My daughter is an average sized child, not too tall or short or thin or overweight for her age. But she eats like a trooper especially when I make her home-cooked meals and I’m not even a very good cook compared with the other cooks in my family.
The fact that she is appreciative of the food I make for her is because when she was younger, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I let her watch her 70+ year old grandmother labour in the kitchen to make dinner for us.
One thing you need to understand about this is that we lived in one of those wooden houses you see in kampung areas. Those type of houses are cold as winter during the nights and hot as hell during the day.
As she watched her grandmother de-scale and de-gut fish or pluck feathers off a kampung chicken, or chop up meat and bone to make soup, she herself will be drenched in sweat. The hot unforgiving sun and the zinc roof turned the kitchen into a sauna on a daily basis.
Yet instead of complaining, her sense of curiosity will take over and she would ask 99 questions per hour. What is this, what is that, why is po po doing that to the chicken feet, why throw that away, what do you call this, why does it look like this, what is she adding to the soup, what does that do?
I would help fill in the blanks or ask grandma to explain to her (to be honest, it’s more of the latter. It’s a learning experience for the both of us). In between each ingredient prep, she would run off to play. And when grandma is going to prepare the next item, po po would holler from the kitchen and we would assemble next to her once again.
Come dinner time, I will identify the dish on the dinner table, and relate it with the raw ingredients that grandma had prepared just now. Remember when po po removed the scale or pluck the feathers? That is what you are eating now.
Her eyes will grow bigger with recognition, and I know that the connection has been made.
I do this often but not every day. If we can opt out of being in the hot kitchen, we would (we’re only human, not superhuman like po po) but every now and then, grandma would prepare a special meal and we would stand on the sideline and watch her work her magic.
To be honest, I did this only to introduce more of the kampung life to my daughter. I was pleasantly surprised that she understood the link between the work in the kitchen and the food at the table during dinner time. A side effect of that is that she is appreciative of every home-cooked meal, be it made by me or by her grandma.
She would ask for a second helping of rice and sometimes mid-meal, she would mumble to herself, “this is so delicious”. That’s like music to my ears after spending three hours making soup for her. (It takes only an hour now with a pressure cooker, but still…)
Now that she is older, I ask for her help to peel carrots or daikon, cut cucumbers, wash leafy vegetables or pluck water spinach (bayam). When we go to the market, she is the one who picks the tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and corn to make her favourite ABC soup.
The fact that she does this voluntarily is something that makes all those Q&A sessions in the kitchen years ago so worth it.
More Reading: Why Mothers Cook