Hyun Su...
Published on Mar 6, 2018
daikon* is a zine by South-East and East-Asian women and non-binary people in Europe. Issue 4 features the writing of: Jiawen P Jae Hyun Su...