Mum’s Eggy Bread, 2019


Mum’s Eggy Toast was just like Jess’ Treacle Cake – food that had purported to fill the space in their absence, keeping us nourished throughout the day. Growing up, Saturday was my favourite day. Apart from it being the day when I suddenly didn’t need to go to school because of the sudden change in education system, it was the day that I would see Mum not in a suit ready to sling a coat and go to work but a day when Mum was still in her loose homeware.

Being woken up on the sofa by the cold air I would stretch my legs complaining about the cold air but soon, follow Mum around the house until she told me to get her a bag of milk bread and a dozen of eggs from the little shop near our flat. I always loved those square white bread from the little shop across the flat lived in where sometimes the owner assumma would be too nosy about your school results but other times, happy to share her steamed sweet potatoes with you.

When she started to fry the bread clothes with eggy water, there was nothing more comforting to watch those bread twiddled around the puddle of oil. Only then, I started to literally dance around the kitchen out of excitement and made Mum laugh. Then she would pinch one of the first ones out of the sizzling pan and blow it to cool down to let me sample the first one. To me, that still seems like the most accurate symbol for love that someone can show to their loved ones. You love someone enough to feed the first food of your day (On the contrast I was very cross when my first boyfriend in my first year at University lifted up a big twirl of noodles from the freshly served spaghetti bowl and as expected, we didn’t last long).

French toast doesn’t demand much from you so perfect for the fuss-free Saturday mornings, especially if you have a kid who bother to go to a corner shop to get you bread and eggs. The bread doesn’t even need to be stale but fresh ones make it more fluffy if you like that. And the package ones that I used to get from the corner shop were thickly sliced and it was perfectly making every single bite worthwhile. As the butter in the bread melted in oil it would make you mad with lust releasing the most aromatic flavour and the crispy sizzles were only doing the extra for that. To make it more special, Mum used to sprinkle sugar at the edgy of the bread at the end of the cooking, rightly caramelised and golden.

All of it would finish before my sister gets up and Mum in a suit would disappear again like a fairy. But the smell would linger through the day while we would go back and forth nipping those eggy bread which was then soggy from a large square fruit tray.




Sherry

(*OR HAVE GRAPE JAM ON BRIOCHE WITH A TALL GLASS OF MILK), 2019


There is this custom in Korea - People send fruits to others for celebrations or to express their gratitutues. The types of fruits vary depending on the seasons but apples and grapes were very common fruits and they usually came in a cardboard box but once in a blue moon, I could see fat juicy fruits nicely nestled in a wood basket wrapped in plastic and they were even bundled up cute with a ribbon.

When these baskets came, my sister and I used to share eyes with each other and it was a matter of time that either of us would plead if we can eat those fruits first. The grapes in the basket were usually very round and glowing in beautiful pistachio green, plus, they rarely had any seeds. That meant, they didn’t even need to be rehomed in a cold veranda. They would just be sat on the round table in the kitchen then, people would just walk around passing picking up without even thinking about having to have dishes for them. In contrast of these, when grapes come in cardboard boxes, they had to be carried out to the cool area straigh ahead and I would only be terrified by the flies around them knowing they were too sweet for me and more importantly, they needed a lot of hands eating because they have a lot of seeds inside.

I guess, it was the same for everyone in the household except my sister who liked those grapes regardless of their seeds to slighly neglect those in the cardboard boxes. When the uninvited flying visitors come around for those grapes to those boxes and hassling me on my way to the laundry room, Mum would take them out of the boxes and make wines and with the leftover, jams.

Mum let me walk on the grapes with my clean feet which at that time I thought because I successfully persuaded Mum with my “French people make wine with their feet” reference.” When she was done with thw wine making, I would help her making jam with the leftovers. As the jam gets thickened in a large and deep pan, I hovered around the kitchen inhaling the aroma and dance around to make Mum laugh.

Mum worked a lot and sadly I didn’t spend a lot of time with her outside of the kitchen but when she stayed in for a half day, it would be her cooking time. She said she likes making things with hands. And she trusted me for sampling her food and tell her if it’s too salty or vice versa. I guess she found the tactile experience of cooking really theraphetic. Something that she didn’t need to worry about but knew from her bones.

When the jam was thickened enough, the house was full of aroma then,
Mum and I would sit down the round table with a bag of brioche milk bread, the best kind for jams, and a tall glass of milk to share. The thick purple was still warm on the bread.



Celebrating the Magic of 7 minutes of Transformation That Pasta Makes, 2018


The radar of exclusive narrative about food culture did not just pass pasta. When I searched for pasta recipe, celebrity cooks would tell me that you can only use vine-cherry tomato from farmer’s market or you can compromise by buying plum tomatoes from supermarkets, which are not always affordable when my reality is I look at reduced section in supermarket hoping there’s a slightly damaged tin of tomato in a half price.

It is not just tomatoes which will be indulged for debate, there’s olive oil that, people tell you, you should try to source the “best” because it would be a transformation moment for your pasta. Because of that, I used to feel that the one that I used everyday, to fry my flipping eggs, to dip my stale bread in a hope of its revitalisation, or to drizzle over a simply cooked pasta is not enough because they are from Tesco.

However according to Yotam Ottolenghi’s blind test (yes, he is the one, Ottolenghi) Tesco’s olive oil is pleasantly aromatic as well as having a punch of peppery flavour while the one from M&S, at almost twice the price of Tesco’s, is totally lacking the flavour. Even though the message here is not about to be the ambassador of Tesco, it does seem to be chipping away some of the defensive narrative that people have about the “cheap” supermarket food.

The ethos of pasta is to me its glorious accessibility and comfort, the belief that I hold onto in the late night trudging back home after long hours in the studio, however sad my empty fridge is, the open bag of dry pasta will be there for me to be scorched in boiling water therefore I know that there will be a meal ready for me in a short time. Pasta will be simply cooked with whatever vegetables that I have depending on the situation of my fridge and will be served, sometimes with fried eggs, sometimes with bread roll, and often both to fill my tummy with content and joy.


What Can Bagels Stand for Twenty First Century Friendship?, 2018


“Excuse me, do you mind me asking how to get to Brick Lane?”. “You’re really brave”, said my friend. As we nervously carried ourselves to Brick Lane stopping at every single map, we finally spotted a sign, “Beigle Shop”. I instantly figured that that was not quite a place where we intended to go. Bagels didn’t seem to live in their shop window. They were on the back of the shop. My eyes swiftly moved to the other shops. There they are. You can see the lovely, shiny surface of the dough gracefully curved inward right through the window.

Without doubt (actually few seconds between croissants but we decided to get both as you should), we claimed, “Can I have bagel with cream cheese please?”

Bagged in an old-fashioned brown bag, they got placed on counter in a hot second and I was no near the word of hesitation. My watery mouth was instantly stuffed with dough smothered with cream cheese. Bagel and Cream Cheese. It is that simple. Classic plain bagels. There’s no need for add-on. Just that with cream cheese but it is instantly filling my tummy with joy of having this familiar and good food.

This seeminly petty obsession about bagels all came from a conversation with a friend who used to be Boston based Bagel eater, now with me happily stuffing our mouths with £1.20 bagels. After long hours at the studio, we finally settled our bums cosily on the sofa at cafe, “Did you used to eat bagels a lot back home?”, and I added, “I really miss it”.

The conversation we had about bagels seemed to be the objects that just marked throughout our early 20s. Aside of the fact that it is delicious bagels seemed like the girl that I liked who was approachable but didn’t feel too pretty nor did she try to be one of them. She was just effortless but meant slightly more to me.

Anxiously shaping who I might be, confidently defining who others were, the second floor of Dunkin Donut was my place to be alone reflecting on friendships, idly writing the proposal for "modern art appreciation society" that I ambiguously belonged to, and watching junk shows. To accompany with them, slightly stale bagels from "DD" was perfect especially when they were toasted.

Similar to my memoire with bagels, my friend’s relationship with bagels was solitary but in a pleasant way, having obtained the skill to smear the cream cheese in a hot second out of everyday bagel, she would go on T which is a subway system in Boston and stretch people’s capability to stand the smell of her food.

Now that, we toasted our joy with our last bites of bagels, we both had to agree that bagels are more than bagels as they always have been -- within them, we created something more than our individual experiences. Not that do I dismiss our solitary experience with bagels but it is more like celebrating the conveyance of the “everyman’s food” letting it lace our individual experience into something solid as them. 


Is the food trend a form of colonialism?, 2017


This year in 2017, whether we have noticed or not, Syrian food was in the spotlight for this year’s trendy food. Even celebrity chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and Jamie Oliver included Syrian food ingredients for their cookbooks which were crowned with Amazon Best sellers.

The author of “Cook for Syria”, Itab Azzam also said, “In the face of tragedy a desire has grown outside Syria to know this war-torn country and its people more intimately.” When the food is made and contextualised in appreciation of the culture from which it came, it is a positive change because it is engaging with the lives of the immigrants who brought the food in the UK and creating a place for a communication through the culinary experience.

Sadly, it is not always the case. There is little recognition of the culture where the food is from. More often it is a shallow exposure by those who with a vested interest picking out the most suitable for their use without understanding of the contemporary sense of the food nor is there any mention of where the food is cooked and consumed. It is only Western chefs (usually white and male) who “anoint” the next big thing for country’s trendy food through the media (often in the lifestyle section of the magazine) but until then, like Korean food under Chinese or Japanese food, immigrant food is often homogenised with other food according to its geographical approximation.

This way of consuming immigrants’ food is so closely tied with colonialism and race. It is not any less different from ‘Scramble for Africa’, the division of African territory by European powers as a result of colonisation during the period of New Imperialism. When the light shines onto certain food, as food experiences the shift of status, how the food is recognised and addressed in the society shows “who’s dominant in society.”

Krishnendu Ray, a professor at New York University says, “It’s part of a matrix of cultural domination. You can make a living from your food but not according to your own terms.” Korean food can be the example of this. Despite of its presence in the UK since 1970s from Korean immigrants mainly around New Malden area, Korean food was under the shadow of other cuisines such as Chinese or Japanese. But within the last decades, every new year, there has been an article about its promising position to tip into the mainstream. However promising its position in the food industry is predicted, the way its food is addressed doesn’t seem to reflect the change of the attitude of people in a way food is addressed.

In the article of business magazine, Joe Lutrario, the writer concluded that even though it is undeniable to accept the positive prospect of Korean food ‘replicating the success of these cuisines’ - referring Chinese and Japanese - with its health benefit and ‘adaptability’, it is unlikely to have a boom in food industry because UK-based Korean chefs aren’t willing to exactly ‘rework’ their cooking for the market.

To make a place in the food market, Korean food should either be fusioned with other cuisines that UK consumers feel familiar with or ‘reworked’ to make ‘a few adjustments’. There’s hardly any mention of how the food should be cooked in the understanding of its rich culture but the main focus is how it can be served the best after going through multiple changes. Would that be able to be called as Korean after its original cuisines go through numerous minus and plus of change of the condiments to make it more familiar to the customers?  

Filipino food is situated in the similar situation as Korean food. Most recently chef Anthony Bourdain said that Filipino food—more precisely on Sisig—will become “the next big thing” in America and with the interview with CNN, he said he believes Filipino food is “underrated”, “ascendant” and a “work in progress”. Filipino food which used to be under the category of Chinese is now served with its own label in a fancy restaurant to satisfy the elites who have a desire for the “authentic ethnic dish” — How? because Anthony Bourdain said so.  

Historically certain food had more emphasis than others and the hierarchies of the tastes were naturally formed. The term, ‘ethic’ reflects on this phenomenon. On term “ethnic food”, Ray says, is now starting to take on an offensive character, lumping all nonwhite people and their cuisines together in a category of “other.” But historically the term, “ethnic” connotes “of essential difference, of inferiority.” However outdated the term is it is still used. Ray addresses, “what is considered ethnic is in relation to domination, and cultures that in the US and UK we see as different and inferior.” he says. This is why German and French foods are never called as ethnic food. Italian cuisine can be the next new thing but Italian’s olive focaccia with sun-dried tomato sandwich would not be called as, patronisingly, a “work in progress”, borrowing the celebrity chef’s term, but Korean and recently Filipino food.

As society becomes more multicultural, food is what links its people to the society and gives a space to express their identity through the food. “Generally, I think eating and exposing yourself to other cultures is essential to democracy in the modern world, and familiar with racial and cultural differences is crucial”, says Ray. Without being transparent about when and where the food has been consumed it is impossible to avoid appropriating cultural identities and its people. Ray emphasised, “ethnicity is not a thing and therefore it cannot be appropriated.” The point is not we should avoid eating immigrants’ food but to emphasise our capacity to make efforts to recognise where the recipes come from.




   







Mark