When you love something with blinding passion, you would loathe the day it would be taken away from you.
That is especially true when, just like in my case, it is stolen by family and friends. The people I trusted were apparently filthy thieves, robbing away the thing that I love the most.
They steal my food!
Some of them are hungry ninjas, who check if the coast is clear before zeroing in on their targets: the refrigerator, where I keep my leftover pizza. They have mastered the art of not getting caught and feigning innocence.
Some are shameless swindlers who commit the crime right in front of my face. The moment the waiter comes to take our order, the deception begins.
While I order food for myself, the thieves will say he or she is “not hungry”, and will just order water. But when the food arrives, they will distract me with an amusing chat, and before I know it, only half of my order remains!
Oh, you thought when I said “tara, kain (let’s eat)”, that was a serious invitation? I was just following the Filipino custom of politely offering food when someone catches me eating.
Get your own food. What’s mine is mine.
Food is a personal matter. I believe what makes it so are the memories associated with it. The exact same food may taste different to you and I, not just due to preferences, but because of memories.
For example, no matter how many types of food we are able to taste in our lifetimes, home-cooked meals will always have a special place in our hearts.
For me, sinigang cooked in our home will always be the best. Sinigang is a Filipino stew which consists of pork, vegetables, and tamarind.
The mention of sinigang evokes memories of sitting with one foot up the chair, temples dripping with sweat as one savors a bowlful of effort and thoughtfulness.
Home is where pork is tenderized for hours, and soup is made extra sour– sinigang cooked just the way I like it.
In college, I became an exchange student in South Korea for almost a year, which means no home-cooked meals for some time. The dishes I remember from that year are not the most sophisticated ones, but those filled with memories.
Our favorite midnight snack was Korean Fried Chicken with its endless flavor variations: pizza chicken, soy chicken, spicy chicken, spring onion chicken, and so much more!
Fried chicken is celebratory food, whether enjoyed in Korea at 4 o’clock am while playing with board games, or home-cooked in the Philippines and eaten with dollops of banana ketchup. No occasion needed; being together is reason enough to celebrate!
Another food I remember was Chicken Mayo, served in our school cafeteria. Chicken Mayo consists of chopped chicken nuggets, shredded dried seaweed, mayonnaise, and special sauce, topped on rice— basically deconstructed rice balls, simple ingredients who would have thought would go together so well?
Not exactly gourmet and not even a distinctly Korean cuisine, I like it so much because it’s reminiscent of the food concoctions my sister and I used to make at home when we were young.
My sister and I pretended to have our very own cooking show, acting in front of the camera as we demonstrate how to prepare a dish we invented.
On our menu: corn chips with jelly, sweet potato with crackers and cheese spread. Like chicken mayo, the combination doesn’t have to make sense, as long as it tasted good— or at least, we are having too much fun to double check if it truly does!
Finally, my favorite Korean sweet treat, hotteok (sweet pancakes with brown sugar filling). For me, the hotteok from a particular stall in Insadong is the best.
Served piping-hot, with generous filling and just the right fluff, they are the chewiest hotteoks I have ever tasted. Definitely worth scalding your palate for!
I have eaten that particular Hotteok in Insadong thrice, and all were good moments.
First, on a fieldtrip to Seoul.
We were staying in Korea for just a few weeks by then. A bite of hotteok was a surprise, a new type of sweetness I didn’t know was possible. A taste of wonder, a whiff of newly-opened suitcases and flowers that bloomed after a long winter.
Second, with my sister and her now husband, as they visited me in Korea.
By this time I had been in Korea for several months already. The hotteok tasted of finding solace in both the good and the bad.
Third, on a solo trip in Seoul a few days before our flight back home.
Longing for both the place I will soon leave and a home I haven’t seen in a long time, hotteok has been a sweet, warm comfort as I deal with bittersweet feelings. The hotteok was made exactly the way I like it, as if it was made just for me. As if it was made at home.
Then that’s when it hit me: Korea is now also my home.
Isn’t it fascinating? One goes out to explore what lies beyond the home, but in the end, finds home in every place, before even attempting to search for it.
There is no such thing as home away from home, because through food, anywhere in the world can be a home.
Because now I enjoy food not just through myself, but through the people I eat it with.
Food can be enjoyed alone, but food is best shared. Because anywhere you can enjoy food with the people you love can be home.
Home is not minding if someone ate your food in the refrigerator, because that person may be hungry and too tired to cook something for herself.
Home is ordering a bit extra because perhaps, the friend just did not have money to buy her own.
When I say “tara kain”, I mean it. What’s mine is yours. We’re home.