Thursday, September 25, 2008
Sinigang: A Lesson In Comfort Food With My Mother

One thought that has kept me going all week is a promise my mother made before I left for school on Sunday night, that she would teach me how to cook Sinigang, a filipino sour soup. The opportunity excited me so much because I've always been worried that I'd never learn that element of my culture. I already lament the loss of my native tongue, but what concerned me most was that when I'm finally living on my own my cravings for the comfort foods of my childhood will have to be satisfied with a trip to a restaurant not the kitchen. The memories and the smells of my childhood are something I want to be able to give to my future family as well.

I learned a lot more than just a recipe, well, in fact, I didn't learn a recipe at all and that in itself was the lesson. I've always found myself to be more of a baker than a cook, I don't feel confident improvising or eyeing things. Exact measurements and instructions help me feel structured and calm my worries that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. My training began in the grocery store, as I pushed the shopping cart, watching my mom grab ingredients left and right, no detailed list in her hand like the ones I've come to rely on. The hardest part came when we entered the kitchen and I began to ask too many questions. How much water should I put in the pot? How hot does the stove need to be? When do I know when to add what next or when it's done? How long should it cook? The answer to all these questions was similar, It doesn't matter, Just eye it, Touch it, Taste it, You'll know. It was an out of body experience, I was forced to literally abandon my dependencies on instructions and had to get to know the food for myself.

I felt more proud of my finished product than I did for any of my more elaborate endeavours. The simple, giddy excitement of making an adorable treat for myself gave way to feeling that felt much deeper. I felt fulfilled, I had created something with a purpose much more significant than simply pleasing my fleeting fancies, I had begun to learn a craft that has nourished and comforted families for generations and now it was no longer beyond my reach.

I won't be posting a recipe, as there was none given to me and it seems to defy the nature of filipino home cooking. Ihave to force myself to learn it by heart so that each time I make it for my future family that's exactly where it will be coming from, my heart, with it all my memories of what my parents also shared with me.