Babkas, baked with loveCharmaine Au-Yeung

Content Note: Brief discussion of disordered eating and breakups.

Phone the doctor when your foodie child doesn’t want to eat. When I was sick – like, really ill with fevers that sent me into another plane of existence – mom would know that when I lost my appetite, it was time to take me to hospital. She calls me 喂吃貓, wai sik mao: her gluttonous cat. I’ve never had a problem with feeding myself, even on days at university where I sat in bed staring at a wall, working through the throbbing pangs of the worst hangovers, or contemplating friendships lost, or wondering how on earth my fresher’s flu ever got this bad.

“The foods they’ve shared have become part of me”

Food has always been an integral part of my life. It is how I socialise and how I destress. Really, I can’t imagine life without it – that’s most of the reason why I’ve always been self-catered throughout my student life. I think it comes from my upbringing; it’s a trope that Asian parents don’t say ‘I love you’, but they’ll cut fruit up for you every evening. They’ll carve apples meticulously until they resemble swans, hearts, and any other whimsical object that is decidedly not a fruit. In that same mode, it became so easy for me to express love for my friends by whipping up bibimbaps, Buddha bowls, and eight-course Lunar New Year meals. I make macaroni and cheese, weighing in to the size of a small toddler, for potlucks. I’m at my happiest when I’m in a kitchen, preparing a complex, multi-course meal for a whole day. But simply eating food is not enough – in my spare time, I watch and read about people making food: Binging with Babish, J. Kenji López-Alt, Ethan Chlebowski, Salt Fat Acid Heat, and Chef’s Table. It’s little surprise, then, that when friendships turn into something more, food obviously becomes the primary way I express romantic love.

The bloomerCharmaine Au-Yeung

My ex loves to cook and bake. One of the first things I made for them was a bloomer, with probably the best ear I’ve ever actually scored on a loaf of bread. Afterwards, they surprised me with babka on my doorstep, a gesture that touched me so deeply because nobody ever bakes for me. Over time, I introduced them to cabbage, spices rubbed between the leaves, and roasted in an oven until the leaves blister and crackle. I taught them the best way to make scrambled eggs, and the joys of putting chilli oil and sauce on everything. In return, they taught me to enjoy marmite, that the secret to any risotto is constant stirring and a mountain of cheese and butter, and that Tangfastics are actually quite nice. They gave me the courage to run a pop-up bagel micro-bakery over the summer, after I finished my undergraduate degree and had time to kill. Heck, we even had a little tradition going, making filled bagels for ourselves and our friends whenever we decided to go munro-bagging. When we’re in the kitchen together, it’s like we’re doing a little dance, and everything is in sync. We know exactly what needs doing, and we’re able to conjure feasts so easily.

Damn – we made tasty food”

After we broke up, I cried spreading marmite onto my toast. It had been a few days since we parted, and I felt sad and empty in the way that you do when such a big part of your life is gone. Worst of all, nothing looked appetising. I ate out of necessity. All I could stomach the day after we broke up was half a frittata from my college’s buttery; I was hungry, so I ate, but I wasn’t really enjoying it, so I stopped. I could probably make a better frittata, anyway, at home. In fact, I had definitely made one in the last year, back when I was with –


Mountain View

The art of eating alone

Eating had formed such an integral part of my life with them that the idea of eating alone, let alone eating our meals, felt incomprehensible. A few months have now passed. I’m lucky – my appetite is back, and the pain and sadness has subsided. When I step into the kitchen, I put on good music, I sing, and sometimes I make our meals. This is me, reclaiming our foods, enjoying them again, because damn – we made tasty food. It would be criminal if I never got to eat it again. I look back fondly on the time I spent with them, with gratitude for all that they taught me. The foods they shared have become part of my life. In that way, this is small consolation. I’ll always carry part of their love in the things that I do.