I cooked with my Chinese grandmother in San Francisco (1998), who, in my mind was no less related to me than my Black and white grandmothers. She told me we were going to make dumplings, a favorite toddler food of mine, from scratch. Three years old and confused, I scratched her dining room table with my small index nail and wondered how we would transform the thin white line into steaming pockets of meat and green onions.
St. Andrews (2001) was the salty sea and the fish that came out of it, recently dead and stinking of brine through the fish market. It was mom and me, pinpointing accents and figuring out where in Scotland the fishmongers were from, getting more accurate the longer we lived in our seaside town. We perplexed locals in Inverness, this young, pretty, interracial couple and their two small daughters. Black and white and brown and going to eat dinner. We ate so much Indian food that mom and I held our stomachs and sat in satisfied pain all evening.
Dad’s endless attempts to perfect slow-cooker oatmeal were sometimes ok. But sometimes it had banana chips. Too many zucchinis grew in our Berkeley (2003) backyard – we ate spiralized zucchini pasta for dinner that was not appropriately masked by the myriad sauces mom concocted.
In London (2006), we were treated to miso cod and edamame and agedashi tofu and I proclaimed that this, not the taqueria down the street at home, was my favorite restaurant.
Altitude sickness decided my eating habits in Addis Ababa (2009) and I ate lukewarm applesauce for days. As soon as I was able, I took advantage of my ability to pass for Ethiopian and snuck out with an Habesha friend to get hot rice and lentil sambusas and corn roasted on the street. He talked and I ate and ate and ate.
In the alps, an Austrian (2010) chef, pitying my lack of German, made me a schnitzel cheeseburger although I would have been fine with the hearty Austrian meal everyone else ate, thank you very much.
In Belgium (2011), when I was in high school, dad snuck out of the hospital so we could have a Michelin star meal with a friend of his who was in town. I met him around the back of the hospital where he’d been a favorite resident for several months, and we chuckled the whole walk to the restaurant. I’d half expected him to emerge in a gown, toting an IV on a rickety metal poll. He looked remarkably normal, if too thin, considering.
He bragged about how I’d probably appreciate the cheese course more than the adults. He’d only just begun eating food again and seemed pretty pleased at the coup we’d pulled off. The crocs-clad nurses didn’t chide us in Flemish as much as I’d anticipated when we snuck him back in later that night.
In a very small town, not terribly far from Chennai (2011), sweet milky chai (that sometimes caught flies before our hands could) facilitated every good thing. It was sipped before and after sunrise-breakfast, before and after sun-baked lunch, before and after chapel, dinner, sunset, and sleep.
I was continents away from my boyfriend in Belgium, coating my mouth and throat in chai when I realized that not a single bite with him had been remarkable. We continued dating for another year and a half.
Nothing we ate together was memorable.
Reunited with my family after several months apart, I shared lentil soup in Belgium (2011) with my parents, sister, and a man who insisted I must have “blended in” in India with my brown skin and dark hair.
In Portland (2013) I ate lemon-filled doughnuts with a woman who made my head spin. I decided that it was her commitment to eating good food, like me, that drew me to her. Every bite was sour-sweet.
“Friends or dating?” she asked, pointing at two women while we laid on a blanket in London (2014) and ate bread and cheese and fruit in the sun. “Dating” I said, decisively observing anyone’s sexuality but my own.
I communed, ate the body and blood of Christ in Berkeley (2014) and begged for purity in my own body and blood. Grape juice clung in my throat and I quietly confessed my sin to a non-Christian friend after church.
I cooked artichokes and ate fresh fruit and local bread in Los Altos (2015). I envisioned the ruffled edges of kale scraping every impurity from my insides. I separated myself firmly from all of my communities for months in pursuit of clarity. I had a stranger roommate. She accused me of stealing her artichokes and bought too much bread. She made croutons.
I fell in love with her.
We sat in the nosebleeds, watching a San Francisco (2015) Giants game. I bought eight dollar Ghirardelli hot chocolate so that we could share a paper cup. I searched her eyes for the last four innings, looking at a blue that seemed deeper and more impenetrable than the Bay surrounding us.
We made mint tea every night at eight and sat on the kitchen counters, laughing at jokes that weren’t funny. She’d had a boyfriend in high school, so I assumed she was straight and didn’t bother telling her I wasn’t.
My mouth was bitter from too much birthday wine. I’d been living in France (2015) for several months when I drunkenly messaged her, “the trees are straight, but not me.” I also said I could look at her eyes forever.
Weeks and a twenty euro flight to Barcelona (2015) later, I sat on a hostel roof eating chips. She messaged me to ask if I’d been joking about not being straight. I said I hadn’t. She reciprocated, from Boston, the feelings I’d been harboring.
My dad took a train from Belgium to see me. We ate pasta and I talked about other people. We ate speculaas pudding with graham cracker crumble on top and I told him about the girl. He said he loved me, but couldn’t come to any future wedding of mine if I chose to be with her.
I ordered a croque monsieur, late, at a Parisian (2015) stall. Strangers poured down the street. Someone told me that there’d been a bomb, shootings, terrorism. I didn’t eat the sandwich.
She flew from Boston to Paris (2015) to assess if we’d begun a relationship that would upend our respective social identities. I didn’t eat all day, instead bringing a chicken sandwich to Charles de Gaulle for her to eat when she landed. We held hands on the metro and I thought I might combust.
I didn’t know how to be with her romantically, so that evening I made tea around eight, like we had all summer. We sipped, and I looked into the blue. I crawled over the table to reach her when the need to close the distance between us became immediate.
We forgot to eat for most of the weekend, sneaking out of my room only when it had gotten dark outside. It was hard to eat regularly when our mouths were so frequently occupied.
We ate venison at a camp in the Adirondacks (2016) and kissed cold lips on a frozen lake.
The woman behind me at the grocery store scoffed at me and my brown skin when I used food stamps to pay. I walked seething to my Portland (2016) home and ate rice with a fried egg.
My girl came to Portland (2017) and we ate ice cream, making our lips cold to kiss each other in the summer sun. No one mocked my food stamps when she and her white skin were with me in the grocery store. Everything tasted brighter.
We made beachside sandwiches of prosciutto and crumbly, salty cheese in Seattle (2017). She licked pruney fingers as we made plans to move together.
In New Orleans (2018), my roommate and I dampened our fingers and made dumplings from scratch. We steamed pockets of pork and green onions in our kitchen and fed them to my love when she came home.🗺️
Edited by Carmen.