It has now been about a month since I’ve moved to New York. Whereas many of my peers have felt homesick shortly after moving, I didn’t feel homesick at all. I thought that since New York is a familiar place to me, perhaps that’s why it didn’t feel like I was away from home; it feels like I’m here on an extended day trip. But still I am physically away from my family that’s always been at most ten minutes away.
I had my first homesick experience this past weekend when I was cooking Bò Kho, a Vietnamese braised beef stew dish with flavors of lemongrass and tomato. It is also known as 牛腩 (ngau lam) in Cantonese cuisine.
Dishes like Bò Kho, Phở, Bún riêu, and Bánh Canh Sườn Heo are all dishes that I’ve eaten at and associate with home. During my time in college dorms, I knew that these were things that I could probably make easily, but I never tried to because home was ten minutes away. If I had a craving for Bún riêu, my mom would whip it up and I’d be able to savor the delicious seafood flavors of the soup the same day.
However, now that I’m in New York and two hours away instead of ten minutes, I can’t get the tastes of home as easily. With that, I decided to try making Bò Kho this weekend.
I’d say that it turned out alright. It tastes good. I used almost all of the same ingredients that my dad would use and followed the same cooking procedures. The soup is rich with flavors of tomato, lemongrass, and the beef’s juices.
But something feels missing.
When I called my mom this morning and told her about my cooking experience, I shared that it tasted good but just didn’t taste the same as the Bò Kho we eat at home. I jokingly said, “Maybe it’s because it’s missing the taste of mom and dad’s saliva in the food.” My mom laughed and then said it probably tastes different because I’m eating it without my family; I’m eating it alone.
I’ve always shied away from cooking dishes that I ate with my family. In college dorms, I would cook things like spaghetti, garlic shrimp pasta, and lemon pepper salmon. It was almost as if cooking things like Bò Kho was off limits. Those were things that I would go home to eat, and a craving for Bánh xèo would be a sign that I should go home and visit my family.
Now that I’ve broken the forbidden seal and attempted to replicate the taste of home in my own cooking, I realize what people mean when they say they miss the taste of mom’s (in my case, dad’s) cooking. It’s not that my parents are doing anything particular in their cooking or that they have secret ingredients to make dishes taste better, it just simply tastes better when you eat it together as a family. Sure, it is the ‘taste of home’ that I miss, but it is also the people and the company that I miss the most.
My dad always made it a point for our family unit to eat together (even my pet dog Peanut would eat along side us at the same time). It was a time for us to bond over sharing a hot home-cooked meal together. The meal in front of me last night was also a hot home-cooked meal, but instead of sharing it with my family by my side, I shared it with my laptop and readings. Though the food tasted good, it also tasted incomplete and lonely.
Replicating the taste of home is a difficult feat and even more difficult is coping with the idea that it just might not taste the same no matter how hard I try. I will still continue to cook various dishes on my own here in New York, but I look forward to the next time I visit home and taste the broth of my family’s Bò Kho once again.