I’ve often heard it said that people who migrated to other lands brought with them their seeds and their songs. Even in these times of globalization, food continues to play a major role in making identities. It is particularly in the straight line from garden to kitchen, and particularly with vegetables, that connections both to a home and between places are created. No, not just created: grown.
Having just moved (back) from China, Austrian food is something to explore and, in some cases, to enjoy (who would’ve thought: pizza, the way I make it, has turned out to be quite a hit…), but Chinese cooking is the everyday sustenance. Naturally, given how difficult and expensive it can be to find fresh produce, let alone some Chinese vegetables, we are looking to grow some food ourselves. KongXinCai (water spinach) and KuGua (balsam pear, bitter melon) are already around, chile peppers are re-started (though there’s also other reasons for that), and space is being made to grow much more next year. (It being the middle of summer, it’s not the best time to start growing things…)
Growing these plants, cooking this way – the way of home – is making a home even in another place.
It’s something you can, indeed, find with many migrants: at least some vegetables and herbs will be grown, whether it’s because growing some of your own food is what you do (in China, only for old people anymore, though I wonder when/if gardening will become a pastime there), or because it provides a connection to original lands and a chance to continue to have some flavors of home.
The opposite, obviously, applies just the same: Food is one of the often most accessible and interesting ways of gaining a little insight into a part of a foreign culture – though when you only get “Asian” foods in the supermarket, and even when you try to cook an exotic recipe following a cookbook, some of the easiness of the “other” kind of cooking falls by the wayside, recipes get too complicated when they’d better be as simple – but true to the original – as possible. (Hence, why I don’t usually put up recipes but only explanations of Chinese cooking.)
The heart of the matter: We are oftentimes, nowadays, all looking for a place to really be at home. Some, of course, are. Many, though, may feel comfortable somewhere, but know so little of the places they inhabit, it’s hard to really say that they are at home there. Not so few people are even looking to be at home in the whole world, make themselves location-independent – but while they may gain more experiences, these experiences tend to be a bit superficial, “un-rooted.”
What we may want to try out is to take a cue from “simple” migrants, and let our roots grow into the places we live at.
You can still go and live somewhere else – but since it takes time and awareness of the conditions in a place, staying long enough to grow at least a single “crop” (even if it’s just a pot of herbs) will prevent you from just turning into a tourist who never does more than skim over the surface of life in a place.