Saturday, May 8, 2010

On Half-Eaten Miscellanies in the Refrigerator


Being a food blogger, I get asked every now and then what my most favorite thing in the world to eat is. I don't like that kind of question. But I have my answer ready every time that happens.

The most favorite thing in the world to eat for me is anything half-eaten I found in the refrigerator when I got home from school. This is probably not a very good answer since it's based on hindsight and more about the meaning attached to it than taste. But that's the only answer I can honestly give.

When I was a kid, my maternal grandmother came to stay with us for months at a time to keep us entertained. My mother often worked late and having grandma around really did help. Getting back home from school famished, I always went straight to the fridge for a snack. Invariably, there would be half an orange, half a section of durian, half a this, and half a that waiting for me in the refrigerator. Everyday it was a different thing, but everyday there was something.

And you may now be wondering why these half-eaten things are so special.

You see, this is what grandmother was like. We were not in any way shape or form financially wanting. But she had this habit of not being able to finish anything that tasted good to her; she felt she had to keep some for me. For example, when I was growing up, genetically-engineered fruits and vegetables weren't as prevalent as they are now. That means when you picked an orange out of a bag of oranges, you never really knew whether you'd get a sweet one (good) or a sour one (bad). When you split open a durian you never really knew whether you'd get perfect texture or flavor. And sometimes out of a whole bag of 30-40 something, you got only 4-5 that were really good and perhaps one that was excellent.

During the day, if my grandmother found one really great fruit or ate a piece of treat which we only had one of, she'd take a bite or two then left the rest for me in the fridge. She couldn't bring herself to finish it. Then it became a tradition.

It's one of those things that reminds you of what true love is like. No, I'm not talking about loving someone with food; I'm talking about that thing -- let's call it X -- that pops into your heart as you enjoy something really good that makes you find yourself unable to continue. You can't convince, manipulate, or even encourage someone to create X in their heart. You can't teach someone how to produce X. You can try to put on a show, impress someone with what you got, etc., to cause X to be born in someone's heart, but you'll fail. And if you succeed initially, X becomes unsustainable over time, especially once you've run out of all your card tricks. You may be able to teach, pay, manipulate, command, or force people to do something for you. But there's nothing in the world you can do to make them do that thing out of X.

X happens on its own. Or it doesn't.

That X in my grandma's heart -- that thing that makes her completely unable to take another bite for fear that I might not get to experience what she was experiencing -- wasn't due to anything I did or was. X just came into existence in her heart and it stayed regardless of what I did or didn't do. It was unearned. A gift. And if someone looks at you and their heart is brimming over with X, you may want to hold on to it. I have never done a worldwide poll, but something's telling me -- people have lived and died without knowing what X feels like or being the objects of X.

Happy Mother's Day.