I was always curious about my cultural heritage beyond what I knew about my family being from Singapore, with Chinese ancestry. Growing up in a predominantly white Australian community, with a few Greek and Italian families, I was always fascinated about how far and wide they knew their family tree. It’s not really an Asian thing, to pass down detailed information about family, at least not in mine.
As a migrant family to Australia, my parents were more focused on giving us a future, instead of reflecting on the past.
I grew up learning a lot about my culture through food. It’s the way with most Asian kids, and you aren’t necessarily taught, you learn by exposure and by doing. I was always included in the kitchen when my mum or grandmother was cooking, from leaning to pound chillies with a heavy stone mortar and pestle for sambal, or mixing the mince for wontons, different foods carry different symbolism and importance for different occasions.
My mother is a fantastic cook and through her, I have a collection of recipes I make over and over again. They’re the ones I reach for in times of needing comfort or to feel more connected with who I am. I love making Hainanese chicken rice, Nyonya chicken curry, beef rendang and steamed oysters with ginger, spring onions and soy… not bad heirloom recipes to own!
All I really knew about my cultural identity prior to taking the DNA test, is that my grandparents on both sides were originally from China, removed by about a generation or two on each side. My mother, from Sichuan Provence and my father from Canton. My facial features, however, suggested that there may be more to the story than just Chinese heritage, and I always suspected that because of my Singaporean roots, and its history as a place in the with such a multicultural trade significance, that I might also have Dutch or Portuguese ancestry thrown into the mix.
Imagine my surprise to find out that I’m 92% ethnically Chinese, with the remaining 7ish% broader East Asian (this includes Japan, Indonesia and the general Straits region)…and about 1% Native American.
I never could have predicted that last part! It’s a fascinating piece of information about my history that I could have never predicted, and I would love to explore where, how and when this part of my history played a part in my family.
If I had to bring a dish to A Taste of Harmony event, it would probably be wontons. They’re such a crowd pleaser and I love that Australians have taken to dumplings with the kind of obsessive quality any Asian can respect.
We are, after all as Australians, a part of South East Asia – we tend to forget. I think by embracing who we are as a rich multicultural mix of cultures, we are better placed to create a safe, dynamic and peaceful place to live. Diversity to me, means inclusion for all, and an opportunity to learn from and grow with each other.
Melissa Leong aka Fooderati, is a freelance food + travel writer, food media consultant, radio broadcaster, television presenter, MC and cookbook editor. Find out more about her here.