The Fay Khoo Award for Food+Writing was set up as a tribute to the memory of author, writer, publisher and radio host Fay khoo, who wrote, passionately, about her food experiences in all its guises and thoroughly deserved the admiration and accolades she received in her professional life. This inaugural award was presented at the Georgetown Literary Festival to Renie Leng of the English Faculty for her piece ‘Penang Kitchens.’
Penang Kitchens: A Zuihitsu is the winning essay of The Fay Khoo Award for Food & Drink Writing 2017.
Penang Kitchens: A Zuihitsu
by Renie Leng
Zuihitsu is a genre of Japanese literature consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas responding to the author’s surroundings.
Home is a heady combination of the fragrance of talcum powder and whiffs of disinfectant reaffirming mum and dad’s strong presence. Dad’s fish tackle and nets, a messy tangle of his seafaring hobby is still outside the kitchen. In the dry nets, a whiff of sea salt and always, a spray from the straits of Malacca. The multiple sets of mahjong and the clacking of tiles. Used mahjong paper now used as picnic mats or for grandkids’ scribblings. Mom’s treasure trove, started with an addiction to joy and luck. Mum’s seventies Pyrex collection. Vintage now. The Tupperware we kept losing at recess. Our faded plastic medals from sports and school events still hang in our respective bedrooms. My secret Jason Donovan poster yellows behind old belts made for tiny teen waists. Photos of grandchildren on two fridges.
The star of the kitchen- a faithful 38-year old Zanussi still cooks away. Chilli and baked crabs, fresh off the boat, are always served even for breakfast. Mother’s 70s inspired kitchen with green and white Italian tiles and her plethora of Tupperware, Pyrex and Corning Ware tucked in over-flowing shelves and mish-mashed plates and mugs of all kinds, from all over, collected from her travels. The bunch of fresh garlic and onion basket hang by the grilles of her kitchen window. My mother whips up meals as quickly as summer clouds float along in the sky. Her fingers are efficient though home-making for her is part-time as she runs her school. She always makes a soup, a fish and a vegetable, and white meat dish. Balance in every way. Her part-time helpers clean when she is at work but her kitchen is always hers. In her seventies now, both my parents are lucky enough to not need cholesterol pills or any other. Listening to music when she cooks always helps.
Read the full essay on thefaykhooaward.com
Renie Leng, English Teacher – GIS teacher spotlight