- 2 egg yolks, 200g self-raising flour, 100g sugar
Pandan cake is a sponge cake, light and sweet, flavoured with the juice or extract of the pandan leaf. The dessert has roots in imperialism – flour and baked cakes brought over by European colonisers was fused with an aromatic native plant used to fragrant the rice and deserts of Southeast Asia.
Pandan cake has always been one of my favourite snacks, but a memory about pandan cake recently bubbled up into my consciousness. It wasn’t a pleasant memory.
- ½ jar pandan extract, ½ teaspoon crème of tartar, 125g butter, 2 egg whites
I would have been around five or six years old, and my mum had sent me off to school with a slice of pandan cake to eat at recess.
I remember knowing it was in my lunchbox but instead of looking forward to my delicious treat, I was hyper-aware, deep down inside, that there was something wrong with my slice of pandan cake.
- Mix together the eggs yolk and sugar until fluffy
I don’t know how I knew, or what had told me there was something abnormal in my lunchbox that day, but I can still remember the fear that possessed me. I knew that I shouldn’t let other people see the cake.
I broke off a small piece, shoved it into my fist so no one could see, and ate it bite by tiny bite. One of my friends asked what was in my hand. “It’s green!” I think she said. I clenched my fist tighter.
- Mix together the pandan extract, butter and cream of tartar
It’s green. What kind of ‘normal’ cake is green? A light, almost fluorescent green at that.
I have searched my memory looking for what it was about this food that made me so ashamed. Was it my fear of being different? Of knowing that other people didn’t eat green cake?
Or was it something much more virulent?
- Beat egg whites
Whether it was a shame of Asian food, or my own Asianness – a feeling that haunted me throughout my childhood – this is my first memory of feeling fear about the food I ate, and therefore who I was. It was disparagingly clear to me in that moment that there was something about me that just wasn’t right, and fluorescent green cake? That was a signifier of my wrongness.
- Combine the flour with the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the pandan mixture
As a teenager the conflict within me grew, I began to blame the source of all my perceived troubles: my mother.
From the classmate who asked me if I was adopted when I was sitting with my mum on my first day at a new school, to my middle name (Ying), to the stranglehold of Chinese discipline and over-protectiveness that stifled my social life – the clash of shame and conflict manifested in my relationship with my mother.
My childhood was a bitter litany of internalised self-hatred, which is even documented through the horrifying feature that is Facebook memories: “I just don’t find Asians attractive”…
- Lastly, fold in egg whites
What could I possibly think of myself and my self-worth, if I didn’t find Asians attractive – and I myself am Asian? A culture of white-washed media and overt exclusion by the performing arts scene I grew up in obviously affected my perceptions of race. I don’t think I’ll ever truly know how much damage was done.
When I think back to the way I used to treat my mother, I cringe at my attempts to posit myself as less Chinese. I would often cling to the vestiges of whiteness in my mixed-race background and vilify her for what I perceived she had brought on me.
My history of shame with Asian food was reflective of a world in which the colonial food of England (an empire which pillaged the world for spices and yet still cannot manage seasoning stronger than salt and pepper) is seen as superior. The smell of flavour, the recipes passed down for generations, our very sustenance in life is tainted with white supremacy. It breaks my heart.
- Pour in buttered baking pan
Finally, at the end of the long and arduous road that was my childhood, I faced two options: assimilation or resistance, denial or pride.
Through the privilege of my university education, the insidious white supremacy that had embedded itself deep in my psyche was drawn out and revealed to me for what it was: a damaging and evil structure that explained so many of my childhood experiences.
I came into awareness of the multitude of ways in which white supremacy had seeped into my life and disconnected me from my culture. I learned of even more ways it damages other communities, and came to see where my experiences sat in the hierarchy of racial injustice – quite near the top.
- Bake for 1 hour at 180°C
And so, I resolve to resist.
To resist aligning myself with whiteness. To resist assimilation. To resist the gratefulness migrants are taught to have to Western governments at the expense of First Nations peoples. To stand in solidarity with them through the continued injustices they face. To resist viewing land, people and communities as a profit source.
To resist silence.
To nourish myself with food that excites me, and comforts me and shares a part of myself with those I am feeding, with the aim of nourishing my existence in resistance.
- Allow to cool before serving, enjoy.
Cover image via The Kitchen Addict