I am on a diet – sorry, sustainable lifestyle change, and it is wrecking my brain. Here is, therefore, a list of some happy food memories.
1. Fried egg sandwiches
Once upon a time, when my granny was hale (I thought of her as a large wooden ship), she made me fried egg and white bread sandwiches for breakfast before school. I loved staying over at my grandparents’ flat. I would watch TV with my granny, chat to her about stupid things, and then say good night but proceed to stay up late behind closed doors, dancing around in the room and pretending to talk to boys. She woke me up at 6 for school, with the fried egg sandwich and a milky hot mug of tea waiting in the kitchen. Afterwards I would leave in a hurry and yell goodbye to my granddad who’d be at his morning exercise routine in the tiny green patch downstairs.
Granny is now so old, her sturdy oak-like figure gone soft with rot. Granddad still hobbles downstairs to exercise, but he has been in and out of the hospital countless times in the past year.
I no longer stay over, so there are no more TV chats, no more late-night dancing, no more soft calling of my name in lieu of an alarm clock. There are also no more fried egg sandwiches.
2. Instant noodles with spaghetti sauce
I started reading fantasy in my late teens. I’m thinking probably 16? I also then began a rigorous, utterly committed programme to eat my way through every single pack of instant noodles I could lay my hands on. The search for new noodle toppings was one that was near and dear to my heart. And so, one muggy, sticky afternoon, I discovered the joys of pouring spaghetti sauce over freshly boiled instant noodles. I sat at the dining table of my parents’ home, a bright, open, airy space, the backs of my thighs sweaty and stuck to the faux leather seats. In front of me was a bowl of noodles drenched in tomato sauce, and a huge fantasy novel opened and propped up around the bowl. The pairing was outstanding.
I am still a big reader of fantasy. The unbidden taste of instant noodles in spaghetti sauce flooded my mouth for years, and has only just begun to fade.
3. Zhai mifen (vegetarian rice noodles)
After my divorce, I took to frequenting the vegetarian food stall at the kopitiam near home for fried rice noodles. I never went for the set, but would pick and choose my noodle pairings from the limited selection. These were almost always the same. I also invariably ordered a tall glass of iced coffee to go with it. Kopi O Kosong. Black, no sugar.
The zhai mifen is not the best tasting noodle dish in the country (although it is pretty tasty), but going there for breakfast has etched a deep groove into the habit region of my mind. I go on weekends, invariably. It is comfort food at its best – carby, riotous in taste and texture (soft noodles, chewy toppings, crunchy green chilis). I don’t know if comfort is part of the healing process, but my weekend observance of a ritual that is all my own feels like a modest whisper of a promise to be well; an act of mooring and re-mooring the rocking wooden boat before it drifts off to sea.