Since I started living away from my parents, I’ve taken to cooking many variations of curry, because it reminds me of home and the ingredients are readily available – the paste is easily found in jars, bricks that resemble chocolate bars, powder mixes, and even ready-made packets that only require heated water (which if I’m using, is pretty much an indication that I’ve thrown in the towel, because I’m feeling too lazy to cook).
I make Thai green curry, Nonya red curry, mild Japanese curry, and Indian butter curry. It’s easy to throw together quickly – just add chopped onions, milk, potatoes, chicken or tofu, some frozen mixed vegetables. A few good stirs and you’re done. I spoon it over steamed jasmine rice, which serves as a satisfying enough meal, doing its part to stave off hunger and homesickness.
It’s not the same, of course, as my grandmother’s chicken curry. It never has the same consistency, or the same richness the fresh coconut milk that she uses provides. It never contains the pieces of tau kwa (deep fried firm tofu), because I can’t seem to find them in the supermarket, and is always missing the right shade of fiery red hints to a level of spice, just enough to make me reach for a glass of water. Is it because I lack the years of experience she’s had at a stove, expertly whipping up an array of dishes to feed an army of relatives? Am I missing out on key ingredients, lost to me because I no longer live in Singapore? Or does food really just taste better when you have people you love to share it with?
On particularly cold winter evenings in Boston, I dream of clattering noisily in my flip-flops to the food court behind my house, back home in Singapore. Food can be paid for with a few dollars and change. If you get take out, it comes in a clamshell Styrofoam box, or wrapped in a piece of brown wax-lined paper with a rubber band wound around it. It’s a little messy, and would leave oily streaks on my dining table. But it’s always worth it.
When I get a specific craving in Boston, I look up menus online, from Asian restaurants around me. Somehow, I’m almost always let down. A lot of them tout “Singapore noodles” as an option, and it makes me huff every time. Do they mean Char Kway Teow, a flat rice noodle stir-fried with sambal and dark sweet soy sauce, or maybe Hokkien mee, a mix of yellow noodles, prawns and a distinct lime taste? Is it a Malay, Indian, or Chinese noodle dish? It’s so vague and disappointing, and I always give it a miss.
I spend too much money buying new bottles of chili sauce, ginger paste, and an assortment of other condiments and spices, hoping to one day build up a collection of tried and true ingredients to recreate my favorite dishes from home. Whenever I come back to visit, I leave room in my suitcase to accommodate as many sealed food products I can possibly lug back with me. I’m slowly growing my repertoire of dishes, but nothing I make will ever rival what I can get when I’m home.
Each time, however, that I share a dish I cooked with my roommates or my boyfriend, I remember the way my mother looks expectantly at my father and I as we dig into the dinner that she whipped up. “Try this,” I say, when someone peers into my pot on the stove. I feel so proud when my culinary results meet my taste buds’ expectations. Maybe a shared apartment can become a home only when its inhabitants eat together. I’m finding that food truly does bring people together, and I’m happy to cook a few extra servings.
Hi there! My name is Taina and I live in Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up in Singapore, which is a long way from where I am now. I went to college for writing, and I treasure the opportunity to tell my experiences through the written word. I love eating food from different cultures and going to live music concerts. Having grown up in a compact, dense city, I’ve always taken public transportation but I’ve begun driving for my work commute. I hope this will give me more reason to drive and explore the United States, and share more of my adventures with you.