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.
  • Claire Ryder

    Mum taught me to be generous to others, give and you shall receive kinda thing, but she’s also taught me not to be a doormat.

  • I’ve learnt that my mum is always right even if I think I am 🙂

  • Harrison

    i learned from my mother to have good manners

  • Lil

    I’ve learnt from my mum to always grab the products at the back of the shelf because people tend to pick up the front ones to test them. I’ve also learnt from her to look for pre opened products at the front of the shelf to check what I’m getting.

  • Lex

    Mum taught me life is tough but with a good support network you can get through anything. Love conquers all.

  • Jen, you put in words what I can’t say about my mum. I so many ways, that was how I grew up with mine. Doing kitchen chores, I remember beating cake mix with hand, no mixers then and rolling glutinous rice balls till over midnite. hahaha 😉 This is such a beautiful post. Wishing you and your Mum a Happy Mother’s day.

  • I’ve learned that I never actually need to grow up.

  • Krystle Fong

    My mum has taught me, compassion, how to snag a good bargain, and to always pack my bag the night before so I don’t forget anything in the morning rush! 🙂

  • Nawww…so may touching tales behind migrant families! My mother and I share a serious love of food though she can’t afford to be as adventurous due to various food intolerances. My father isn’t too fussed about food so I take Mum to many more places than him. Which reminds me – need to think of somewhere to take her for Mother’s Day!
    Hope you and the siblings share a wonderful one with your mum!

  • canela

    My mother taught me to be conscientious.Always saying “if you’re going to do something, to do it well the first time”!Gold 🙂

  • thanks for sharing the story – sounds like your mum’s very supportive of what you do and taught you and your siblings well! haha production line! would like to see your mad spring roll skills one day too 🙂
    hmm mother taught me what sacrificial love is 🙂

  • Ophelia

    I learned from my mother that life is too short for bad friends, bad attitudes and cheap chocolate.

  • Josephine

    my mother taught me that good communication is important in any relationship, and to finish my rice, lest my face be covered in pimples XD

  • this was a beautiful post Jen, i really enjoyed reading it. Some people don’t appreciate mom as much as they should 🙁
    its kind of hard to say this.. but i’ve gotten close to my mom (and dad) since my sister passed away, its brought us closer together, to apprecaite life and to live life for our sister who didnt get the chance to.. i sit down and talk to my mom everyday now, she’s my bestfriend.
    whenever im about to chuck a sook about something, or be sad about something, i think of my mom and how sad she is for losing a daughter, my sister, and it really puts things into perspective for me, i can only know how it feels like to lose a sister, but not how it feels to lose a daughter, your own flesh and blood, came from your womb.
    i always remember that my parents lived a hard young life and growing up did not have the money to live comfortably, they worked hard for my and my sister to have what we have today. so i always have that in the back of my mind whenever i am going somewhere or doing something, spending my money wisely, and putting them first whenever i am able to. listening to them when they ask me to do something, or when they ask me not todo something.
    my mom is always right, ALWAYS, and i’ve learnt that now because i listen to her always! even when i think “nah, she’s probably wrong about this’, in turn, she was spot on right about it.
    taking my mom out for lunch shopping and pampers for mothers day ^_^

  • kelly jones

    My mum taught me how to be strong and stand up for what you believe in and never settle for second best, she also taught me that there is a time and place for kids and parents to become friends and I am so glad that she did, I have so much more respect for her now and am happy that we are able to be so close

  • Kate Toon

    How to boil an egg, shave my legs; always be strong, admit when wrong and now I’m a mum, to be kind, thoughtful and fun!
    25 words exactly! Phew!

  • Mel M

    My mum taught me that there is no love more sincere than the love of food, so feed well those you love!

  • Not an entry here Jen but love the story 🙂 Ophelia love your answer too xx I learnt from my Mum don’t be scared to love someone or reach out to someone who needs it.

  • Joanne

    My mother was and is the person who is still working for all my family’s living expenses because of my father’s illness. But all in all, shes taught me how to be wise of things. That in life i have to handle problems that could instantly come my way. She’s taught me how to be brave, and although we’re not rich, she’s taught me that i can help people with kindness, generosity. To give all i can, and not ask for a return. She’s taught me: “the steeper the mountain, the harder the climb, the better the view from the finishing line” and she’s also taught me to live a life i won’t regret. 🙂

  • Maybel Huang

    My mum has taught me to be polite and nice to others but also to love myself for who I am and love my family.

  • Christina

    My mother taught me how to respect other people, also, how to grow my own vegetables and fruits. It’s always so much more tastier!

  • It’s very wonderful that you care to remember and share about your relationship with your mother. You make her proud for sharing such moments with her. I can’t wait to see your next “passed on” recipes, though. Cheers! 🙂

  • Kym Lenoble

    Live your dream without consequence of outcome and follow your heart. My mother taught me neither. She did stand behind me when it happened though.

  • Alison Lee

    Mum taught me to never look down on someone unless I’m helping them up. Also, how to make the perfect Duck Pie.. Forever indebted!

  • Emma L

    My Mum taught me the value there is in a sincere apology. We are now rebuilding our relationship and I love her more every day!

  • No-one ever said parenting was easy, but be sure your ALWAYS a mum first and a friend second. It’s NOT a popularity contest.

  • Keith Harper

    My Mum taught me that you can’t have everything you ask for, but you can always ask why.

  • liz

    Such a beautiful story!
    I’ve learnt from my mother that
    no matter what life throws
    no matter what journey we embark on
    we will still meet on a dining table
    be it in person or in spirit
    we have each other
    and life goes on
    for the better.
    Sometimes we get so caught up in this society’s rat race, we fail to appreciate what is the most precious thing in our lives. She says to stop and smell the roses, I say thanks for those tender loving meals sustaining life and most of all, for bringing me to life.
    Have a great mothers’ day~

  • Xuan Nguyen

    Unconditional love, she may not always like or agree with what I do but she’ll always be my mother and I my mother’s daughter.

  • Catherine W

    Mum taught me that two wrongs never make a right and that cheap chocolate should be illegal 🙂

  • Keith Harper

    My Mum always taught me that life is too short to worry about the small stuff. Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things!

  • Alison Lee

    Mum taught me how to mix a mean cocktail and how to drive manual. 2 massively important skills for any gal! Love my MUM!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Veronica

    Of all the wonderful life lessons mom taught me… was How to Be A Loving Mother Myself. Sharing your Legacy of Love to next generations.

  • Dongstar

    One thing that I’ve learnt from my mother is to give unconditional love to your family. I will never forget that and have witnessed it first hand myself of how much she loves me.