Often I find myself returning to my mother’s refrigerator. In these brief moments of imagination that interlope my days, I drift back towards the cold, wet past. Neck-deep into my childhood, I stare awestruck at the many foods whose memories I retain. Their dilapidated forms are near taxidermied and yet they remain alive and well in plastic: fruit bags pocketed from grocery stores by my mother and mismatched takeout containers she refuses to retire.
There’s always some kind of meatball phở deconstructed in this fridge of hers. Its remnants are scattered across some odd numbers of bowls while cheap beige chopsticks pierce through a film of cellophane like an Erwin Wurm sculpture, erect in a humid sponge of vermicelli noodles. My mother always called this “Vietnamese soup,” and I didn’t learn that it—a days-long boiled bone-broth topped with crunchy bean sprouts and paint splatters of crimson Sriracha—had another name until later in life. On another shelf, bánh xèo, aka “Vietnamese pancake,” is exhumed part by part: fried turmeric-dyed rice flour, musty fish sauce, bitter greens, fresh prawns, and fatty pork loin.
A refugee of the war in Vietnam, my mother made a second life in America and a third in mine. Though she carried the remnants of her culture with her when she fled across the world—the smells, the sounds, the sights, and the meals that raised her—my understanding of it was through a fog of hopes, fears, and assimilations. Of the many apartments that we occupied throughout my childhood, all of our tiny kitchens inevitably became tinier portals for her to Vietnam, but I could never make the leap myself from my twin-sized Texas bed. I grew up Vietnamese, but the concept of her country—of being there, of leaving it—is something I could not nor will ever comprehend. Our home was her home but hers was not mine.
How strange it is to know something so well yet also feel completely alien to it.
For the first printed edition of this publication, we return back to the start, to the genesis of everything for everyone—the home—in an attempt to navigate how our complex relationships with it evolve as we do, too. Is home a place, a choice, or something inarticulable in between? How does home look beyond borders, boundaries, and time? How does it feel? Taste? Sound? In its forthcoming pages, we explore home as both a literal concept and an idea. We also zero in on its inhabitants: the people who have rethought home and forged new havens, either by brazenly setting forth on adventures on their own or those, like my mother, who had no choice but to jet forward and keep running.
Of course, this publication’s name draws not only from food’s ability to congregate and converge but it also refers to the powerful potential of collective discourse. As such, Family Style’s preeminent family of editors have joined me in pouring our concerted interests, queries, and fascinations into this magazine, a printed fantasy dinner party, if you will. Across a triad of sections, a menu by our inaugural guest chef Gregory Gourdet, whose progressive kitchen is a celebration of not only Haiti but the African diaspora, guides you, dear reader, throughout these conversations and questions about home—and beyond. Though there is no clear course of action to take—no plastic pile of bread crumbs to lead you as I have in my own mind’s interiors—I have no doubt you’ll end up right where you should. If not, a new home can always be made wherever you need it.