RESEARCH & REFINEMENT
At first, I sought to examine London's various diasporic communities more broadly- given my East Asian as well as Middle Eastern background, it was not solely in distinctly Chinese or Taiwanese flavours that I've found respite since moving to London. Funnily enough, it was only upon moving to London that I came to terms with the extent of my Turkishness. Living up north in first year, my first ever prolonged interaction was with the local shopkeepers, who were all of Turkish and Kurdish origin. Over lockdown, I would make daily trips to their shops, and we would bond over our shared confinement to London, unable to return to Turkey for various practical and legal reasons. In one of these socially distanced exchanges, I would mention my longing for Turkish dishes in passing, mere small talk between fellow Turks. To my surprise, the next time I dropped by for some groceries, the shopkeeper emerged from behind the till with a heavy duty IKEA bag, overflowing with stacks of tupperware containing the very dishes I had mentioned. His mother, upon hearing about my situation, had taken it upon herself to cook enough Turkish food to keep me satiated for a week.
It was in revisiting these memories that I felt compelled to create a community-oriented food publication, divided into four chapters (North, East, South and West London), with subchapters exploring the distinct migrant communities dotted around these regions. I felt such was the only means by which I could do justice to both my cosmopolitan palate as well as London's intricate demographics.
When I first embarked on my research, the term 'diasporic foodway' served as my primary keyword. However, I soon found myself going down endless rabbit holes in attempting to consolidate my research on the foodways of not one, but hundreds of diasporas in London. It quickly became apparent that my scope was far too broad for a singular publication. Any attempt to encompass all four quarters of this immense city within a relatively short time frame, I knew, would inevitably do disservice to the intricate foodscapes of the many migrant communities, by way of misrepresentation, exclusion or otherwise.
With this in mind, I decided to strip my demographic back to that which I could best speak for- East & SE Asian diasporic people, specifically those living in London. This is not to suggest that my own voice always guarantees an 'authentic' East Asian perspective, but quite the opposite. I thought back to the fraught lifeline that allows me access to my own heritage- it's ambiguous, murky and only offers one certainty: that my heritage and culture is distinctly indistinct. I can neither lay claim to home in Taipei, nor Istanbul nor London, and this anxiety about my own vexed origins overflows into the food I make and enjoy. It occurred to me in this moment that, in a similar vein, to insist on the purity of food origins likewise requires a selective amnesia; that within the bounds of my own infinitesimal existence, I encompass fragments of these various cultures, and that this is the very essence of living in the diaspora.
As many of my own experiences suggest, it is not in the mechanisms so much as in the poignancies of nourishment that we locate the most compelling dimension of food cultures. Taking this into account, I sought to divert my focus away from the more utilitarian 'exact sciences' that we commonly associate with cookbooks. I knew that below the surface of calibrated measurements, the 'juliennes' and the 'chiffonades' lay a wealth of anecdotes and ephemeral knowledge that I wanted to preserve in some form of a tangible repository. In Reading Communities and Culinary Communities: The Gastropoetics of the South Asian Diaspora, Parama Roy expands on this intimate reciprocality through the etymology of the word "recipe":
It was also in this article that I first encountered the term 'gastropoetics'. Coined by Roy in 2002, the term explores the relational dynamics of culinary practices and consumption rituals, with an emphasis on those within diasporic and migrant narratives. In deconstructing the etymology of this word- "gastro" meaning stomach/gut, and "poetics" deriving from poiesis (production, formation)- I could better grasp the discursive sprawl of term, and in so doing, knew that this theoretical framework could be immensely valuable to my project. I then came across Kyla Wazana Tompkins' term 'racial indigestion', which further delved into the practices and representations of edibility and ingestion, in which people are "metaphorically and metonymically figured through the symbolic process of eating" (2012, p. 2). The term operates on multiple intersecting axes, collapsing the dichotomies of the personal/political and private/public. It overtly brings together the various intertwined scripts of femininity, race, and class in its examination of how consumption produces political subjects by justifying the social discourses that create bodily meaning. In this wedding of food studies to body theory, Wazana delineates what she calls a "critical eating studies" framework, which enabled me to forge a firmer ethico-political stance that I wanted to carry through to my work:
Upon receiving the feedback for my first draft materials, one of E-J's comments in particular stuck out to me:
I mulled over this comment for a while. I think it stuck because it tapped into an uncomfortable but productive thought I've had- that, for so long, I have given into the temptation to make a career of pain, specifically that which I inherited from my mother. I'm adept at deconstructing my pain from its root to its aftermath, at dissecting and indulging, but this determination halts when it comes to moving beyond it. I've firmly rooted myself in feeling undeserving of recovery, of care. A flurry of fragmented thoughts I've kept secluded in the back of my mind rose to the surface:
At this point, I decided I needed this project to hone in on the therapeutic and redemptive values of food. I diverted my emphasis from the deployment of food as a bargaining chip and its detrimental consequences, and instead focused on its productive dimension, so as to preserve this act of love for future generations. Mapping the trajectory of my intergenerational trauma in an admittedly less than jovial diagram, I was able to better visualise how to move beyond this static site, into healing:
I then finalised my two potential outcomes, one safe and the other more ambitious. I opted to undertake the safe option, as I wanted to be able to execute some of the actual content of the project, and this seemed more feasible with the former. At this point, I titled the cookbook "Have You Eaten Yet?", a seemingly catch-all phrase of immigrant parents that serves as a greeting, an expression of concern and a reminder that our days should be planned around our meals, all at once.