Mary-Linh Tran

Junior Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

This article is part of our monthly issue “#ThrowbackNovember,” in which we’ll explore various aspects of childhood memory through the lens of food. We’ll share fun recipes that riff on those memories and a slew of fantastic videos featuring our team in hopes that you’ll watch, share, and comment on with your own nostalgia-filled takes. Check out this link to find an overview of all our weekly topics, stories, recipes, and more.

Growing up in the 1990s, my childhood was filled with frosted lip gloss, hard candy rings, and glittery butterfly hair clips. This was pre-Y2K, a decade marked by some of the most bizarre flavor and fashion combinations to make us feel modern and futuristic, including a slew of kid-specific meals that heavily shaped my appetite. Nothing made me jump with joy as much as neon colored cereal, DIY lunch kits à la Lunchables, dinosaur nuggets, microwave ramen, and questionable cookies from a miniature oven that had just enough heat to give a seven-year old the impression that they were actually baking.

It seems trivial to compare the food we enjoyed as kids to the eating preferences we now have. Kids are notoriously picky eaters and perhaps children of immigrants, like myself, are particularly defiant of the food their parents present to them. For one thing, it never resembles any of the food you see in school cafeterias or recreational centers or at your friend’s house. As a small child, I used to dart out of Chinese restaurants, wailing like a banshee, whenever anything came out from the kitchen in a sizzling clay pot. The pickiness that shrouded my siblings and I meant that whenever my parents found a way to make what they loved eating into something we enjoyed, they’d recreate it over and over again—even at the cost of diluting the recipe. In practice, this meant preparing separate bowls of phở and separate stacks of spring rolls for us because we felt threatened by the citrusy punch of cilantro and the strange stiffness of sun-dried shrimp.

Would I say my parents were bad home cooks? Sure, but that’s because they tediously fished out all the ingredients that make Vietnamese food so delicious to appease a hoard of picky eaters—a labor I now recognize as unconditional love. Thanks to them, I now know that Vietnamese food should never be stripped down to its bare ingredients. Bún riêu is nothing but a sad tomato soup without the fermented shrimp paste. Bánh mì without the pickled carrot and daikon? Forget it. And don’t get me started on cơm tấm without the shredded pork skin. Save for this last dish, I can fortunately now cook and eat Vietnamese cuisine in all its funky, fantastic flavors with my parents, a ritual that happens far too scarcely since I relocated to Germany.

Our parents’ kitchens are the first place we encounter food, and for many of us, they were places of nourishment and love, night after night, even if we yelled and cried and whined about the “stench” of something or the squidgyness of mushrooms. In this week’s video, some of our team members reveal the tricks their parents’ pulled out to encourage them to eat their greens, vegetables, and all the other things small children often recoil from.

#ThrowbackNovember: Week 3

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How did your parents persuade you to pick up the food you didn’t like as a kid? Let us know in the comments—we look forward to reading them!

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