I am a lover of comfort food. Flavors from my childhood that evoke good memories of sitting outside the apartment complex with my friends, snacking on things our Mothers handed us before shooing us outside. Spicy chicharrones dipped in cups of spicy barbecue sauce, cups of shitty vanilla ice cream dusted with cinnamon, vegetables sliced up and rolled into pieces of lunch meat with a small slice of processed cheesefood and dipped in whatever, leftover curry served in a cereal bowl.
I think about being at the hood fruit market and the flies and grumpy old ladies slicing fruit in the back. I think about standing watching them and pointing to ask, what’s that? Then the Auntie smiles and the way they’d slide slices of exotic fruits into my mouth and how they’d pat my head when I made the universal yummy face. I remember staring at durian in horror as it was being processed in the parking lot and the delight after being fed a piece.
When I was in high school I had the privilege of going to Japan. In Osaka we stayed with families. I remember standing in the kitchen with one other girl, the family’s Grandmother was cooking and she pointed at herself, “Baa-baa”. We repeated until our intonations were satisfactory and were sent away with onigiri in hand, no one else had any.
I think about being sad at work and spending more money than I should have on Indian food. Everything my little heart desired. Pillowy samosas and achar, papadum and goat biryani and when I went to get my order, the man was delighted at my delight. The next time I went to the restaurant, the owner slipped me a little plate of sweets after dinner.
I am not good at learning and speaking new languages. I have a bit of a lisp, I can’t roll my r’s and my memory isn’t great. I tend to express my love of other cultures in food. I tell friends from other countries, feed me what your Mama feeds you. Feed me what your Nana would make if you were sad. Feed me what you eat in the dark hours of night when the world is too much.
When it comes to food, I don’t consider myself adventurous exactly just curious. I want to know people by what makes them happy. When someone says, you HAVE to taste this and shoves a fork in my face, I’m going to try it. Once, I wandered into a Filipino cultural festival, drawn by good smells and music and laughter. When I saw all of the brown folks, I decided to leave until a pretty girl in a summer dress handed me a plate. I was seated with a group of children and Aunties, I couldn’t speak their language but we communicated in happy wiggling and food shoveled in our faces.
The first time I saw Anthony Bourdain doing food things on TV, he was kind of a douchebag and the sort of douchebag I tend to love. I don’t recall where he was but someone in another country was feeding him something they loved and he made the face. If you are an eater, a lover of food or a chef or a home cook, you know the face. The closed eyed bliss. The moment when you don’t care what is in the thing, you just want to eat the thing forever.
That resonated with me and my opinions and feelings about food. Especially food as an expression of culture both in a large sense and in the intimate familial sense. Over the years, I’ve read his work (his novels and other books) and enjoyed them. I think had we known each other there’d have been a lot of butter and shit talking. Probably a lot of friendly aggression based on his opinions about fat folks and how judgy chefs can be.
I grew up in a culture of food and chefs. My father was a chef. I loved many of his foul mouthed, dirty, mean chef friends. I remember sitting in a broken oven as a kid, being fed bits of fancy foods and anything I batted my lashes for. Nothing was forbidden, brown chefs from countries that no longer have names fed me from their lunches. I learned to say spicy in several languages, i learned that I could communicate with joy.
Anthony Bourdain represented a part of my community that is broken. Friends long dead, assholes I ate with in dirty diners at 4 AM, problematic men who often were the only people who gave a shit about me, who taught me how to use a fin for coffee and who fed me food so spicy I saw through time and was delighted.
I said goodbye to Anthony Bourdain the way I’ve said goodbye to other men similar to him I’ve known who are gone. I ate and smiled. I told my partner some filthy jokes and said, goodnight chef.
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