thoughts // expectation-loaded dish

(My father was a man who cooks. When I was 9 years old, my dad gave me a fancy knife set as a birthday gift. When we are not climbing the hill on Sunday, he would teach me how to cook a simple dish he learned recently or cook me comfort food when I was on obligatory bedrest-- which is pretty often. As time goes by, I grew up a tomboy and a feminist. The teenage version of me rebelled against my dad and be more like my mom who is fiercely ambitious in her job. I refuse to wear dress, give myself a pixie cut, lost the whole knife set I used to keep upon my cupboard, excel in class and losing the interest to cook whatsoever. When I'm in my 20s, my dad had a heart attack from climbing the hill with my environmentalist ngo friends-- and I didn't join him on that event. I was devastated. Then I start taking a good care of myself as a girl, start wearing dresses, keep my hair long for awhile until it start to fall and settle for short to medium bob from then on, and most importantly, I start learning how to cook once again. Two years after he was gone, I was still cooking compulsively. I bake more cake in a year than I did for a lifetime. Years after that, I was still obsessed with good food, but I have made peace with both side of me-- the cooking type and the non-cooking type. I cook only when I want to and treat it as a hobby. When I had a bad day, midnight baking therapy will make me feel great afterward-- with a bonus: a treat for everyone in the house. But every once in a bluemoon when I dine out, I sometime found a taste of my dad's cooking and that is how this story started.

There are days when I miss him so much that I start to take notes of the places where I can find these scattered memories of taste-- from that chicken Maryland in an old Chinese restaurant with amazing tiles, that fried rice in an organic restaurant, and.. well, that was it! Yet, those two places brought a piece of his presence back to my life for a short wistful moment. Ten years now since he was gone and the list stuck at those two places that is no longer even there. On the desperate time of adding more places to that list that is now down to zero, I was obsessed. Apparently, they have a name for those things: Gustatory Nostalgia-- taste that brings back memory. These past two years I am all about the phenomenology issue of how our body and senses remembers and triggers memory.  Every now and then, I desperately seek for a slight comfort of his cooking. I shamelessly start revisiting places he used to take me. 

That photograph above was a disappointment that manifested in the form of 'tahu guling' and a story of father-daughter lunch date. Once upon a time, my dad used to take me to a very humble eatery selling this simple dish of tofu, vegetable, and tempe in sweet garlic sauce. I didn't remember if I like it or not, but, I do remember the place. So, one day, Dito and I went to that eatery and ordered the dish. After two of three bites, I didn't find even a glimpse of my dad's presence there.. I was more than disappointed. I was looking at the food with expectation that is too big; wondering how, in theory, that dish is supposed to remind me of him. It feels like I was betrayed by the only dish where I can possibly find him waiting for me. The obsession makes me forgot how these involuntary memories are triggered, not constructed. Proust said, involuntary memory is a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort. For Proust, it was a taste of petite Madeline cake soaked in a cup of tea that triggers his childhood memory that was lost to him. The taste triggers more vivid memory of how the childhood home looks like and how happy he was. For me, it was that one time when I ordered fried rice in an organic restaurant right in front of my dad's cemetery area, and the taste brings me back to those Sunday’s family breakfast and simpler things in life. At this point, I might just let go of that obsession, stop putting up such big pressure to a poor little dish in front of me, and just wait for a surprise visit in a bite-- one day.. one lucky day..)