Why Food Matters to Me

After highly anticipating David Chang’s Ugly Delicious and promptly binging it on Netflix this weekend, I couldn’t help but verbalize my own thoughts. Inspired? No, I have become shamelessly obsessed.

And not so much in David Chang’s travels and perspective (I’ll get back to that), but more so in the women featured throughout the docu-series. Namely, his wife Grace and home cook/superwife Nadine Redzepi — these poised, charismatic women who help shape and nurture their world-famous husbands and their frenetic creative spirits. Yasss queens!

Now getting back to Ugly Delicious. Not gonna lie, David Chang’s idea is nothing new. Back in 2012, I created my senior thesis around this idea of food and cultural identity. I titled it “Hungry: Excavating the Ho Family History.”

In short, I explored how food could be used as a vehicle to learn more about my own family’s history.

Like many Asian families, my parents rarely ever talked about the past. They immigrated to the U.S. to start fresh and build a brighter future. So in order to dig these stories out of them, I used food as an entry point. By asking my parents things like “Who taught you this recipe?” or “When did you first start our Christmas cookie tradition?”, I was able to ask questions that had never been asked before and fill in the gaps to my family’s history.

My senior thesis was a digital installation that spanned across multiple screens. The main screen showcased a historical timeline that documented the evolution of Chinese Americans immigrating and assimilating to the U.S. Like Ugly Delicious, I explored how food helped them overcome racism and slowly gain acceptance, albeit with Americanized dishes that were far removed from traditional Chinese cuisine. From there, I filled in the timeline with as many of my family’s own personal stories as possible — from photos of my grandparents in their youth to the dates my parents immigrated and onward.

On another screen, I cut together a video reel of interviews with my parents and sister. I asked them about the foods they missed most in Hong Kong and their fondest memories. I asked them about holidays and family traditions and why food is important to them. I asked my parents about how they met, how my father proposed, how they felt when they first moved into our house — things that seemed heavily guarded or simply unimportant because I had never asked them before.

I even filmed them cooking some of my favorite dishes as if they were on their very own cooking show. We cooked as many dishes as possible during those 2 weeks I was home for Christmas break, and in the process of documenting memories, I started making new memories that I’ll never forget (i.e. my father and I stayed up until 1AM filming on Christmas Eve as he prepared Chinese style whole tilapia… my specialty dish).

Nothing excites my family more than food. My parents can talk for hours about recipes and ingredients; besides parenting, it’s their greatest passion.

Shortly after graduation, my professor expanded upon my idea and published it in The International Journal of New Media, Technology, and the Arts: Excavating Immigrant History through Object-Oriented Storytelling.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve hemmed and hawed about continuing my thesis and documenting more stories and recipes, but I always found an excuse to hold me back. But now, as I begin to start this new chapter as a homeowner, it’s more important to me than ever to finally shut up and get it done.