If you’d like to join in on a little theater as I present my strange fascination with leftovers, please strap into your seatbelt and ride with me for a moment. It’s an appreciation not unlike a love affair. Something about leftovers attracts me so much that I can’t go a night without them.
Why leftovers? Don’t really know… Something about them. When you put a few dishes together in a single bowl or a Tupperware, and have things sit together overnight, it creates this pure magic—a taste you can never achieve when dishes have just freshly been made. All the goodies from each individual dish are mixed into one another and create this out-of-this-world flavor, and texture. This mushy, flabby, gooey entity that’s screaming at me, “Don’t I look magnificent?! Now, don’t hesitate… come on! Dig in. Dig into me!” is simply irresistible.
The temperature is important. Because they come right out of the fridge and we won’t warm them up (no microwave has taken up residence here), they’re refrigerator-cold. But, that chill is an attraction. Their helplessness and imperfection is another, disintegrating and crumbling away into one another despite trying valiantly, yet humbly, to retain their form until that last moment. Their modest attempt to satisfy me with all their might despite the awkward presentation is mercy worthy. There is a nostalgic feel to it.
In one of Sakaguchi Ango’s novels, there is a character who wouldn’t eat warm meals because he was a farm boy from the countryside, and he was so used to eating cold meals outside on breaks between laboring. He’s so determined to eat things cold he only eats after allowing warm food to cool. Now, I’m not saying I was a farm girl and laboring away my childhood in a similar environment, but this element is interestingly relatable.
Eating leftovers does remind me of my childhood. A time when I used to enjoy leftovers in all their deliciousness almost every night except weekends. In my elementary- and middle-school years, I used to practice badminton pretty seriously, and every weekday except Thursday, I had badminton after school until 9:30 pm. By the time I came home, everybody in my family had surely finished their dinner, and there I was at the kitchen table at 10 pm, eating what had been set aside for me, and those meals fundamentally bore the feel of leftovers. I got so used to this style of eating, acquiring a taste for lukewarm, left-behind food, imperfect in shape, as it had been pushed and pressed this way and that by the force of my mother’s chopsticks. Thus, eating food in this way fills me with a sense of nostalgic affection.
I’m a grown-up now and I have my own home, but still, it lingers. Here at home, Doc is almost a perfectionist when it comes to serving food. Being the marvelous cook and baker he is (he’s the first person I know and probably will ever know, to bake bread without an oven, but in a deep stew pot. “Irish ingenuity,” he says. All sorts of extraordinary breads—rye, whole wheat, scone-like bread, shortbread, chewy, dense types—pop out of that pot like sorcery.), he will make sure the soup is hot, the rice and stir-fried vegetables are nice and warm, the bread is toasted and crispy brown… He’ll happily announce the food is ready, and yet I’ll still check if we have any leftovers in the fridge that can be brought out to the table.
“Alriiiight, Cheeks, dinner is ready!”
“Wow…….These look amazing! Wow, beautiful! Thank you…thank you, Bear… Umm, can I… can I check leftover-san? ”
He’s probably hoping I dive right into those freshly-made, flawless dishes he’s cooked up… maybe a spicy pan-fried salmon, or daikon that’s been simmering for several hours in a kelp broth… all nice and warm, and at the perfect temperature. But I can’t help but triumphantly aim my chopsticks straight into the mushy mixture of bamboo shoots and mushroom, the carrot-tomato-cucumber salad, and the boiled pumpkin cubes squished into a Tupperware container from the night before.
That is where it’s at.