It was an impromptu date in an unassuming restaurant, which I have seen plenty in Singapore but never in Melbourne.
For the lack of pretentiousness alone, I knew it would be a treat to eat at Soi 38. A place I have been wanting to go to since last year, but no-thanks to Covid and whatnot, it only happened this week.
Soi 38 is located inside a Wilson Parking carpark in Melbourne CBD area. I made a booking for 6.15 PM (booking is highly recommended) at 5.45 PM and went to The Paperback bookshop to spend time there while waiting for Fafa who had a gym class.
At 6.30 PM, we have put our order in: Thai BBQ set, Thai iced tea, coconut juice, Som Tum as the entree and my fave mango sticky rice dessert. The BBQ set came with various meat and seafood, noodles, vegetables and a single egg—all to be cooked on the tabletop bbq stove.
To say I was delighted would be an understatement.
The food, dipped in their homemade Thai sauce, was delicious. And the crowd was interesting. That evening, the place was bursting with diversity, from suit-wearing business people to pierced belly flashing student.
I will come back again, bring all my friends and recommend Soi 38 to anyone.
I looked at the caller ID on the phone. Amma. “What do you want me to cook for you?”
I smiled even though I knew she wouldn’t be able to see it from across the ocean. She had asked the same question a hundred times before. To which I gave the same answer, my favorite has always been the same, a famous local dish from the region she grew up in: “prawn curry“. Then I added, “but, let’s cook it together this time“. I anticipated a “Why?” but it never came. Good. The answer to that particular why weighs heavily on my world and I rather put it in writing here than explain it to her.
It all started when a friend, who lost her mother, shared her regrets. One of them was her struggle to “cook like mom” for her grieving family. How, even though she could remember some of the ingredients, some of the recipes and some of the methods, none of them was enough. Enough to bring the same taste to the same plates, served at the same dining table to the same people.
Her words woke up my own demon who whispered into my ear as I lay in the bed, asking me “what would my regrets be?”
The answer? Infinite.
One of them, the same as my friend, would be the fleeting taste of Amma’s cooking. Even though she had given enough advice to last me seven reincarnated lives, Amma had never taught me to cook, because I was never interested. That night, unable to sleep, I decided that it needed to change when I flew home next.
The day I reached home, I was greeted by the smell of exotic spices filling the air and a warm bowl of prawn curry on the table. I half-heartedly complained that I wanted to learn to cook it, but was secretly glad I didn’t have to right after the long flight.
The next day I used a different approach in the effort to capture the fleeting taste: I made her write the complete recipe with foolproof detail.
“Why don’t I dictate it for you so you can write it in English?” she complained. “No, Bahasa Indonesia is fine, but I want you to write it” I replied. She complied and passed me the paper with “make sure you cook it otherwise you just wasted my time!“
Putting her note in the recipe box, I promised her I would. In fact, I told her, I plan to fill the box with other recipes from her, my friends, and even my own. It will be a sort of artifact to summon love and support from women in my life, including myself. She laughed and air-quoted “cooking rice” is not a recipe.
Ha! She doesn’t know that I can boil pasta too!
The day I flew back to Melbourne she hugged me tightly, enveloping me with the warmth of her love. How I wish I could put that motherly love into the recipe box and keep it with me forever.
That’s when I realized it wouldn’t be her cooking that I would truly miss, but the love she put into cooking the food for me. That, even though I have the original blueprint inside my recipe box, it will still be a fleeting taste.
I grew up reading plenty of Indonesian folklore stories. One of the stories that stuck with me is the Indonesian folklore about a princess who is being held by an evil witch who shut her away in a tower in the middle of a forest. The start of this particular Indonesian folklore is pretty similar to so many other Western fairy tales, such as Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. But the similarity ends there.
The story goes that the Indonesian princess loves to knit and she spent her days knitting near the window. One day, her knitting needle dropped to the ground. Out of desperation, she shouts out a promise to marry anyone who brings back the needle to her, if it’s a guy, or to take them as a sister, if it’s a girl. Later, a dog found and returned it to her. As promised, she agreed to marry the dog, who turned out to be a cursed prince. As we all told, they live happily ever after.
I have the same type of desperation when it comes to midnight cake craving
I would wake up by 1 AM and couldn’t think of anything except delicious cakes. Then I would text my friends the same thing: to get me one and I’ll take them as a sister or a partner, you know will marry for a cake type of thing. But until now no one has ever gotten me one. I rationalized this with the fact that there is hardly any cake shop opens after 11 PM but now I am thinking maybe they just don’t want to be my family.
Sometimes, in my most desperate moments in life, I have considered marrying for a cake, especially if it’s a birthday cake.