For The Love of Food

ood is a very important part of everyday life, with likes and dislikes, routines and habits. But what happens when dining becomes a topic of debate in a cross-cultural relationship?

We pulled up into the familiar driveway of my mum’s house, a picturesque British cottage overlooking acres of park and woodland. The rush of adrenalin from being home after so long holds any tiredness at bay. I drag our luggage up the stairs and fling it on the neatly-made bed. I march straight into the bright kitchen and swing open the large fridge door. Selecting a carton of local Devon’s milk, I pour a generous serving into a glass and hold it out in front of Faith. “Here, your first taste of real milk.” She rolls her eyes before drinking the milk, drinks, then rolls her eyes again, before I witness the impressed look on her face.

I have long been a critic of China’s dairy options. Similarly, Faith has said things about Britain’s cherished potatoes that I wish not to repeat. Food is often a battlefield topic in many cross-cultural relationships. Yet despite the differences, with a pinch of courage and an ounce of compromise, dining and cooking can be a very colorful part of a marriage with two distinct tastes.

In regards to my country of England and here in China, one major difference is not only what we eat, but when we eat it. When I first arrived in China, I felt like someone had kidnapped breakfast and replaced it with what appeared to be dinner in a bad disguise. I could not see any distinguishing features between the three standard meals of the day. I was fine with eating fried rice or green beans for dinner, but if Mr. Noodles came knocking on my door at 6:45 am, I would tell him to get lost for another 10 hours. In England, the choices for breakfast are fruit, yogurt, cereal, toast, perhaps a cooked English breakfast on a Sunday, but unless you’re a college student, eating pizza or chips for breakfast was a sign of insanity. It was up to the humble Chinese bread bun to bring any kind of peace and normalcy back to our home, as a nice halfway point.

Another major conflict occurs at the dinner table. It is quite common in China for someone to order chicken, beef, pork and fish, all in the same meal. Sometimes I feel like I am in the food version of the song “Mambo No.5.” In the U.K. you choose one type of meat, let’s say chicken, and you stay faithful to that choice during the entire meal. This is something I insist on with Faith and I: one vegetable, one staple, and one kind of meat.

I guess that is the best thing about food, sharing something you love to eat with someone you love, hoping they will love it too.

Several years later, I still stand by my claim that Faith’s first taste of real milk was that day standing in my mum’s kitchen. It was also the best glass of milk I’ve ever had, though I drank not one drop of it. I guess that is the best thing about food, sharing something you love to eat with someone you love, hoping they will love it too.

Not long before Faith and I got married, I went to the Philippines for a few weeks to help with the construction of a school. The location was a dusty village with no modern amenities. I spoke to Faith on the phone every night and I told her how much I missed my bread bun for breakfast. When I arrived back in China, it was very late. I had given Faith a spare key to my apartment in case of an emergency while I was away. That night, I opened the fridge to find dozens of my favorite walnut bread bun, Faith had bought them for me the day before, ready for my return. I had tasted milk before, but I guess that was my first taste of someone truly caring about me.