6 ‘Asian Aunty’ Phases to Watch Out for In the Kitchen

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, sweet-natured mother has a dark, scary side: The Gordon Ramsay side. When I told my friends, 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 realized; 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. BAD. As a fellow beginner cook, I think 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 excitement shining 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.

Signs to watch out for:

1) Shining eyes

2) Wide smile

3) Enthusiastic chattering

Phase 2 – “Cooking Buddies”

The day unfolded like a scene from ‘The Brady Bunch’, complete with the Carpenters “Top of The World” song playing in the background. Your mom chatted 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 moment. You are so in sync. The vibes were positive. Everything seems extra wonderful. In fact, you feel like you don’t mind doing this every week or every other day. You and your mom are friends now… Or so you think.

Don’t get too cocky though because the fun part is about to start….

Phase 3- “Snooty French Food Critique”

At the end of the day, a mother will always be a mother. You cannot be buddies for long. After what seems like 10 minutes, the whole ‘Brady Bunch’ scene you were basking in, as quickly as it came, turned into a nightmare. It starts with a loud ‘tsk’ and your mom hurrying to your side. Soon, she is hovering over your shoulder, tut-tutting 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. Unlike the bright, cheery scene in phase two, the Carpenters are no longer playing in the background, replaced by the banging of heavy-metal drums ringing in your ears. At this phase, you start doubting your decision of ever opening your mouth and asking your mom to teach you how to cook. You should have searched for 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. You’d start to notice the veins slowly popping out of her forehead so make sure to steer clear of the “red zone” (your mom’s cooking station).

Phase 5 – “Ninja Moves”

In most cases, the aunties will go straight to the 6th phase. Why? Because THIS is the phase that will scar you for life and make you not want to cook anything at all. The outburst that follows are usually unintentional. It is just hardwired in Asian women. When it comes to cooking, we mean business and I really mean, BUSINESS.

Let me tell you what happened to me. The curry was slightly burnt. 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 desiccated coconut out, plonk it into the blender, added some water and started blending. I made the wrong move when I told her I could take over the task. “It’s just blending”, I said foolishly.

In one swift move that would have made Michelle Yeoh proud, my sweet, gentle mom took the wet, soggy desiccated coconut out, clump them into a ball and flung it at me with all her might! My instincts kicked in. I grabbed a small pan, hit the slimy coconut ball and a loud ‘Splat!’ could be heard where it hit the window, before sliding down in an almost cartoonish way. Without a word, she continued on blending like nothing happened.

Phase 6 – “Gordon Ramsay” a.k.a Scary Aunty Mode

The final phase is what I like to call as the ‘Gordon Ramsay’ mode. All you hear is loud shouting and angry huffing, with you being unceremoniously shooed out from the kitchen. If you think that is the end of the whole ordeal, think again. The story of you royally “F-up” your first-ever cooking experience will be told and reiterated to death to all of your mom/aunty’s elderly friends as well as scornful members of extended family for generations…. or at least, the rest of the year.

So there you go, these are six phases of Asian aunties for you to watch out for in the kitchen. Despite the heated words, the crying and commotion, our experiences will not be as colourful without these aunties. Regardless the outcome, the time we spent together in the kitchen and at the dining table thereafter only bring families closer.

As for me, I am still learning how to cook and slowly ‘de-traumatizing’ myself from the memory of my mother going berserk that one time. Although no such incidents happen since, you’ll find me always holding a pan just in case I need to deflect any sudden attacks.

Azrene Jasmine

A true blue Penangite, Azrene Jasmine favourite thing to do is, well, eating. Though currently in a love/hate relationship with the weighing scale, she truly believes that every woman should choose a hunk of juicy steak over a bowl of salad on the first date because steaks are awesome and what man can resist a woman with a healthy appetite?

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