Growing up, I rejected my mother’s Filipino cooking. During lockdown, it’s all I crave.

I wanted an American childhood with cheerleading and cigarettes, Girl Scouts and slumber parties. Now I want chicken adobo.

I grew up with food all around me. Beyond the pantry, there was food on top of the fridge, on the counter by the stove, the counter by the sink. In the fridge in the garage. Occasionally, under the bed.

We had tins of sardines—the good kind. Spam and Vienna Sausages, of course, and extra bottles of ketchup. Takeout packets of ketchup. Takeout packets of barbecue sauce. Takeout packets of ranch dressing. Takeout napkins. Takeout spoons.

If there is a household ready for a quarantine, it’s a Filipino-American one.

Growing up, I wasn’t grateful for any of this. I thought kitchens should be spare and organized, as seen on TV. Why did we need ketchup packets? We always had ketchup in bottles. Wasn’t this wasteful? Why all this fear?

A home cooked meal Cynthia had in the Philippines: vegetable lumpia, pancit, beef afritada, jacob's tears (instead of white rice). (April 2020)

Cynthia Salaysay

A home cooked meal Cynthia had in the Philippines: vegetable lumpia, pancit, beef afritada, jacob’s tears (instead of white rice).

I think first-generation Filipinos are sensitive to scarcity in a way that many Americans are not—myself included. Poverty here is not like poverty there, and my mother knew poverty there. Poverty there is brutal.

We are weeks into the lockdown here in the San Francisco Bay Area and in many ways I’m not worried about my mom. She is living well and secure in her home, watching Catholic mass on television, walking inside her house for exercise.

I, on the other hand, feeling unusually alone and insecure, found myself craving her adobo.

There are as many adobos as there are Filipino mothers. You would think its basic ingredients—soy sauce, vinegar, meat, garlic—would lend itself to mimicry, but I have yet to come close to hers. Hers is unctuous. When the sauce cools, it congeals like a consommé.

I didn’t always think my mother’s food was good. I thought it was bland and ordinary, and I didn’t want ordinary. I wanted excitement. I wanted Stouffer’s Croissant Crust Pepperoni Pizza.

Neither did I like my mother’s Filipino style of parenting—critical, practical. I wanted an American childhood with cheerleading and cigarettes, Girl Scouts and slumber parties. I wanted fun and unconditional love and approval. I wanted my mother to be happy just because I was breathing. Instead, she asked: Why do you want to be a writer? They don’t make money.

I want her food in a startlingly physical way. Like someone having withdrawal symptoms from all this isolation. I’m craving love.

When your focus is on scarcity, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Better to be safe than happy. Writing dreams have little place in this mentality.

Still, growing up in the States has given me so many things. It’s given me the education and financial independence my mother desired. It’s also given me feminism, which taught me that it’s easy to blame a woman for everything.

At 40, well on my way to publishing my first novel, I was ready to stop blaming my mom, and say I was sorry for punishing her in a million small ways for being who she was and not who I wanted her to be.

Her response was frank, as usual: “Oh! Don’t worry about it. I did the same thing. I apologized to my mother when I was 50.”

And we continued to eat our soup.

I now think all her food tastes good. Which brings me back to my lockdown cravings.  I want her food in a startlingly physical way. Like someone having withdrawal symptoms from all this isolation. I’m craving love.

Cynthia Salaysay is a writer living in Oakland, CA. Her debut novel, Private Lessons, about ambition, classical music, and growing up Filipino-American, is due out from Candlewick Press in May 2020.