"Did you eat?"
Of all the expressions of love, this is the line I heard most.
I grew up surrounded by matriarchs who put their whole souls into caring for their families, especially through their bellies.
If food is medicine, these women were our doctors, regularly preparing delicious, fortifying meals and occasionally natural remedies when someone reported illness.
It wasn't until last year, when Parul and I talked ourselves into building a pop-up Indian restaurant in Costa Rica, did I realize how much physical and emotional labor went into that care.
The whole adventure started off innocently enough.
We were among digital nomads in a beachtown marveling at our escape from the vice of yet another wave of pandemic lockdowns in most of the world. Our families and friends, first separated from us by quarantine measures, were now further separated from us by distance.
Life by the beach was idyllic and regulated by the rhythms of spending time with the new fam, catching meals together and making it to the beach for sunset.
Still, after several months, we realized that one thing was missing.
In Toronto, we were blessed with a rich mosaic of foods made by first-generation immigrants who offering their home cooked dishes throughout the city.
You could eat a Tibetan breakfast, an Ethiopian lunch and Peruvian dinner on the same day and at whim.
Despite that abundance and convenience, nothing beat coming home to the familiar scent and flavor of our ancestral home cooked food.
The whole experience was wired to our nervous system such that even the humidity in the house from the kitchen in motion set the body at ease. Good things were coming.
Food is a living testament of a culture’s origin, values and stories.
Growing up, my parents would painstakingly make the dishes of their upbringing and us kids would scoff at them when all of our friends would get highly sought-after takeout pizza.
But now, here Parul and I were, talking ourselves into using some of this newfound beachside freedom to explore the same journey back to the memory of our respective childhood homes.
At first, we set out to feed ourselves but soon realized that it would be a marginal difference to order enough of the missing spices we needed from the US to feed our friends.
It took another short leap to just expand the order to feed our whole adoptive community.
As we started out building out the concept we called Thanks Auntie, we realized that every conversation about the dishes we wanted to serve contained a story.
Over a one-month residency where we actually lived together, we recorded 11 conversations starting from our awkward first day of figuring out where the microphone should go, through the many trials of cooking at scale for our community.
It was a process but we worked hard to extend the same level of Auntie care we enjoyed through our upbrining to our new, extended family in Costa Rica.
Maybe you'll be reminded of the love letters nested in your own family's food traditions :)