26 Mar 2021
In the first of our advice column, a reader has trouble eating her favourite dish without intertwining it with memories of falling out with her sister.
My very favourite dish is steamed fish. The big ones on a big platter with so much coriander and ginger that you cannot see the fish and smells so wangi? Yeah, those. It’s so good and my family would order that every time we went to eat tai chow. And even though it was just my parents, my sister, and me, we could finish the whole thing, no problem.
A few years ago, I got into a huge falling out with my sister. We’ve always had a tense relationship but this time she said some… things that cannot be unsaid. She’s moved out, and the rest of us haven’t gone for tai chow since before corona. My mom makes steamed fish at home but I can’t eat it anymore. It reminds me too much of when we were all together, and of her.
Is there a way I can eat my favourite dish again?
Fishing For Answers
I hear you. I see you.
Memories of tastes and smells are ingrained deep in our beings. Many intrinsically know the connection between tastes and smells, and many have also realised how certain scents unlock memories for us. Folks much more learned than I am in these things have noted that the layout of our brains is what’s responsible for this link. Sweet kedai runcit ice cream brings one back to road trips with cousins; onions and garlic frying will remind many of evenings with their mothers. Whether for good or bad, food and memories are intertwined.
A good friend of mine broke up with her ex about 5 years ago. It was terrible and devastating, but one thing that she didn’t foresee happening was not being able to go to the same places that she and her ex did. All the restaurants that they frequented, the trunk roads taken during road trips—it all made her freeze at even the prospect of going. After some discussions with her therapist, she decided to reclaim these places. She brought her friends (including me) to the same restaurants and ordered the same meals for everyone to share. She was determined to rewrite her memories, and she did it by bringing others on the journey with her and making them joyous occasions.
If you are open to this idea of reclaiming your favourite dish, there are a few ways you can go about it. Perhaps you can ask your mother to teach you how to steam a fish, and she can recount how she learned how to make it herself. Or if you are able to have a Covid-safe socially distanced meal, you can prepare one to serve to a few close friends at home, or treat those same friends to some steamed fish at your favourite tai chow. You can disclaim to others about your intentions or not, that’s up to you. But no matter which route you take, make it a priority to focus on present company and how much they mean to you in the here and now.
I wish you peace, and hopefully, lots of steamed fish.
**Send in your cooking questions or cooking-adjacent life questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Eat your feelings’.