The best leftovers ever: how food brings together my family

Melissa Chen

When we think of food, our minds usually go to cooking, shopping, ordering take-out or eating in restaurants. Bringing home leftover food, however, is just as meaningful in my family.

My dad used to work at Google, which provided free breakfast, lunch and dinner for their employees. He would often bring home a couple containers of food that would contain anything from big, juicy cuts of pork or chicken covered in interesting sauces to aromatic curries. Seeing a little stack of those brown containers on the counter, I’d lean in close and, before opening them, try to guess by smell what could possibly be inside. Sometimes, if the food was deemed too plain by my mom or my grandma, they would add seasoning and create a new dish out of it. 

My mom, too, would have meetings at work or office events that would involve some kind of meals or snacks. She would mention it to my brother and I beforehand, and in the evening when we heard her car pulling into the driveway and the engine sputtering to a stop we would sprint to the door and see if my mom had brought any leftovers home for us to sample, confident that she wouldn’t forget us.

Even my grandma, who lived with us, brought home leftovers sometimes. She was friends with other grandparents in the area and families from church. They would have occasional house gatherings from which my grandma would be able to bring home some food, treats she never made, like squares of golden-brown sticky rice cake or an inventive fragrant little salad of squid and radish. 

When I was younger, I loved food — even more than I do now — and these occasions when my family would bring home leftovers from outside events and places were a great, spontaneous opportunity to try something tasty. My grandma’s cooking was great, but eating the same dishes and flavors over and over got a little tiring. 

Later, I started experiencing the other side to this food sharing, giving rather than receiving, and I began to appreciate these rituals even more. Potlucks, sports or after school activities would sometimes end in me bringing home some random extra food like a packet of sugary Capri Sun or leftover cookies and chips.

Usually only my brother would be excited to eat what I brought home, but I still felt a lot of pride swell up in me when I watched him eat it— much to the dismay of my grandma, who had usually just cooked dinner and didn’t want our appetites to be spoiled. When you’re younger, you usually hate sharing, so it was satisfying to put my selfish feelings aside and be able to provide for those closest to me. It also felt like a measure of responsibility and maturity that I was able to save some of the food for my brother and family rather than eating it myself. Being able to make one of my loved ones’ faces light up by presenting them with a little treat was rewarding. 

On the receiving end, it was nice to know that my family cared and made an effort to save some of the tasty food they had eaten outside of our home. I think my family and I can agree that food is often better shared. For me, bringing home food demonstrates selflessness and responsibility, as well as a commitment and love for my family. I like to think that it represents how, whatever different directions my family and I may go in our lives, we will always return and come together again, bringing a piece of what we experienced on our own back to each other.