Food has long been considered a language of love.
My mother expressed her love for her family by cooking delicious dishes and passing her knowledge of cooking and baking to me. I plan to pass this love to Jai as he grows up so he will cook and bake for his family.
But before Jai, there was Ash. And before Ash, officially, there was the dating/courtship period of our relationship. At the time we met and started dating I was taking temp jobs, this was during the depths of the economic downturn, and so my resources were limited for what I could do with him for our dates.
Being a gentleman, he offered to pay, but being independent I refused to let him pay for more than one date in a row without us at least splitting the cost. Rather, I offered to make him dinner at his apartment, for him and his roommates, as often as I could. It allowed us to spend time together, watch some movies/shows we had common interests and keep our costs low. Additionally, I could show him something I was good at to impress him.
Getting to Know You
I met Ash at a restaurant for a mutual friend’s birthday party. We chatted for a bit, I was interested but unable to really pursue him at the time. Several months later we reconnected after hanging out at another friend’s house a couple of times and decided that we wanted to be more serious in our relationship.
Ash’s birthday is at the beginning of the year and at that point in our relationship I couldn’t find work, so I had no money to buy a special present for him. We’d been dating for two months at that point and he told me, as he still tells me, that I didn’t have to get him anything special for his birthday. I insisted, so he suggested making him dinner.
Ash has never been one to hide his love for meat. Specifically, red meat.
I found a recipe for grilled steak with herbed butter, potatoes, and green beans. I spent the better part of the day making it for him because I wanted it to be perfect. Up to that point, I had made what I considered safe meals. These were meals I knew I couldn’t screw up but didn’t really show my range. Here was an opportunity to show my abilities. Fortunately, it was a success and to this day he comments about how much he loved that birthday present.
From then on out, I spent more time expanding my culinary skills to impress Ash. I would ask what he wanted to eat, he would buy the ingredients and I would throw something together in his kitchen for him. Most days we shared with his roommates, but some days we kept it for ourselves while we watched anime.
I had one obstacle in my cooking that I wanted to overcome, because don’t all overly ambitious partners want to do this?
I Can’t Compete with Mom
Ash’s mom is a fantastic cook. She has so many recipes memorized that it’s fun to sit and watch her work in the kitchen. I have never seen her crack a cookbook, just throw a bunch of ingredients together to create a deliciously aromatic dish.
Six months into our relationship, Ash and I had a conversation about his mother’s cooking. He sang her praises about his favorite dishes from childhood and how much he missed her cooking. Admittedly, I was insecure about our relationship, but he assured me that my cooking was good but different from hers.
Which is true. All cooks have different styles and therefore are equally good in their own way. It took me a couple more years to realize and accept that.
I hadn’t met her at this point in our relationship, but I wanted to be able to replicate one of Ash’s favorite dishes growing up to give him a little taste of home considering he only visited once a year. Deep down I knew I couldn’t compete with mom, no partner truly can, but if I could capture some essence of her cooking for him – it would be another way to show that I cared about him.
When I told Ash about my plan, he wisely told me that he wouldn’t compare the two dishes. My dish would be mine and hers would be hers, but one wouldn’t be ranked over the other. This would prevent disappointment and competition.
Ash told me that he loved his mother’s beef vindaloo and samosas. I started looking for recipes online and found a beef vindaloo that I wanted to try. Sure enough, it didn’t compare to his mother’s but I was undeterred because I was unsure of the flavors (I hadn’t had vindaloo before). I tried a couple more times with some more research and eventually honed my recipe to be restaurant-worthy and remind Ash of home. I counted this as a success.
I found a samosa recipe but couldn’t make the “tortilla” outside on my own. I substituted a wrap you can find in the refrigerator section and made the filling. Ash tried it but refused to call it a samosa because the outside was all wrong. According to Ash, this was a meat pie. I tried with tortillas, something his mother uses, but never got the hang out it. When I eventually met his mother we had a discussion about my samosa mishaps and she chided Ash for not calling them samosas. “Samosas,” she said, “are meat pies.” She and I had a good laugh at Ash’s expense over it.
While I could never compete with Ash’s mother over her dishes, I was given another opportunity to expand my culinary horizons by learning some of her dishes. It boosted my confidence to try things completely foreign to me and outside of my comfort zone. But I think it showed Ash, at the beginning of our relationship, that I cared deeply enough for him to learn something that would stave off any homesickness he’d experience living so far from home.
Food & Relationship Moments
Many major moments in our relationship were food adjacent.
We met in a restaurant, our first date was over lunch, I cooked food for Ash to spend time with him. We were sitting in the parking lot of a fast food chain, waiting for his roommate to grab his dinner, when Ash officially asked me to be his girlfriend.
Ash was part of a group of friends that picked a new restaurant each week to eat and he started bringing me along once we were official. We got to try a lot of new culinary experiences this way while spending time together and cemented my amateur status as a foodie. I knew I loved trying new culinary experiences but didn’t know where to start in my new hometown. Ash introduced me to this culture and gave me a deeper appreciation for food. But because of these dinners, it gave us an excuse to see each other at least once a week.
Food is used as comfort throughout our relationship as well.
Whenever Ash felt bad, or I felt bad, we would make each other soups or other comfort foods and serve it to each other. As unhealthy as it is to depend on food for emotional comfort, whenever we feel bad we know what foods to buy each other to feel better. For me, it’s fries or any sort of fried food. For Ash, it’s spicy chips or jerky.
While Ash didn’t propose over dinner, whenever we want to celebrate a special occasion we go out to a favorite restaurant. We have several locations throughout the city we go to for celebrations, it just depends on our mood and how much money we want to spend.
Food really does play a big role in our relationship. It’s shifted a bit since my journey towards wellness, but it hasn’t changed that much. I still indulge on occasion, just not to the same extent I once did. I know that both Ash and I hope to pass this love and appreciation for food along to Jai and hope that any future relationship he has, that food holds a special bond as well.
How does food factor into your romantic relationships? What did you do with food to show a potential partner you loved them? Leave your stories in the comments below.
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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography