My favorite kitchen in the world is in the house I lived in for a few years in college. It is a tiny, cramped kitchen with two people; but regularly, five to ten people would be cooking and eating dinner at the same time. The counters, with most available space taken up with jars of dried beans and flour, and the stove top, with its propensity to catch on fire, were never left idle. The kitchen was full of “excuse me”, “behind you”, “oops sorry”, and “are you done with that?”. I loved being in the thick of it, rubbing elbows and borrowing teaspoons. The house could be completely unoccupied, and but the kitchen was always full.
I’ve been home in Indiana with my parents for about a month now. I’m cooking in the kitchen in which I grew up- I have memories of watching my mom knead bread, begging for a blender to make milkshakes, and baking batch after batch of Christmas cookies. It is nice to return; a few years have passed since I’ve been home for such a long stretch of time.
And yet, cooking doesn’t feel the same. Both of my parents work, and without a car, I find that I spend most of my days home alone. I have projects that keep me engaged, but sometimes I lack the motivation to cook. I instead graze and scavenge around my house, waiting until my mother comes home from work to start dinner. When I do cook, I habitually turn on talk radio, or run through a list of friends that I could call (I also spend more time talking to the dog than would be considered “normal”).
Cooking and eating have always been, at their core, social activities for me. I don’t remember meals eaten alone, and I never cook something that I keep to myself. I don’t love food alone. I love it with people. Food’s meaning is clear to me: it brings people together. That social aspect of talking about cooking, or sharing my plate- that is what gives authenticity and significance to my experience.
I am about to leave the country for a year of solo travel around southeast Asia and eastern and western Europe. With the exception of Japan, I have never been to any of these countries. What will happen when I arrive in these new places?
The answer is a big “I don’t know”, but I do believe that sharing food will be my means to get to know people and places. So as I leave, I tame my nerves and think about the amazing meals I am about to eat in southeast Asia. Searching out the food first seems to be my instinct in life anyway, but I also believe that food brings people together. I see the potential in food to create connection, and that idea is at the core of my travels.