It’s the phrase heard from every Asian grandma or mother upon entering their home; and contrary to popular belief there is a right answer to the question: “Did you eat?”
The correct response is as follows: “Yes (or No), but I can eat more.”
It’s the answer that moves your visit forward without argument and one that puts a smile on the face of the asker because to offer food to guests is an Asian Love Language. I won’t research the origins as to why because this post is about me and not about the anthropological breakthroughs of Asian culture. To me, cooking or baking isn’t just about sustaining me and my body, it’s also about what I can give to others (and, to an extent, showing off).
As anyone who has visited my place can tell you that right beyond the door (whether that was in LA or in DC), there is always a baked good beneath a cloche that was fresh out of the oven no longer than two days prior; and if there isn’t anything beneath the cloche, check in on me because clearly I’m having a bout of severe depression. Firstly, the placement of the cloche is, of course, strategic—I want you to know there’s food and I want you to know it’s fresh and I want you to EAT IT. And, yes, you will make me sad by rejecting it, but i’ll live.
Secondly, the reason I bake is to give to others. It’s not about me nor is it really for me. Yes, the process and act and challenge of baking is all for me—it’s a test of strength and knowledge and technique. But when it’s out of the oven and done, I almost never want all of it. Hell, sometimes I don’t want ANY of it, but that doesn’t mean anyone is deserving of it.
Enter loved ones.
Any random person can assess food—they can say it’s good or bad; or too salty or too sweet; or too chewy or too hard. But a random person can’t taste the love and care that I put into it, of which there is a non-lethal amount (though it is plentiful), because I don’t bake with them in mind. When i’m folding together cake batter or rolling out croissant dough, I’m thinking of the friends who will see the final result and the family who will devour each portion like they’re Bruce eating the chocolate cake in Matilda. I’m thinking of the smiles on their faces and their wide eyes as they go for a second piece, and i’m thinking of the comfort I can bring them, if only for a few minutes. Every damn day, we have stressors that rule us: diets to follow, work to complete, bills to pay, and I never want to minimize the realities that plague our lives, BUT for one peculiar passing moment, I want that to disappear.
“Here, have this cookie, and enjoy yourself.”
“Have a slice of cake, it’ll make you feel better.”
“Eat this croissant and imagine you’re in Paris.”
“Let me make you a cream puff, so you can have something sweet.”
My baking is a culmination of the love I have for those around me, so when I ask “did you eat?”, just know that what I’m really saying is: I love you and I like you, now eat.
I will see you tomorrow.