Long before having my own family, I had dreamed of my own kitchen. I dreamed that it would be spacious, painted in white, having big windows looking out to the garden, being a classic yet modern Western kitchen. I also dreamed myself moving gracefully from place to place in that kitchen in an apron, checking the baking oven, arranging the utensils and tasting the steaming soup on the stove. In my dream I felt very happy and very proud. Who wouldn’t be if she had such a great kitchen?
So far in my life I have moved through many different places, which means I have lived a number of kitchens. Most of them are typical Vietnamese kitchens – a too small place containing too many things. Some of them are pleasant while the rest can hardly be called kitchen. None of them is what I had dreamed of but every of them is a special memory.
The first kitchen – the furthest from the dream
I was born in my auntie’s home. My mom and dad did not have their own house until 5 years after their marriage. 3 families of 7 people lived together in 60 sqm so there was no surprise if the kitchen was only 3 sqm. It was cramped, dark, damp and was a scary place for us children. The only thing in the kitchen was a washing sink that could only fit in 1 person at a time. My mom had to do all of her cooking in the front yard. Obviously the lack of a proper cooking place could not either hold her up from inventing the most wonderful recipes on this world or keep us away from the happiness of a loving family. After we moved out to our first house, the kitchen was run by my aunt who only visited it once or twice a month and it officially became her warehouse a few years later.
The kitchen of love
I am talking about the kitchen of my grandma who is now 97 years old. Back to 25 years ago when almost everyone in Vietnam was suffering from the after-war-poverty, my grandma’s kitchen was a dreaming place for everyone. Living in the country side with a big farm, she and my grandpa still managed to have pork and chicken in every dinner. That luxury was the reason that mom and dad sent my sister and me to live there in most of the year to keep us away from undernutritioned. My grandparents did a good job raising their grandchildren with their love, the organic foods and the valuable experience of living a farming life.
A special feature of my grandma’s kitchen is that all the cooking was done entirely by firewood. The smoke from the firewood made the woody kitchen ash grey and scented it with a special warm smell. All the saucepan was blackened outside by the smoke and the fire was always on. I still remeber the happiness I had when sitting by the cooking fire next to my grandma in the early winter mornings. I have carried the heat of the fire, the chilling morning, the bitter of the smoke and the warmth of love in my heart all these years and can still feel them very new.
The first cooking lessons
Although I started to cook when I was very young – my mom taught us so that we could help her while she was working, I like to think that the first real cooking lessons I had was when I was in Australia, away from home for the first time, doing my bachelor degree. Prior to that time, cooking to me was more a family duty I had to do and was a burden that I liked to get rid off as fast as I could to hang out with my friends. Also my mom and dad were so busy making ends meet that all the non-nutritional values of meals became out of their focus.
During my 3 years in Melbourne, I shared a house with 3 other students. The house was old and shaky, the kitchen was not any better compared to mine back home, except for an oven that I never had before. Being homesick, I cooked several Vietnamese cuisines to satisfy my nostalgia. At the same time the excitement of living in a Western culture lighted up my passion to try new recipes. For the first time I baked a cake, barbecued lamb chops and collected recipes. For the first time I found cooking very enjoyable, relaxing and rewarding. I started to take this sophisticated pleasure my hobby though I didn’t think I made myself a good cook out of this hobby.
My very own kitchen
A year after getting married, my husband and I moved out to our own home. It is a 95 sqm apartment located on the 9th floor. Apart from the pride that 2 years of hard working and saving have now paid off , I am extremely happy that I finally have a kitchen of my own.
My husband joked that he would consider a serious investment in my cooking profession. He made part of his joke come true by spending half a day installing a perfect lighting system for me. Though it is still far from the dream I had several years ago, I believe cooking can never start with a golden kitchen but a passionate heart .