Part of Figment.com's Daily Writing Exercise, here is a short entry about a family and cultural tradition and how I overcame and adapted to it as a child. How? It's because when I was little, I hated eating noodles!
Spaghetti. Vermicelli. Ramen. Chow Mein. Low Mein. Chow Fun. Soba. Udon. Pancit. Whatever name or shape or texture or ingredients they were made of, noodles are noodles. Let’s all just admit that we love noodles depending on how they were cooked and prepared from the flavor to the texture to the shape. When cooked grains such as rice and oatmeal are getting tiring, noodles may be the best alternative to whatever meal we may eat. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, even as a snack, noodles have become an essential food every person of all backgrounds would eat on a regular basis.
As a kid growing up, I used to abhor noodles. There was something about them, especially with how they were cooked, that disgusted me. The noodles that I grew up with, the Filipino type of noodles simply known as Pancit, was one of those types of foods that were force fed to me by the parents. We all know our parents, of course, forcing us children growing up to do the things that we didn’t want to do for our own good. Do you remember the time you have been force fed by your parents various types of foods that you personally find disgusting and inedible just by the look and the taste alone? How I ended up hating noodles growing up was all because the noodles prepared to me all had one little ingredient that I still abhor until today: onions.
I really can’t explain how my sense of taste became overly sensitive whenever I see a little piece of chopped onion on a dish. I can already taste its pungent taste just by looking at it and even by its smell. An onion is an onion after all. Whenever I squirmed, Mom and Dad would be furious. Growing up in the old home country right smack in the middle of Oriental Asia, you can imagine the influences and commonalities that Asian parents and elders have on the younger generation. Tradition and legacy are two of the things that all Asian families (those growing up and grew up in Asia anyway) always prioritize on the young. We’re not just talking about rituals and everyday life, but this includes food as well. Among those types of food mentioned, eating and loving and appreciating noodle dishes is a must.
To most Asian families, having noodles as part of your regular palate. You don’t have to eat noodles on a daily basis as much as you eat rice or oatmeal, but noodles of all shapes and sizes and origins should be included. As a kid, my parents and even grandparents, uncles, aunts, and even cousins my age would always serve— and even call out to everyone— to eat noodles whenever we have family gatherings in every single occasion: birthdays, Easter parties, Christmas parties, weddings, funerals. According to the elders, noodles represent a whole lot more than just strands of grain and flour in different shapes, textures, colors, and sizes. Noodles represent longevity. When I was told that, I still didn’t understand what they were trying to say. I even declared that I would never eat any type of noodle dishes as long as I lived as long as they kept putting onions in there.
Of course, all of that changed when I turned seven-years-old and then came Dad’s birthday present. My grandmother on the maternal side noticed my continuous refusal to eat at least one small serving of noodles. They were different types of noodle dishes served also: Pancit Canton (Filipino equivalent to Chow Mein), Pancit Mami (egg-based version equivalent to Fetuccine noodles sometimes known as the Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup), and Spaghetti. The family served three types on purpose so that I can have a choice of eating at least one of them. Once I declared my refusal once more, Grandma blurted this out to me (in a friendly, gentle manner, of course): “Do you want your father to die?”
Immediately I asked her why she would say something like that. She continued planting these words in my mind repeatedly: “If you do not eat noodles, your father will die.” Because of my close attachment to my father, of course I wouldn’t do anything to see my father harmed that would lead him to his death. She even went on saying that I have special powers that would save lives of all my loved ones, but that only required me to eat at least a small sample serving of noodles. If I didn’t eat any noodles, my special powers would not come in to real effect and would not save the lives of all my loved ones. Embarrassed to admit this, I began to ponder and eventually believed at Grandma’s magical words.
With those words, my mother began serving me my first sampling of noodles from the Spaghetti that she made. My eyes continued to scan for chopped onions, but what distracted me quick glancing on the spaghetti dish was that it contained hotdogs. Filipinos have their own version of the Spaghetti, just like how the Japanese have their Spaghetti Neapolitan. We put sliced or diced hotdogs instead of meatballs. We use tomato sauce and chopped vegetables from carrots, fresh tomatoes, celery, and chopped herbs with a hint of sugar or sweetener in it to give the sauce a bit of sweetness to it. That, of course, also includes the chopped onions that I nitpicked with my own eyes. On top of the Spaghetti, we use the standard grated Cheddar Cheese rather than the pretty much non-existent (in the Philippines that is) grated Parmesan Cheese.
My first bite of the spaghetti truly lifted me up to the heavens. The balanced mixture of sweetness, tartness, and its robust savory really made me smile, so much that my ultra-sensitive-to-onions tongue failed to trace the hinting taste of the onions. Of course, I then realized that I was also already eating onions along with the rest of the ingredients, but the combined flavors of the other ingredients truly overpowered the onion. Never mind the chopped onions, I thought. Mom’s Spaghetti was so delicious! Short moments later, I began attacking the Pancit Canton and the Pancit Mami. I even thought that by eating small samplings of the three noodle dishes would give a much powerful effect of my special powers to keep my loved ones, especially Dad, alive for a very long time.
At that moment, I finally understood the real meanings and intentions of the cooks behind these carefully prepared dishes to feed the family and guests. Truly there was love and care within the food and its preparation methods. Surely there was something magical towards food altogether. I even believed then that the noodles have special powers in them that would help humans have a longer life. I became interested in learning more about noodles and even offered to help Mom cook anything that involved noodles in it. Before I knew it, I became a brand-new fan of noodles.
From that day on, the belief of noodles being present in our everyday lives became a whole lot clear to me. Every single occasion or gathering that we have now, even if it was with friends, co-workers, and classmates, there has to be a type of noodle dish present. When everyone eats noodles, not only that they will be giving themselves longer lives, but they will also give their special loved ones longer lives as well. In addition, noodles do connect and gather people together and even introduce new people who may be new to our lives or just new to noodles altogether.
My family and I no longer live in the Philippines, of course. At age ten, my family and I moved to the United States. Knowing we would have to adapt to the traditional cultures of our new home country, there are still plenty of our usual traditions that we want to continue practicing inside our home. There is one tradition that we felt free and open to practice and share with others we meet and come across: serving and eating noodles. Today, whenever we have potluck, be it with a friend’s birthday or a potluck party in the workplace, there was always noodles in there. It may be spaghetti, chow mein, ramen, or even rice noodles. Just any type of noodle dish that you could think of: wet, dry, baked, cold, salad, however they may be served. Noodles should always be present in every gathering or even with someone’s daily life. At least once a week or twice a month, you should be eating your noodles.
Even though I now can’t live without my noodles, I still hate onions up to now.