As a (somewhat) young Malay woman, I have always known that one of my ‘job’ descriptions in life is to be able to cook so I can one day turn my husband into a miniature hippo within 6 months of our marriage because hey, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right?
So, when it was time for me to learn the intricate art of food-making, I decided to learn it from the best chef in the world: my mom. This led to a new realization that my petite-sized, sweet-natured mother is actually the incarnated soul of Babe Ruth (Yankees baseball player, lah. Look It Up. Geez). When I told my friends about it, I kid you not, they all could relate and said that they’ve gone through the same thing with their own mothers, aunties, grandmothers etc.
That was when I knew; ALL aunties are the same, regardless of race and religion. When I look back on that horrific time that scarred me from EVER entering my mother’s kitchen, I now see that there were subtle signs that led up to the moment before things got REAL. As a fellow beginner cook, I think that it is my duty to warn other beginners about what Malaysian aunties are actually like in the kitchen.
Phase 1 – “The Happy Feet”
The first phase before Armageddon. The “Happy Feet” refers to the giddy smile and excited feeling you can see in ANY aunty’s eyes (in my case, my mom’s) when you, especially if you are a girl, express the desire to learn how to cook. If said aunty does not have a bad hip or back, she would be doing the Irish jig before immediately rushing you into the kitchen. Why? Simply because your family’s honour is dependent on that first fish you fry at your future in-law’s house not ending up black like charcoal.
Signs to watch out for:
1) Shining eyes
2) Wide smile
3) Fast chattering
Phase 2 – “Cooking Buddies”
After you have set a date, time and decided what to cook, the day of your first one-to-one cooking class begins. The day unfolds like a scene from a Brady Bunch show complete with the Carpenters “Top of The World” song playing in the background. Your mom chats gaily; making jokes that forced you to cough out a laugh, while reminiscing her own experiences when she first learned how to cook. It is indeed a special phase where suddenly you feel so connected to your mom and the food brings you closer. In fact, you feel like you don’t mind doing this every week or even more frequently. Don’t get too cocky though because the fun part is about to start….
Phase 3- “Snooty French Food Critique”
A mother will always be a mother. You cannot be buddies for long. After what seems like 10 minutes, the Brady Bunch scene you were nicely enjoying soon becomes a nightmare. It starts with a loud ‘tsk’ and your mom hurrying to your side. Soon, she is hovering over your shoulder, tsking at every turn. Have you ever felt that creepy sense of being watched when you were alone? The shiver? Trust me, this is the phase you feel like Jack the Ripper himself is hunting you. You start to sweat. Hands begin to tremble. Your eyes will keep darting toward your mom. You slowly pick up the knife again and suddenly…
“No, not like that. Too thick! Move, move. Let me do it.”
Signs to look out for:
1) Brows furrowed
4) Eyes rolling
2) Mumbling words like “simple”, “her age”, “two kids”
3) Head shaking
Phase 4- “Military General”
All hell breaks loose from this point onwards. If during phase two, the Carpenters played in the background, during this phase, you would be hearing the sound of heavy metal drums banging. You start doubting whether this was a good idea or not and if you should have instead taken professional cooking classes. In my case, this was when my mom started lamenting my future husband’s luck for having to eat out every day, how she has to lower down my “hantaran” etcetera, etcetera. In this phase, you’ll notice veins slowly popping out so make sure to steer clear of the red zone (your mom’s cooking station).
Phase 5- “Babe Ruth”
Most aunties do not go to this phase and instead jump straight to the 6th one. Why? Because THIS is the phase that will scar you for life and prevent you from ever cooking in your mom’s kitchen. Most aunties wouldn’t want it to come to that, but if they reach their boiling point, you really can’t blame them.
Let me tell you what happened to me. The curry was slightly burnt and it was too watery. My mom was out of her wits but she still kept her calm until I told her that I forgot to put in the coconut milk. She huffed to the fridge, took the coconut shreds out and started blending. I made the wrong move when I told her to rest and finish up with the blending. My mom took the wet, soggy coconut shreds and flung at me! Luckily, I hit it with the pan in my hand and it splat on the window. That my friends, is the Babe Ruth move.
Phase 6 – “Gordon Ramsay” a.k.a Scary Aunty Mode
The final phase is the Gordon Ramsay or the full-on Aunty mode. All you hear now is loud shouts. Next thing you know, you are banned for the whole day from entering the kitchen. This story of your first experience in the kitchen will be told for generations.
So there you go, the six phases that aunties are capable of going through in the kitchen. These are what I have seen based on the many years observing them in action during big family gatherings. I have to say though that even through ears turning red, words being exchanged and a hundred times replaying the worst experiences in the kitchen, it would not be the same if these aunties are not around to teach you that food, delicious or not, brings people closer than ever before. As for me, I am still learning how to cook and slowly moving on from the memory of my mother going berserk. Although no such incidents happens since, you’ll find me always holding a pan just in case I need to deflect any sudden attacks of food.