In the lead up to Mother’s Day this year, I thought I’d share a bit about how my mother inspires me. This blog post contains no recipe and no restaurant review – just a personal recollection of my relationship with my mother, how she has helped shape my love of food and how we continue to bond over food.

I grew up as the eldest of three children. There’s a year gap between my sister Christina and I, and a two year gap between her and my brother Roland. When I was in year 12, my mother gave birth to Bryan. So then there were four of us.

Here is a recent pic of us with Mum –

JENIUS with siblings and Mum
[Left – right]: Roland, Bryan, Mum, me, Christina

My parents are both migrants from Vietnam. My father left his large family to come to Australia by himself, and my mother came with my grandmother, all in search of a new and better way of life.

Our household always had an abundance of food; the fridge was always bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables and the pantry, loaded with plenty of local and imported delicacies.

My mother used to drag us out of bed at the crack of dawn (we took turns to accompany her when my father had to work) to Paddy’s Markets at Flemington, where we would buy our groceries in bulk by the box. It begun as a much dreaded chore – I would yawn endlessly and my fingers would ache from pulling a grocery cart which seemed twice my weight. Having to also dodge flying elbows and out-of-control trolleys made the task of following my mother, even more overwhelming. You see, she’s got a map of the market suppliers all in her head and within a quick stroll, she will have worked out where the best produce and bargains were at. She taught me how to be a savvy shopper and I witnessed first hand, the art of selecting and appreciating quality produce as well as learning the concept of value and negotiating.

This abundance of food at home also transfers to the dining table, where her serving portions are always beyond generous. (It’s no wonder everybody in my family is on the chubby side of things!) It is a far cry from the minimalistic lifestyle she had grown up with in Vietnam. I suppose our abundance makes up for what they didn’t once have.

It wasn’t anything crazy though. Spending was sensible and my frugal nature is reflective of this upbringing. I will forever love my mother’s freshly baked Banh Chuoi Nuong (Vietnamese banana cake) which uses day old bread and over-ripe bananas. I used to beg for a piece, straight out of the oven. It would burn my tongue, but the reward was the most incredibly moist and fragrant cake. We would then eat so much of it – hypnotised by its irresistible aroma – that we’d be too full for dinner.

In the kitchen, a production line was often formed and us kids were tasked with various duties. I have fond memories of separating wonton and spring roll wrappers. As I grew older, my duty was upgraded to folding and wrapping these delicious morsels. I learned to do that efficiently and consistently. In fact, I kick-ass at wrapping spring rolls, so perfect and uniform, you’d think they were machine made. I also learned that food brings people together and now I love nothing more than hosting lunches and dinners with family and friends.

Like many migrant home-cooks, my mother didn’t have recipes. Food is cooked from the heart. Of course after years of sharing tips and recipes with her friends, there are now many treasured recipes in her notepad which feature perfected instructions for anything from Chinese steamed buns to Bun Rieu, a Vietnamese pork and crab noodle soup.

There are still many recipes which haven’t yet been documented, but this great mission has commenced. My progress has been a little slow with only two recipes done – Xiu Mai (Vietnamese meatballs, which is actually my Dad’s recipe) and Teochew Peach-Shaped Kueh – but I assure you, there are many more to come.

My mother’s curious nature and love for food of all cuisines also meant that it was common for there to be fried rice for dinner on one night, and spaghetti bolognaise for dinner the next. We’d have so many multicultural food adventures.

This is where my blog comes in.

I created it when I began my working life and started to eat out a lot, sometimes with her, and sometimes without. I’d be so excited about a particular dish from a restaurant that I’d spend the next day sharing detailed recounts of it with friends over email or instant messenger. With my mother, I would always be rushing home to show her my food porn photos on my camera. So the blog became an efficient way for me to share my love of food. It was one place for me to share the experience and taste, with many.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from my upbringing is to not take life for granted. I’ll always be grateful for the extreme hurdles that my parents have gone through to give me the opportunities that I have today – and that is what drives me, professionally, personally, and gastronomically. The idea of life being too short for bad food was also a big driving factor behind why I originally started to blog. All these spectacular food adventures were too great to keep to myself – I wanted my family and friends (and now, you) to experience it too.

On top of all of these foodie moments with my mother, what I appreciate most about our relationship is our intuitive connection and her endless support. I thought she’d freak out when I told her (two years ago) that I wanted to quit my job; But what I got, was a proud mother beaming over the fact that I was taking the steps to living my dream, which coincidentally is all about food.

JENIUS with Mum
My mother and I

WIN a $500 Lindt prize pack!
To coincide with Lindt’s tribute to motherhood promotion, I have a fabulous $500 Lindt prize pack to giveaway to one lucky JENIUS reader!

JENIUS Mother's Day competition - WIN a $500 Lindt prize pack

The prize pack will consist of a Lindt chocolate hamper valued at $250, plus a $250 Myer gift card!

For your chance to win this awesome $500 Lindt prize pack, simply leave a comment here and tell me in 25 words or less, one thing you’ve learned from your mother.

Terms & Conditions
This competition is a game of skill. Chance plays no part in determining the winner. All entries will be judged individually on their merits based on originality and creativity. Multiple entries are welcome, however limited to one entry, per person, per day. Please use a valid email address. Competition closes 07/05/2011 11:59pm AEST. Competition is open to Australian residents only. Winners will be announced on this page on 08/05/2011 and notified via email.

Don’t forget you can also enter Lindt’s competition to win one of five $1,000 photo sessions! Head over to Lindt on Facebook and share a photo of you with your Mum and a short dedication for your chance to win.

[box_alert]*** UPDATE 08/05/11: THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED.[/box_alert]

Congratulations to Kate Toon! Thank you so much for all the fabulous entries and for sharing your stories. I hope everybody has had a lovely Mother’s Day today!
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Jennifer is the founding blogger of I Ate My Way Through (originally, Jenius.com.au). Growing up in the multicultural melting pot of Sydney’s Inner West as a second generation Australian (of Vietnamese refugee parents of Teochew Chinese ancestry), Jen has always had a deep curiosity about global cuisines, culinary heritage and the cultural assimilation of immigrants. For Jen and her family, food is always at the centre of all celebrations, life events and milestones. A lover of the finer things in life, as well as cheap eats, her blogging ethos is all about empowering and inspiring people to expand their culinary repertoire. When not running her two companies (she is also the Managing Director of The Bamboo Garden online marketing agency), Jen can be found exploring old-world charms at vintage markets and delving into local eats around the world. She has a weakness for fried chicken.