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Ladies that Lunch (Brunch, Afternoon Tea & Snack): Vera Chok

I’m really interested in the things we talk about when we share food, and that time we share when we sit down and eat and drink. I’m interested in community, how we fit into the world, how we measure ourselves against the world, and the fact this year seems a particularly political year, a year into a new government after a coalition, with the EU referendum, plus London’s mayoral campaign.

I am also acutely aware that within popular media, there are still too few a space for women to have conversation that range across different topics - the Bechdel test is still relevant to do today, with many films failing. Therefore, this is an interview column with women I find inspiring, and we sit down and eat and drink. It is very much a 'short & sweet' snapshot, but hopefully is an insight into some wonderfully interesting people. 

I recently sat down with Vera Chok, writer, actress, performance maker. We have, over the years, talked a lot about identity, trying to understand how our south east Asian identities fits into the western world we’ve chosen to live in. We’ve created work together, supported each other, and had a lot of laughs and danced a lot, not to mention shared meals in many countries.

What does ‘success’ mean to you? What does the word mean to you?
Success for me is about staying in my shoes, and being recognised, sought after, and rewarded for it. It’s about remaining free to follow my curiosity, as opposed to being trapped by ambition. It’s about my experience of the world expanding, not shrinking, and to be surrounded by joyful, naughty, inspiring people.

What would be a political word, or concept, or philosophy do you want to know more about?
For me, life is about learning. I don’t have a burning desire to learn about any specific political concept because all isms work perfectly in theory. It’s distressing to see how through history and across the globe, concepts are misunderstood or misused. Everyone should study anthropology.

What is your understanding of community?
People held together by shared goals and interests. This ties in with how I like to uphold curiosity as the driving force. I prefer thinking about community without the usual emotionally laden connotations attached e.g. duty.

Some people look down on community, e.g. community theatre is seen as being unsophisticated, but that’s silly. There’s so much strength in real, rooted, communities.

We all live off our phones, especially in our busy lifestyles, but do you know any phone numbers off by heart still? If so, who’s?
My dad’s number in Malaysia.

Thinking about a dish or a food from your childhood, what would be the one thing you would have now and would it live up to the stands of time, of being an adult?
The chicken biscuit from Ipoh. It’s doesn’t taste chicken-y though. It’s this brown chewy filling inside a thick flaky pastry. Savoury and sweet. Ipoh is getting a lot of attention as a destination right now and the biscuit reminds me of my childhood where, on a cross country trip, Ipoh was just a place you stop to  buy chicken biscuits at before driving on. It would be interesting to visit and explore it now. “Chicken biscuit” is also a fun phrase.

Would you like to try one that tastes more chicken?
I’d like to have the ones I used to have. I liked the weird chewiness of it, and it got stuck in your teeth. Chewiness is such a childhood sensation.

When you are really hungry, what food do you think about?
Always Malaysian. I used to say chicken curry, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. I think I’m attached to the idea. But, I do think it’s always rice, and always with gravy. And a curry.
It’s so hard to get a good chicken curry, the chicken skin, the crumbly potato. So, ok, I’ll stick with chicken curry. It’s idealised though.

I think if I did eat it now, the stodginess would bring me down, I hardly eat rice anymore. I used to eat rice every day, several times a day. Everyday! Now I don’t. It feels very strange.

What’s your favourite meal of the day?
I like brunch and supper. Someone explained that it’s because they’re not seen as necessary meals. They’re necessary to me, because I am always hungry, but they do feel like treats. And, supper means you’ve gone out, you’ve probably been doing something glamorous.

And brunch is glamorous too! It means you’re getting up late, relaxing seeing friends.

What are we eating today?
I’m having a fresh mint tea. I’m kinda cross that it has sugar in it. I didn’t ask for a new one, though.

And we’re sharing a slice of walnut cake. I feel conflicted about having it because my new regime is about only eating what I really want, and I don’t have a sweet tooth.

What is your favourite meal from this week?
Nasi lemak. It’s been a good week for eating.


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