My mother cooks curry in a sarong and shower cap.
My mother has both my daughters.
My mother is strong, caring, violent and beautiful.
My mother makes the best ice cream.
On lockdown I have been wearing all my sarongs.
Sarongs mean home, in so many ways. They are what I wear in the evenings in Sarawak, to have a beer with dad or a pre-dinner snack, sitting on the veranda. In London they are what I potter and cook in. Sarongs are my private space.
Home, mothering, food are ideas that (can) be linked and intertwined and get caught up with nostalgia and memory - especially within migrant communities where feeding is often the work of aunties, older sisters and mothers. Food is a way to build a sense of belonging in a new space; coating the air, your mouth, your memories in familiarity. But nostalgia can make static mothers and home, make identity singular.
“My mother cooks curry in a sarong” is a line from a play I wrote (for my Phd), from a story one of my performers told me (Catriona James).
There is so much in this one sentence:
Food as a permanent and physical presence, specifically meaningful as a migrant, where taking up space is challenged, and the smell of food is a way to other.
It is a moment of care, of wanting to step away from a cooking space. An identity outside of cooking for her family, of the scent of curry.
I also cook in my sarong.
I don’t want to be static or uncomplicated. I want my home of Sarawak to be present in my home of London – I want my sarongs to be seen.
Anna Sulan Masing is a London-based poet, writer and academic, she is mixed race, white New Zealander and Iban, an indigenous tribe in Sarawak. Her PhD looked at home, belonging and storytelling with food as the thread through it.