Food is central in my family. We gather around food and talk story, laugh, play music, and sing. Friends will comment about how I talk more about food when I return from a trip home than I do about the beaches or anything else we did. Food is tied to many of my family memories and often a topic of conversation while we’re sitting around the table eating or just commenting on each others’ statuses on Facebook.
Food is also central in some memories with friends. When I was still living in Hawai`i and working at the Kaimuki-Waialae YMCA, my co-workers and I would sometimes go to Kahala Mall after work or training and eat at California Pizza Kitchen. Or as we call it back home, CPK. One of my favorites was the BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad. After a rough day at work, it was refreshing and full of flavor as we sat around the table and laughed the stress away. My friends and I would also sometimes eat there before going to see a movie at Kahala Mall. Yes, BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad. Not only is it flavorful, but it is attached to memories of friends I see so infrequently.
I had a blissful mix of family and food on Friday. My husband and I went to CPK for lunch and then walked around the mall for about an hour. About 10 minutes after returning, my uncle in Alabama called and was 30 minutes away. He wanted to meet up for lunch. Even though we had already eaten, we went back to the mall to meet my uncle at Yang Kee Noodle. My uncle loves the Pad Thai there. My husband and I just got drinks. The fact that I had eaten already didn’t stop me from seeing family since it is so infrequent that I get to see family out here. We spent an hour with Uncle, catching up, reminiscing, and talking about food. I enjoyed and savored every minute of it. I even took the opportunity to take pictures while the guys discussed phone apps. It was sad to see him have to get back on the road, but that one hour was precious.
I have other memories tied to Yang Kee Noodle other than that being Uncle’s favorite place to eat when he’s in town. My husband and I trained together with one of the owners and got to follow the process of him opening the restaurant. We even got to go to a tasting where they were collecting feedback on their dishes. It became one of the places we liked to go after training if we didn’t leave the dojo too late. Our sensei started calling it “The Noodle” and when he passed away, food from The Noodle was served at the gathering after the service.
I know these kinds of ties aren’t just in my life. They are in all of our lives and is why it is important for family to gather around the table when they eat. The focus stays on each other rather than the million distractions that interrupt our life. Most of us are quick to answer the phone when it rings. We like to watch TV while we eat. We have our nose in a book while eating. I’m guilty of the last two, especially the last one when I’m alone. My phone can keep ringing and ringing. If it’s important, I know the caller will leave a message. I can handle missing a call to make sure I keep my focus on the people I’m with. Being with family and friends is important, not only to keep our relationships alive, but for our emotional well-being. More and more studies are coming out about the positive effects being with others helps us stay mentally healthy and fight depression. The memories I have of times with family and friends always make me smile when I need that smile the most.
Add food to the equation with family and friends and you have a powerful bonding agent with memories in the making.