K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her debut novel BESTIARY is forthcoming from One World / Random House on September 8, 2020.
Here, she talks about late-night instant ramen, eating LOTS of fruit, and offering food to the dead.
On her all-time favorite meal:
I’m not sure if this qualifies as a meal, but I loved feasting from my grandmother’s fruit trees in Montebello. Taiwanese people take fruit very, very seriously, and what I remember is the abundance of kumquats and green guavas and jujubes, how miraculous it seemed to me that her trees could be this vivid amidst such dry, barren weather. Fruit by the buckets, eaten plain or dipped in gancao powder, and I never got tired of eating sweet and sour things. There were ants in the house that were attracted to the fruit, too, and I followed the lines of ants into the yard. The kumquat tree in the front of the house used to seem enormous, towering, but when I saw it in a photograph, I realized how much shorter it was than me. Now when I see it, it looks so brittle, but it never loses its abundance of kumquats. I miss those fruit trees everywhere I go, and I always remember eating so much fruit that I was almost sick with sweetness—but it’s the memory of eating my way to that border between enough and too much that feels so joyous to me now.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
No light—it’s night, and outside the windows it’s so dark we can’t see anything but the reflection of our own faces. The world is inside, with my family, and we sit together at a round table and share everything together. I used to love looking outside of a window when it’s night because all you can see is inside, the murky image of the people you hold dear. There was a feeling of safety and like the world outside was waiting.
On snacking while writing:
I don’t usually snack while writing, though I’ll definitely use snack breaks as an excuse to stop writing! I usually eat a tangerine, something that gets my fingers sticky, or crunch on salty rice crackers. Hot Cheetos or Takis are another favorite snack, and it will probably result in a red keyboard.
On her go-to late-night snack:
Fruit again, or anything similarly sweet—sometimes Shin ramen or any other brand of instant noodle with a very red and savory powder packet. A fried egg on top of instant noodles, too. I believe in eating eggs at all hours of the day and night, especially scrambled with tomato.
On her food quirks:
Eating fruit—dried, candied, or fresh—between and after meals is definitely a habit I’ve picked up from my family. Sharing dishes between friends and family is also important to me—I’m also very indecisive, so cooking several dishes and sharing all of them is my preferred way to eat a meal. When I was little, I refused to eat black beans on top of fish because someone told me they were flies, but I’d like to believe I’m much less gullible now.
On her final meal request:
I think that even without bodies we will be fed—rather than the idea of a final meal, I think about how the dead eat, too. In my family and many other families, we offer food to the dead. I believe that the dead eat too, that they are perpetually hungry as we are. My mother always told me that eating oranges or other fruit that have been laid out as an offering to someone deceased means that the fruit has been blessed and will bring you good luck. I remember being afraid to eat offerings, but this comforted me—the idea that the orange I was eating had been blessed by someone I loved.