I am sure that my mom is not the best cook in the world, but at some point in my childhood, I realized that all of my friends’ parents couldn’t cook nearly as well as my mom could. Every night, even when she complained of being tired or of a lack of ingredients, she found a way to prepare a delicious meal for our family.
My mom’s talents go beyond dinner: She is an excellent baker, too. Whether it was chocolate chip scones, banana muffins, or dense chocolate cake, her baked goods were flawless in my eyes.
As I grew up, I started baking too. Every time I baked something, I would desperately seek her approval. My mom is not one for compliments—she loathes the Western culture of regularly praising your children—so I was elated every time she said, “This is not so bad, Miya.”
When I came to McGill, I quickly found myself, as many students do, missing my mom and her cooking. However, living in a MORE house afforded me the opportunity to try to recreate her dishes in an effort to cure some of my homesickness. I journeyed to Chinatown and the Japanese markets near Concordia to track down ingredients I couldn’t find in the tiny ‘ethnic’ or ‘international’ section of the local supermarkets. Finally, I found the labels that I recognized, and it felt like I was back home with my mom, shopping at her favourite markets.
I tried to get my mom to teach me how to make some of her dishes before I moved away, but she always told me to sit there and watch her do it, since that was how she had learned from her mother. Being impatient and not liking being told what to do, I didn’t hang around the kitchen like she said to.
So, at the university, I called her and asked her how to make certain dishes, how long to cook things, how much of each ingredient to add. In a classic—unbelievably frustrating—Asian mother fashion, she told me that she didn’t follow any recipe. She just did what she felt was right.
I started with what I knew: Chahan (fried rice) and onigiri (rice balls) were the two things I had somewhat decently prepared at home under my mom’s careful, judgemental watch. With the Asian products I knew and loved, both were simple enough to make. Plus, even if I messed up, my mom would never have to know.
I started to venture out of my comfort zone, mostly relying on doing what felt right and eating my mistake if I was wrong. Soon enough, I was consistently crafting dishes that I could not wait to tell my mom about. I still wished that she could taste them and give me her ‘not bad’ seal of approval.
Over this past winter break, my mom was too tired to make dinner one night, so I did it instead. I did not have much to cook with, but curry doesn’t require many ingredients so I made do. Perhaps it was because she was so tired, or maybe I really had perfectly combined the flavours from the various spices and ingredients that I had scrounged up, but my mom was grateful and baffled that I could cook something she enjoyed so much.
Really good, my mom said to me.
Even though I do not get homesick as much as I did in first year, I miss my mom every day. We call each other often, sharing the milestones we reached at both of our respective swim practices or breaking down the latest season of Terrace House, but it’s when I cook that I feel closest to her. My voice tells me what feels right, but her voice tells me to trust myself.