What is it about homemade meals that never fails to warm the heart? Maybe it’s that thin but unshakeable strain of Asian in me, or maybe it’s just because I’m a foodophile, but the very act of preparing a meal with one’s own hands for someone else, of nourishing them, is for me the most basic, yet ultimate, form of hospitality.
It doesn’t even matter if the food doesn’t taste good. Naturally I don’t object to a delicious meal, but as long as it’s not actually burnt to a cinder, or poison, I will eat it with joy. If it’s made with love, how could I not like it?!
Living in halls provides abundant opportunities to cook for one another. In my kitchen every Sunday one of us would cook a meal from our respective countries for everyone else; that had a good run of a few weeks before everyone had their turn, but we still try to eat together on Sundays. There’s no greater way of bonding than breaking bread together. Except maybe getting hideously drunk together, but a homemade dinner is more dignified, more practical to do regularly, and better suited to the more moderate lifestyle that comes with age.
Recently a friend came over and made a gratin, which I had never tried before. When I think about what has been cooked for me by my friends and housemates, it really has been a grand culinary assortment. The selection runs from instant noodles to a full blown English roast, not to mention many, many variants on pasta dishes, with the most unforgettable (not to mention unhealthy) being penne pasta, boiled then slathered and fried in margarine (which I never eat, showing how appreciative I was of the meal!).
Equally, cooking together is a charming exercise in bonding. It’s a domestic, mellow and comfortably intimate act, to prepare food and to partake of it together. You wouldn’t do it with somebody you don’t like, or don’t want to spend time with. You’re working together on something that is gratifying, mutually beneficial, and (hopefully) yummy.
If someone has cooked for me, my way of showing thanks is to do the dishes. This has resulted in some literally physical wrangling with friends who (are often stronger than me and) won’t allow me. It might seem trivial, but simple things like this show a person’s hospitableness and kindness, and win me over every time.
As Christmas approaches, with all its associated fêtes, it is the prospect of cooking (whatever the results) Christmas dinner with my friends and all sitting down together and soaking up the Christmas spirit that I really look forward to. Food and friends: sweet manna of life! Une combinaison parfaite.