I’d like to consider myself a foodie who is comfortable in the kitchen. Although I enjoy food from all countries, I often cook Chinese cuisine because it’s something my husband and I want to preserve for our daughter.
As much as I love Chinese food now, I wasn’t always fond of the cuisine. Growing up as a Chinese-Canadian in the 90s, I’d frequently complain about the food at home.
“Dad, we’re having bok choy and steamed egg for dinner again? Can’t we have pizza?”
“Mom, I can’t bring that for lunch. It’s too fishy smelling and the kids will laugh at me.”
“For my birthday, I want a cake with real icing, not one of those Asian ones with fruit.”
“Why do we eat rice every day? It’s so boring!”
Despite struggling to appreciate Chinese cuisine as a kid, I learned to love cooking at a young age. And it all started with a Canadian Christmas family dinner.
I’m 10 years old and my family’s been invited to Gary’s house, my dad’s coworker, for Christmas dinner.
We arrive. Gary comes out to greet us. His wife Lucia follows behind wearing a flashy red and green apron with all the bells and whistles. She looked like a mom from those 80s movies, feathery hair and all.
Their house is completely decked out with lights and Santa figurines of all sizes. WHAM!’s “Last Christmas” is playing in the background as the smell of a rosemary infused turkey roasting in the oven wafts through the hallways.
I wonder, “Is this what the house in “Home Alone” feels like?”
They take our coats, and Lucia asks my mom and me to follow her to the kitchen.
She sits us down at the table and brings out all sorts of cheeses: a mild brie, an aromatic Havarti, and lastly, a Tupperware containing a mysterious cheese. I was fascinated because the only cheese I ever had were the Kraft singles in the “fitting in” sandwiches my mom made.
I try each one and my eyes light up after each nibble. As Lucia opens the container that held the pungent Roquefort, she warns me, “This is a strong one so I’d only take a bit.”
Going against her advice, I smear a healthy-sized portion onto a cracker, pop it in my mouth and without a hitch, she hands me a napkin.
As I spit the veiny crumbles into the napkin, she grins, “I guess I won’t be using that one for the dip.” She then hands me a tree-shaped sugar cookie to help wash down the taste.
When it was time to go, Lucia asks me what my favourite dishes were that night. I tell her the sugar cookies. She asks me to follow her back into the kitchen where she grabs a large box containing hundreds of recipe cards, all handwritten, stained and greasy. She flicks through them and pulls one out.
She transcribes the sugar cookie recipe onto the new card, hands it to me and warmly says, “Now you can make this at home too!”
On the ride back, I remember grasping onto that card like it was sacred, excited to make them at home the next day.
In high school, I started watching the Food Network, racing home after school to catch “Christine Cushing Live,” Anna Olson’s “Sugar“ and Michael Smith’s “Chef At Large.”
I’d jot down recipes as the hosts were talking, and I’d test things out in the kitchen every Friday night.
By the time I was in university, I started going out for dinner with friends, and I always gravitated to Chinese restaurants. I realized those flavours were innate to my taste buds, igniting a sense of comfort and delight, something I had taken for granted growing up.
It was at this time that I began to embrace my Chinese culture, so I started asking my mom for her recipes, watching her cook and helping her prepare dinner.
The skills I had developed 10 years prior, cooking Western-style meals, were seamlessly transferred to Chinese cuisine, demonstrating how the art of cooking truly transcends all cultures.
Potato Canadian bacon soup became congee. Spaghetti and meatballs became prawn and egg swirl on rice noodles. Buttermilk pancakes became green onion pancakes. Blueberry muffins turned into lo bak gou (turnip cake.) Ham and cheese scones turned into pork and cabbage dumplings.
I’m eternally grateful to Lucia, a Canadian mom who inspired me to begin my own cooking journey by inviting me into her kitchen and showing me how her family comes together through food.
I’m grateful to my parents who didn’t bat an eye whenever I added a “peculiar” non-Asian item like nutmeg to their grocery list.
My mom’s lack of knowledge about Canadian cooking was actually helpful as it prevented her “mom ego” from getting in the way, allowing me to stretch my creativity in the kitchen.
As parents, I think it’s important to recognize both the Eastern and Western influences we had growing up, and to have the autonomy to pick and choose what to preserve.
However, sometimes it’s not about viewing each culture as different, but rather how they’ve intertwined throughout our lives growing up, and creating something unique that reflects our current generation.
I know having a healthy relationship with food can do wonders for the mind, body, and soul; therefore, as a mom, I want to go beyond what my mom and Lucia did for me.
Unlike my parents, I’m raising my daughter during a time and place where I can literally make meals from all over the world. I can Google a recipe, buy the imported ingredients at my local grocer, watch a YouTube video and make it that night.
So I’m excited to inspire my daughter — when she’s old enough — to appreciate food as a global experience, teaching her how to mindfully enjoy her meal while preserving my Chinese and Canadian value that food is the glue that brings families together.
Born And Raised is an ongoing series by HuffPost Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories — join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at email@example.com.