When I think of home, I think of my father’s cooking.
More specifically, the Sunday mornings where I would wake up to the smell of fried dumplings, plantains –– made with the right balance of softness, sweetness and crunch –– salt fish and callaloo.
I can say with full confidence he is the reason why I love food and cooking so much now as an adult. But it wasn’t always this way.
You see, I was quite a picky eater as a child. No matter how fantastic a meal looked or tasted, my palate consisted of three things –– chicken fingers, strawberry milkshakes and Cheerios. In turn, my parents worried.
They wanted me to get the nutrients I needed and for that reason my dad made me breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day. It was his way of making sure I had a happy belly. It was and still is his way of showing his love and care for his family.
I also never quite understood the appeal of cooking myself until I moved into my first apartment and learned quickly that eating take-out was not only unfriendly to my bank account, but it also failed to capture all the flavors that I was used to with home cooking.
From my apartment, I would sit on FaceTime with my dad and ask him how to make everything under the sun: How do I get fry dumplings without them looking like oversized donuts? Which curries should I use in the curry chicken and how long does it take to get tender? How do I make sure the breading of the fried chicken isn’t mushy?
Through it all, he smiled and remained patient.
In time, I learned a couple of recipes on my own and shared them with him, sending a text with no other context, excited to make him food the way he did for me when I was a kid once I returned home.
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I learned through my trials and errors that cooking is a labor of love. With my first apartment, I recognized I had the freedom to cook at any hour and share it with the people I love, whether it be for a date or a movie night with friends.
It’s one of the ways I can express to people how much I care for them.
As my dad said, “It feeds my soul.” He laughed when he told me that and changed gave me dramatic and funny quotes like “My wife needs a happy belly” when I asked him why he cooked, but they all rang with some truth.
My favorite days are when I create new things. Cooking is an art form. Trying out and perfecting a full gamut of recipes, whether that being making bread as I learned from a friend in high school (something my dad finds too time consuming) or putting a spin on the recipes my dad made for me, like fried plantains in empanadas, instead of with traditional Jamaican breakfast foods, brings me joy.
Since coming back home from undergraduate graduation, I started to take photos of my dad’s food. It captures a piece of him. And I want to share it with you:
One thing about my dad is he loves salmon. This is one of his most recent dishes –– a delicious baked salmon in a caste-iron pot with Capellini pasta (which I love so much it takes up half my plate), spinach with pieces of bacon and juicy tomatoes and sweet fried plantains.
Every time I return home, we have this staple –– tender baked ginger chicken with a hint of honey.
My dad’s curry chicken is a favorite in the lexicon home cooking. It requires time, attention and the right amount of freedom with seasonings to bring it together. With a pan of roti, this curry chicken provides the perfect balance of spice with the seasonings and sweetness with the carrots.
Thank you, dad, for nourishing me with this delicious food over the years and sparking my love for home cooking.
What are some foods that remind you of your dad or paternal figures? I would love to hear! Please share with me at [email protected].