I Miss Sweet Potatoes

Reaching over, the parents handed steaming hot, half peeled sweet potatoes to their children. One for each.  Their kids, actually, growing teenagers, grabbed the sweet potatoes with huge smiles and bit into them, steam hitting their faces.

“Wah! I really miss sweet potatoes!” I declared, watching that TV scene. It reminded me so much of my family. “Did you ever eat sweet potatoes with your parents growing up?” I nudged my husband.

“Huh? No,” he continued reading. He didn’t bother looking up from his book, sitting beside me as I watched a Kdrama.

“Ahhh… but I love sweet potatoes,” I sighed.

Growing up, Ba often toasted them in the oven, but he microwaved them too if we were short on time. He’d peel the top half for me, then hand it over piping hot, a napkin wrapped around the bottom.  He rarely asked if we wanted any, he’d just toast them and automatically offer us one, as if that’s what dads innately do.

I never declined, always happy to receive. “Aw kun (thank you), Ba.”

Other days, Ba toasted plantains. They were already sweet, but tasted even better with a slightly burnt, caramelized top. He’d slice and toast a whole batch. My little sister and I pranced in and out of the kitchen, licking our sticky fingers and lips from the warm plantains.

Ba even gave us sugar cane; he grew it himself in our own American backyard. He chopped down a stalk, peeled it, then passed me a small chunk. “Here. Suck the juice, but don’t eat the stalk. It’s natural. Much better than the white stuff from the store.”

“Awkun, (thank you) Ba.”

~ ~ ~

A few days later, I continued watching this same Kdrama, Answer Me, 1988.

“Where did you go today?” Mom questioned her daughter, Duk Son.

In the background, the eldest daughter announced, “Oma (mom) is missing money from her wallet.”

Shocked, Duk Son answered, “Oma! I didn’t steal money from your wallet! How could Oma and Unni (older sister) accuse me?!”

“I didn’t accuse, I am just wondering…” Mom walked out.

Still upset, Duk Son shouted from her room, tears running down her face. “Oma! I wouldn’t steal from you! I wouldn’t! I didn’t and I never have!” she kicked her feet on the ground in frustration.

A moment later, Mom walked back in the room.

“Sweet potato?”

Duk Son looked up, still hurt, but didn’t argue back. She looked at her mom with an expression that said, I would never refuse food.

She took the sweet potato and bit into it, as her mom wiped the tears from her face.

Watching that particular scene, I had a flashback.

~ ~ ~

It was a hot afternoon, and Mak and I were in the midst of an hour long argument. She scolded me, and instead of being a respectful Asian daughter, I yelled back, rearing an ugly attitude (for which, I’m so ashamed of now).  We argued into the evening, until our voices were hoarse, and the air sticky and heavy.

By dinner time, my stomach growled. Guess I’m going to starve…

Then, a voice pierced the silence.

“Rice is on the table!” Mak shouted, her voice carrying upstairs.

On the table, there was not just rice, but also two entrees to accompany the rice.

~ ~ ~

It finally dawned on me.

Ahh. So this is why I miss sweet potatoes.

Because it’s not about the sweet potatoes, really.

It’s through sweet potatoes (and plantains, and sugar cane, and rice…) that my parents have showed me they love me.

I don’t know why it took me a lifetime to figure that out.


(This is my 3rd post in my series on food & families. Check out We Don’t Say I Love You and Music from the Mortar.



23 thoughts on “I Miss Sweet Potatoes

  1. I enjoyed reading your entries. They spark so many emotions.

    My mom was a wonderful cook. Her meals brought a lot of smiles to us when we first came to Canada. Times were tough but she managed to put some wonderful dishes on the table every night.

    • yah.. home cooking triggers SO MANY emotions, i could write endlessly on it.

      what kind of food did your mom cook? have you tried to recreate her recipes? maybe you could try? =) it sounds like her home cooking was grounded in so much love, to provide for your family during a big transition in your lives.

      • She made a lot of Cantonese style food but also ventured into western foods such as casseroles, roast lamb and even home made ice cream.

        I’ve learned how to cook basic stuff like fried rice, chow mein, soy chicken and soups from her. The more intricate dishes such as braised boneless duck stuffed with sticky rice is beyond my modest skill set.

      • wow, your mom sounds so cool. she made roast lamb and even home made ice cream? that sounds so daunting to me.

        she mom reminds me so much of my late mother-in-law. i regret not spending the time to learn more Cantonese dishes from her, when she was strong and able to stand long hours in the kitchen.

        that’s great you learned how to cook cantonese soups. i feel like cantonese soups are a class of their own!

  2. Sweet potatoes are pretty damn good though. 😛 Yes, there is a lot of love wrapped up in food. I don’t think you are dense in just figuring that out! I feel like I’m constantly fumbling through life and the ‘hidden’ meaning of communication! Another great post, dear. xxoo

    • thank you for your encouragement lani! because for real when i watched that tv scene it was like a light bulb went off in my head. thanks for reminding me i’m not alone as we fumble through this journey of life. =)

  3. Wonderful post! I love sweet potatoes! Though I never had them as a child because we were poor and that was rich people food. It is the little stuff that reminds us of the love of family though!

    • thank you! what kind of foods did you grow up eating as a child?

      i find it intriguing that your family considered it ‘rich people food.’ which area of the country did you grow up? maybe sweet potatoes aren’t native to your area which is why they were expensive?

      • We lived in Texas. My parents both worked minimum wage and there were three of us kids. So our meals consisted mostly of spaghetti, pinto beans, stews, canned foods and when we got fancy Hamburger Helper. Produce cost too much as a whole. My parents showed their love in other ways, though. If I wanted a book, they always bought it for me cuz books last longer than food. 😊

  4. Another touching post. I always preferred regular potatoes over sweet potatoes, and I’m a savoury person. However, my family liked eating sweet potatoes and yams (a lot of yams, mind you). If I’m correct, they are easy to grow and I think in Asia you can get them relatively cheap. As for plaintains, I rarely had them and whenever I did, they were always a treat 😀

    • i like potatoes too, but for me i think sweet potatoes win probably because of association to my parents. that’s cool that your family likes sweet potatoes and yams too (my husband was making it seem like i’m weird, so i’m glad we’re not alone!)

      i love bananas and all forms of plantains. my dad grew a banana tree but in the winter time it got too cold so it never bore any fruit. thankfully our state borders another tropical country so a lot of our fruit was easily imported and cheap. =)

  5. In 5th grade we got to bring a healthy snack for reading time. My mom would bake a sweet potato and pack half for me. I never thought it was weird, and happily ate it while everyone else was eating apples or orange, or asking if fruit snacks counted. Looking back, it might have been weird, but it was so good!

    • that’s awesome, your mom rocks! yeah it’s these little memories attached to food that carry so much hidden meaning and love, just like how your mom prepped your snack by baking the sweet potato for you the night before. =)

  6. Oh, it really isn’t an easy job to figure out how much our parents love us because some do have a very subtle way of showing it.
    And this post also tells what a good daughter you are because this is your way of expressing your gratitude and appreciation towards your parents’ love. There are people out there who still don’t get it–let alone appreciate it.
    I’m always touched by your posts.

    • yeah.. i think in asian culture its far more prevalent that parents show their love rather than expressing it in words. although that seems so obvious to me now, but the reality is that i am still learning that, with each day.

      you’re much too kind really. i gave my parents a lot of headaches and worries growing up and i wish i hadn’t. oh the things we don’t realize till we’re older…!

      thank you so much for your encouragement. =)

  7. we always realised what we miss when we no longer have them. there is no doubt the best food is the food prepared by your loved ones. now as an adult i understand that this is the case not because of the taste of the food, but because of the taste of ‘love’ that is part of the ingredient to the food prepared. that’s why they trigger memories and make us long for the long gone days. that’s why something as simple as sweet potato or plantain or sugarcane can be the greatest thing you’ve ever had. and that’s because you were eating ‘love’.

      • who knows? maybe a bit of both? i guess the experience of living abroad for many years kinda opened up my eyes and realised what i cherish, what i hold dear, and what i longed for all those years in overseas, can’t be measured in money or freedom, but in the experience of being with those i loved. and the experience in trying out various outstanding cuisines out there certainly helped to validate that, no matter how much fun i had in tasting them.

  8. I love this post. I used to get motivations and insight from dramas all the time. Wish there was more time to indulge in watching them, they are great stress reliever.

    Asian parents don’t talk much but they share that common love language of food to show they care. Food must have been the most important thing to them at some point (especially for those that my have been through starvation and famines) and they offer it to us now even though it’s modern times and not the same situation, but still holds the same value to them.

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