Walk Hey 03: I asked for this life
I've wanted to be a food person for the longest time. Ever since I first read Kitchen Confidential. Ever since I paged through Betty Crocker cookbooks before bed. Ever since I saw Martin Yan speed-chop garlic with his eyes closed. I loved to eat, of course. But more than that, I was interested in what I was eating. Why does taucu taste so good paired with kuchai in fried mihun? Why are there dozens of vegetables that look like kuchai? Why did different regions ferment soybeans the way they did? And on. And on. And on. Formerly dry subjects like economics and politics and history came to life when explained using food. The spice trade, monocrops and GMO, baby formula—it all helped me make sense of the world around me.
Fresh out of SPM in 2002, I was tempted to join the kitchen staff for the cafe behind Ms Read (which has now exploded into the Big Ben food empire). I dallied too long and ended up going to college, where it was safe for my parents. I tried studying in a different field, tried writing about different subjects, but I always circled back to food. My first paying job ended up being a part-time writing position at FriedChillies, where I showed up twice a week to their kitchen-office to review eateries and develop recipes, all this while I was still in university. It was exhilarating work for a 20-something. From taste tests of the different pekasams of the north to meeting my first food hero Martin Yan himself (ask me in person how it happened, it's a great story), I loved a lot of my time there, though it was also there that I realized that office work was not for me, no matter how exciting it was.
In the years that followed, I worked various freelance writing jobs for many different (mostly online) publications. The main kind of food writing that was popular at the time was restaurant reviewing, which isn't quite my thing, so getting regular paid work for food writing was not easy. Restaurant reviews are also why it still makes me cringe a little to hear someone ask me if I'm a food blogger... nevermind, that's a me thing. I did have some great food-related assignments here and there, mostly through the fantastic and kind Ling Low, editor of Poskod.MY at the time. One of our favorites is this Burmese food tour of the Jalan Silang area in KL, which really made me realize the breadth and depth of migrant worker communities in Malaysia.
Then lockdowns happened. Holed up in our kampung, my partner and I cooked so much and ate so well that I decided to withdraw from Instagram, as I felt guilty about flaunting what we had when so many folks couldn't even get eggs at the supermarket. Then lockdowns continued. I needed something to pull myself out of existential dread, and whether through kismet or serendipity, Ling told me that her pal Surekha Ragavan and I needed to chat. Surekha and I had met maybe once at an event years before, and only knew each other tangentially. But in the wake of US food media's reckoning with racism in 2020, we chatted and found out just how closely our politics aligned. Periuk was born, thanks to the work and love of our friends. Our content is still evolving, but at the heart of it is documentation of Malaysian home cooking, far and away from the linens and best-of lists of eating out. It doesn't make us money, but my god, does it ever make us proud.
My main source of income these days is still not food writing, but I love seeing the pie slice it takes up becoming bigger and bigger. I recently achieved a longtime dream of publishing on Serious Eats, and have been working with my pal Annie Hariharan on several articles for Eater and Whetstone. In time there will be research trips, books, experiments, etc—all with like-minded pals and comrades. My days are filled with poring through journals and books and testing various recipes; learning, always learning. I'm the busiest I've ever been and alhamdulillah, the most fulfilled.
I asked for this life and whew, I got it.
Now, but wow!
Every post (issue?) of Walk Hey will be accompanied by a 'Now, but wow!' section, inspired by one of Spilled Milk's segments. Mine will of course have recommendations, and/or news of things I recently published.
One of the worlds I escape to most is that of Firefly/Serenity. I've been burying myself in the tie-in novels (I just wrapped up Life Signs, starting on Carnival) and there are no words to describe all the feelings I get from being immersed in this world. Fandoms are a fun thing to be in, and I love being a Browncoat.