Featured Illustration: Jam Draws
If you are on TikTok or Instagram, I’m sure you’ve come across at least a dozen mouth-watering cooking videos and tutorials on your daily feed that make even the most daunting dishes seem achievable.
I follow a lot of Asian food content creators on social media for inspiration on what to cook next. However, since the growth of food content creators, I’ve learned that so many of these cooks I follow have experienced the same thing as I did growing up.
Social media is known for unlocking our childhood memories; this particular one takes us back to school at lunchtime. While this shared experience will have been different for each person, we all felt that same sense of shame and guilt for our culture at such a young age.
My version of this memory takes place in primary school. As a Filipino immigrant child still learning new things about British culture, I remember this being my first test to assimilate.
I opened my lunchbox to reveal, not a sandwich and crisps but some rice and leftovers from the Filipino meal my mum cooked. Shortly after, I was met with looks of judgment and disgust. The other children said things like, “Ew, what is that? It smells.”
After that moment, I begged my parents for crisps and sandwiches like the other kids. Over a decade later, looking back, I certainly regret it and would never wish the same on any child from an ethnic-minority background.
I’ve thought about how I would feel if I was a mum and my child came home from school begging for a ‘normal’ lunch because some children at school made them feel embarrassed of their culture. It would feel like history is repeating itself.
Popular TikTok cook and mother of two, Jessica Woo, also known as the bento box queen, is known for her ‘Let’s make lunch for my kids’ videos. In it, she makes creative bento box lunches for her two daughters.
All I can think about when I watch her videos is how amazed I am at the time and effort she makes for her children to feed them a variety of Asian dishes, many of which I hadn’t even heard of until my 20s. Bento-boxes in particular are practically a Japanese culinary art-form that takes so much time and care into making each individual element within the box.
Now, I can’t promise I’ll give the same level of effort when making my children’s lunches when I become a mum — but what I can say is that I would never want my children to feel that same shame I did, and would want to introduce them to food from a variety of cultures at a young age.
Food content creators on social media have come forward saying how they regret taking their parents’ cooking for granted. Many of them now use their platforms to recreate dishes from their childhood and share their pride for their heritage that they were once ashamed of and have inspired me to do the same.
After moving out for university, I realised just how much I took my parents’ cooking for granted. It wasn’t like I could order a Filipino takeaway whenever I missed food from home because as you can imagine, there aren’t many Filipino restaurants in the UK.
Eventually, I attempted to recreate my mum’s cooking. The first dish: Chicken Adobo.
For those unfamiliar with Filipino food, Chicken Adobo is a Filipino staple, a soy-marinated chicken dish with potatoes and sweet and tangy flavours. Every household has its own take on the dish, but I was determined to recreate it exactly how my mum makes it.
After multiple tries of testing my mum’s poorly guesstimated instructions, I was over the moon when I tasted the dish to find that it tastes just like my mum’s. I was jumping around my second-year house out of pure excitement like a nutcase.
If my younger self could’ve seen me then, I know she wouldn’t have been so embarrassed about bringing in food from home. I wouldn’t have tried so hard back then for my school lunch to look like everyone else’s.
Over time, I’ve learned more and more about my heritage through food, and I’ve reached a level of confidence I never used to have for it. Instead of hiding food from my culture, I share it with my loved ones and on social media with my closest friends.
I can now confidently tell people, “Don’t yuck my yum.”
This phrase was originally used in schools to help promote children eating a variety of foods. Now it has become the tagline for TikTok cooks such as @doobydobap and @hwoo.lee as a positive response to that negative shared experience we’ve had growing up regarding food from our cultures.
Along with the food content creators mentioned so far, here are a few more that embrace their heritage by sharing their dishes from home with the world.
Tway Ngyuen takes a modern twist on Vietnamese dishes and ingredients on her platform. Chaheti Bansal cooks Indian dishes from her upbringing, including classic tiffin lunch dishes. Jessica takes staple Filipino dishes and creates vegan versions of them. Mob Kitchen cook, Seema Pankhania makes soul-warming food from around the world, including her country India.