Today, I ate seaweed salad and brown rice for dinner. If it sounds like a weird/boring/insufficient dinner, that’s because it probably is. However, while my stomach is churning from the probable seaweed overdose, it made me think.
I was the type of kid whose culinary adventures were shocking by general 4-year-old standards. My brother and I were the “good kids” in the family who ate just about anything the adults fed us. In a Filipino family, you’re considered a “good kid” if you behave like a human garbage disposal and ate all kinds of food. I liked to eat everything, and the only things I didn’t like to eat were pork fat and carbonated drinks. In short, I was a really “good kid”.
My grandmother taught me to eat rice with bananas. She would cut up the bananas into small slices and sprinkle sugar on her white rice (never brown; there’s no such thing as brown rice in the Philippines). Sometimes sprinkle powdered milk over it instead of bananas. Sometimes coffee. It sounds weird, and many inexperienced rice eaters would say that rice should only go with savory food. My grandmother would tell them to forget Uncle Ben’s and eat rice like real rice people would, which means eat it with everything. Including powdered milk, sugar and bananas.
I also used to eat fresh seaweed with my grandmother. This isn’t anything like the puny, stringy seaweed you would eat at a sushi bar here in North America. This is Caulerva Uva, which we used to call “arusip”. It looks like a small bunch of green grapes, but it tastes – literally – like the ocean. You would eat it with fish and rice. I ate it by itself. I’m surprised I didn’t develop kidney stones, since I’m sure those things were super high in sodium. I haven’t had it in over 10 years since I moved to Canada from Manila, but to this day I still associate it with summer breaks, family reunions, deserted beach islands, grilled fish and my grandmother. When I think of this particular seaweed salad, I can almost smell the ocean air and feel the fine hot sand between my toes. And hear my mom laughing.
It’s funny how one second you’re thinking of food, and before you know it you find yourself longing for places and people you’ve left behind, or who have left you. My grandmother passed away in 2002, and I’ve lived three hours away from my mom since last year. I’m not one for loneliness; I usually find something to occupy myself before those emotions find their way into my head. But some days, like today, I end up eating a meager meal and find myself thinking about more than food, but the people who I remember eating this food with. And when I say “seaweed salad” and “rice with bananas”, I know more than a handful of people who would practically gag. Yet these are things that I pluck right out of my own personal history. They’re like little grooves in the very unique fingerprint of my life. They’re my grandmother. My mother. Me.
But don’t worry, I don’t take it personally if you’re grossed out by my food preferences. I might be grossed out by some food that means a lot to you. But I can probably bet that the more outlandish the food, the stronger the memory tied to it. Isn’t that something? 🙂