‘Mama, I’m really, really, really hungry, I don’t want a little plate, I want a big plate of curry rice, bigger than papa’s, I promise I’ll eat every bit of it… please.’
I had never, and in fact, have never since, related more strongly to a fictional character than when I heard those inspiring words spoken by Kitty in the highly overlooked TV show, Hello Kitty’s Paradise, in the early 2000s. Like Kitty, not only was Japanese curry rice my absolute favourite food but, from about the age of 7, I would eat more than my dad. To this day, I always scoop seconds of fluffy rice and thick, peppery curry onto my plate – a ritual in honour of this memory.
I seem to have a disproportionate number of memories involving eating. A quick internet search indicated that some research suggests there is a relationship between the types of childhood memories that an adult can recall and their personality. Considering how important a role food plays and has played in my life, and, to be honest, contributing a significant chunk of my personality… I find this unsurprising.
So, what do I remember? An eclectic combination of scenes. There were one offs: my best friend and I, probably aged about 4, nibbling on some of those adorable face-shaped, chocolate-filled BN biscuits for a snack. For dinner, her mum made us cha-han – fried rice, which I absolutely loved because there was ham in it which my mum never included. There were also routines. On Saturday mornings when my little sister and I would wake up early, my dad would often make us vegemite on toast and a glass of cold Milo (a chocolate malt drink popular in Australia and South East Asia). Only he could get the ratios of malty crunch on top of the chocolaty milk and vegemite to butter just right. We’d sit and watch a little bit of Arthur on CBBC before going rollerblading. Occasionally we’d come home for animal-shaped pasta Pomodoro. Or, if we were lucky, we’d go for Dim Sum. I’d beg to have a green apple drink (named something like Yoozoo) and a plate of cold spicy octopus before munching away on chubby dumplings. I remember the injustice I felt when my fussy sister was allowed a whole bowl of wonton noodle soup to herself. I’d watch as she slowly sipped soup and nibbled the corners of the dumplings, leaving me to rescue as soon as she finished.
But my favourite memory was sleeping at my (chef) uncle’s house, when he made us a stunning Japanese breakfast: rice, miso soup, griddled salmon, a rolled omelette, tamagoyaki, and sesame spinach. Surely enough food to carry a normal human over at least until lunch? But no, a few hours later, my tummy was rumbling. He whipped up some fluffy pancakes which I gobbled down while sitting on a beanbag. I was, unsurprisingly, at my peak chubbiness at this stage.
I feel grateful that my tastebuds have helped to protect memories of some of my happiest times, sharing meals with friends and families, some of which might otherwise have dissolved into that blur of childhood.