“I love you. I want us both to eat well.” writes Christopher Citro in his lyric essay, “Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled with Shrieks”. Those two lines, though simple, pack quite a punch in conveying how the act of making food for your loved ones is a way of communicating your affection.
Beyond its preparation, positive social relations emerge when people break bread and share salt, a phenomenon known as commensality in sociology. Sharing meals with your kin is an intimate lived experience that occurs inside our homes and facilitates the creation of stronger ties. Even if you eat alone, feeding yourself is vital as it nourishes your body. Food is a mood-booster that offers comfort and grants satisfaction, something we welcome in a time like this.
Maybe it’s my sentimental streak but I’ve always viewed the seemingly mundane process of making sure that I am well-fed as my favorite form of self-care. I taught myself how to cook during my semester-long exchange in Paris, France. While it was born out of necessity (eating out was so expensive), cooking and feeding myself became an important ritual to me. I loved making meals from scratch, experimenting with recipes, chopping onions, trying out the different spices in my pantry and having my fingers reek of garlic. Even the chore of washing my dishes was therapeutic.
Unfortunately, I hardly step into my kitchen in Singapore, given my easy access to affordable meals and my family’s reluctance to dirty the apartment. But I recognize the labour that goes into preparing the food on the table and appreciate the social ritual of sharing a meal with my family.
So I’m asking you what I’ve asked these young adults in a time of quarantine. Have you been cooking more? Ordering in? Or takeaway? Have you cooked or eaten something that you have never done so before? Most importantly, have you been eating well?
I’ve only had one takeaway meal so far. My sleeping hours are fucked, so I only eat one or one and a half meals a day. 😂 I just eat when I’m hungry as I don’t believe in the concept of having three meals a day. Everyone in my family cooks and we are quite healthy so we don’t do takeaways. But we also eat quite excessively at home, even during normal times. Like we would have stir-fried veggies with scallops or abalone, and we always have fresh fish. I feel a bit bad sometimes when we have leftovers during this period because I know we are eating very extravagantly and there are some people who are struggling… but that’s a discussion for another day. I still bake but much less now because I can’t share them!! I usually give away 80% of my bakes because my fam is all healthy and I don’t like to eat my own stuff. Now that I can’t meet friends, I try to bake a bit less. I noticed that I’ve had much less coffee than usual though. – Beatrice, fresh graduate and baker from Singapore, follow her on Instagram @baked.beans.jpg
Well, I’ve been eating chocolate cake. A lot of it because I have an entire cake in the fridge but no one to share it with… Actually, that’s just my snack. For breakfast, I usually have a protein shake and bread. I order my other meals. I’ve been doing this for some time. It’s like having a meal plan of sorts since I don’t have time to cook. I usually have about six or seven meals delivered a week. I think my food choices are pretty boring since most of them are ordered but that means I’m free from the daily dilemma of having to choose what to eat. My mom or I will cook the rest. The other day, I cooked chicken meatballs, snap peas and cabbage with miso soup. Oh, I also made pork bulgogi with beansprouts and eggplant. Sundays are grocery shopping days and so I’ll da bao (get takeaway for) lunch. I wish I could cook more, if only I wasn’t so busy with work. – Dilys, working from home in Singapore
Breakfast has been home-made banana bread. Yay for isolation and more time to bake! Or I’ll have muesli with yogurt, along with different teas or cheap instant coffee. It depends on how much caffeine I need for the work day ahead. Lunch has been aglio olio or bolognese, which I prepare in advance. They taste slightly better than normal, so my cooking skills improved, I think? My aglio olio still has room for improvement. Dinner has been a mix of carbonara (takeaway, which turned out to be a disaster because it was curdled but am desperate and lazy so ate it anyway; thanks Uber Eats for the refund) and Korean Shin Ramyun. Nothing fancy or very different really, as I usually get takeaway once or twice a week. Overall, my meals have been quite normal compared to pre-coronavirus as I usually meal prep if possible (laziest cook ever). The one thing I’ve never eaten before: muesli for breakfast HAHA because the grocery store ran out of rolled oats that I usually microwave and I was fucking desperate and sad. Will not repurchase the muesli. – Jolyn, student from Perth, Australia
My diet is mostly chips and other junk food like Oreos and ice cream. I have also been eating a lot of SpaghettiOs and the occasional avocado toast. It’s hard to eat a lot of fruits and veggies when we can’t go out and get them often. I just wanted to throw that out there because I feel like a lot of people are eating like this but feel embarrassed by it. – Kat, student from the suburbs in Northern Chicago
You’d think that working from home would mean more leisure time for experimenting and cooking new dishes. But what it really means in my case is working past 6pm most days because do you ever stop working if you didn’t physically go to, and depart from, work? As such, I’ve relinquished emotional territorial claim on the shared household kitchen and left most of the dinnertime prep to my mom. She’s honestly thriving— she’s inspired to cook all the time, because for the first time in years, all three kids are home for dinner. My occasional offer to whip up a quick dinner would be the same meal that I’ve always made pre-circuit breaker: wok-tossed prawn aglio olio with a bunch of shallots, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. It’s the ultimate umami bomb. This is not quite the adventurous new lifestyle we all thought we’d have more time for now. But honestly, the privilege of being grounded in the same banal routines we were subjected to before this pandemic hit is already more than I can ask for. – Kim, working from home in Singapore
Due to the circuit breaker and stricter regulations in place, my helper has since moved in with my family. For dinner, we have wonderful home-cooked meals which usually consist of soup, vegetables and one portion of meat and one portion of fish (for my grandfather, who is on a strict diet for health reasons). I really love how our kitchen is finally in use after decades— we didn’t even have oil in the house. For breakfast and lunch, my family usually buys food from the nearby heartland mall. Whenever I’m in charge of buying meals, I make sure I bring my own container since it is a habit of mine. When my parents buy food for me, I just make sure I wash and recycle the packaging because I don’t want to be imposing when they are doing me a favor. Also, I’m a picky eater but my mom convinced me to have lor mee for the first time in my life and I finally see its appeal. – Sherryl, working from home in Singapore
My dad goes out to buy food for the family all the time because my mom doesn’t (really) cook. They don’t like paying for delivery either, that isn’t an option. It’s been challenging because we don’t have that many food options near our estate, and it’s been a chore to think of what to eat for all three meals a day. My family is pretty picky and my dad hates buying food from malls and restaurants so we go to the same few coffee shops. This weekend, we da bao-ed prata from a hawker centre nearby. My mom purposely took glass mugs and straws to contain the iced Milo that I prepared. I was confused and annoyed because I needed to wash two more cups for nothing but I later realized they made the meal look less sad. When I posted a photo on my Instagram stories, my friend even thought it was a throwback since it looked like we were eating out. – Stella, working from home in Singapore
For breakfast, I have fruits with peanut butter or honey, or bread with Nutella. My parents order around $25 worth of vegetables that get delivered to our house every week. For weekday lunches, I prefer having some sort of noodles with vegetables and egg. We takeaway mala from downstairs too. I made pickled carrots and cabbage inspired by the ones you find in banh mi. My parents like to cook dinner. We usually have rice and dishes like curry, stir fried vegetables and the mock fish that I like. – Yasmin, a Singaporean graduate student on a vegetarian diet
Feature image by Kimberly Tong, follow her on Instagram @crimeofrhyme; all images by contributors