7 min read
May 31, 2022
Food and family: How traditional foods bring Asian families closer to their cultures
Written by Life at AWS team
In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States, we asked AWS builders from the Asians @ Amazon affinity group to share what their cultural food traditions have meant to them throughout their lives. The act of sitting down together as a family to celebrate an occasion is one of the universal benefits of carrying on these deeply rooted food traditions, but it’s true that for many Asians and Pacific Islanders living in the United States, gathering to spend quality time together as a family is as rich a tradition as the food that’s served.
Here are three AWS builders on what their family’s food traditions mean to them (with recipes!):
Randy Moy, senior technical account manager, AWS Enterprise Support
Randy Moy’s most cherished family food tradition is the very large hot pot dinner his family makes during Thanksgiving (in addition to having traditional American turkey). The family, originally from Hong Kong, gathers and shares large portions of beef, chicken, vegetables, and seafood in a communal table setting.
“We let the water boil, add herbs and spices to create a broth before the raw ingredients are thrown in,” Randy said. “As the food simmers, we take the time out to talk about the past year and things we look forward to in the new year. These hotpot dinners last a few hours, with each person eating and conversing at their own pace.”
No matter what is going on in the world or in Randy’s personal or professional life, he finds these and other cultural and familial food traditions as a blissful respite.
“It is an opportunity to filter out all the noise and enjoy the comfort of family and to truly savor the taste, sounds, and smell of home for a brief moment in time before everyone gets back to their own lives,” Randy said. “The reason why hot pot is so special to my family is that back when we didn’t have much, we always could gather together and pool resources together for a big meal and the only requirement was a large boiling pot of water and sharing stories and enjoying one another’s company.”
The familiarity these cultural foods and traditions provide also bring Randy great comfort during uncertain times. In college, he recalls how a taste of home could lift his spirits or give him strength and confidence to push forward with whatever challenge he was facing at the time.
“Even to this day, taking a time-out to enjoy a spicy Szechuan mala dish or a big bowl of Ramen is helpful to reconnect to a time when things moved a lot slower,” Randy said.
Hot pot reinforces Randy’s Asian identity because he said this family-style meal is the very nature of Asian cuisine. Because hot pot is a mix of ingredients and styles, there are countless recipes for how to make it. Common things to consider when making hot pot include:
- Soup base
- Ingredients that span vegetables, dumplings, meats, seafood, noodles, mushrooms—and anything else you desire. There are no rules.
- Sauces for dipping include condiments like soy sauce, satay sauce, sesame sauce, chili oil, dried herbs and spices such as chipped chilies, scallions, minced garlic, and fried garlic.
- And last but not least, you can’t forget the attitude of “sharing is caring,” Randy said.
Sunanda Patel, senior account manager, AWS Worldwide Commercial Sales
Growing up in Texas, Sunanda Patel didn’t always embrace her family’s Indian cuisine. She recalls eschewing Indian food for Southern American classics like cornbread and barbecue.
“As I grew up, and as I began learning more about my culture, I grew to love the flavors and spices, especially as we celebrated Indian holidays, weddings, and large family get-togethers,” Sunanda said. “These get togethers helped me learn more about the immigrant journey—and why get togethers were so special for our community.”
One of the most prominent and widely used ingredients in her family’s traditional Indian cooking is turmeric. In most traditional homes, Sunanda said you’ll also find a tulsi plant, which is considered a holy plant and the “queen of herbs.”
“Both of these herbs played a big role in my life, as the health benefits of both were touted in detail and revered,” Sunanda said. “In fact, anytime I was sick with a cough or cold, my Mom would make a turmeric and honey drink—which always helped.”
Through this drink, Sunanda learned that Indian cuisine is delicious and the cultural food traditions also impart ancient health wisdom. This led to Sunanda’s interest in clean, healthy eating, and inspired her to bottle her mom’s healing turmeric drink. The product, called TumiBee, is a blend of turmeric, raw honey golden milk, tulsi, and grass-fed ghee (clarified butter). She sells it online through Amazon.
“It’s my way of passing down my culture and ensuring the next generation gets to enjoy it, but also to share our ancient family recipe with others so they can reap the health benefits of this elixir, as well,” she said.
The recipe is simple:
- 1 tbsp TumiBee
- 4 oz warm water
- 4 oz warm milk of choice
Place TumiBee in a mug, and add water.
Stir with gratitude (with each stir, say what you are grateful for!)
Top off with milk of choice.
Usha Kamat, senior technical program manager, AWS Robotics and Autonomous Services
Usha Kamat grew up in a small coastal town in Southern India called Kumta. She moved to America in 2000 and kept her far-away food traditions very much close to home.
Ganesh Chaturthi is a Hindu festival that features a wide variety of dishes prepared over a three-day celebration. Usha recalls every member of her family helping out during this festival, and she fondly remembers arranging turmeric leaves for a dish called “kadamb” when she was as young as 6 years old.
“This festival jogs my memory back to large family gatherings with extended family, and the inclusion that was practiced towards younger children,” Usha said. “Our family found a suitable chore for every single one of the attendees.”
Usha remembers hearing the stories behind each tradition from her grandmother. When she hosts her own version of the celebration, she said she makes sure to tell those stories and share the memories with her children so they’re aware of the family’s rich history and culture.
“Such traditions have taught me the value of bringing everyone together. In general, food brings friends and families together and gives everyone an opportunity to show off their skills. I have tried so many recipes off the internet apart from my own tradition and have served them in large gatherings,” Usha said. “It has given me confidence to try things and more importantly, share with others. I feel proud when I share some of the traditional food that I make at home with few friends and colleagues here at AWS.”
Her favorite recipe for kadamb, an idli (savory rice cake), includes cucumber, coconut, sugar, turmeric leaves, mustard seeds, and red chilies. You can find the recipe published here on Usha’s cousin’s blog.