She made Buddha Bowls before Buddha Bowls were cool. My step-mom could not shake off all the parts of her traditional Thai female role. Although Tippy had Americanized herself regarding fashion, popular culture, and career, her true domain was the kitchen. Even though she allowed dad or me to help out as a sort of sous chef, Tippy was possessive about her kitchen work.
Many times, after dad completed an outdoor chore, or when I arrived for a visit, Tippy would prepare a Buddha Bowl to eat. The Buddha Bowls were always different, and they were always very delicious. They were also fast and easy to prepare.
I once asked Tippy why she called her one-off dishes Buddha Bowls. She explained that in Thailand, as in many Asian countries, monks stop at the homes of laypeople to request something to eat. The only possessions that monks have are their robes and their bowls. Traditional Buddhists place their food offerings into those bowls every day.
Monks are taught to accept whatever food is offered to them, regardless of quantity or quality. An individual monk never expects what or if he will eat each day. When they do manage to beg some sort of meal, it will consist of different ingredients according to what the laypeople give them.
When Tippy was a young girl, often times she had the privilege of offering monks something to eat. The monks’ bowls were all the same size, so she learned how much food it takes to fill each bowl. Usually, the bowls contained some food from several laypeople, so only small portions were necessary. This was the practice because usually more than one monk stopped for food. This means that variety of ingredients is an unavoidable aspect of Buddha Bowls.
Of course, here in the United States, monks do not go door to door begging for breakfast or lunch. Such behavior in our culture is not only socially discouraged but is probably illegal. Tippy’s way of honoring the part of her traditional role was to prepare a Buddha Bowl for anyone who may be hungry.
By the way, there was no refusing Tippy’s offer of a Buddha Bowl. Even if you weren’t hungry, she insisted that you must have at least a little something to “settle the stomach”. Then, when she brought out the treat, you would certainly be hungry enough to savor the Buddha Bowl.
Most of the time, the dish included some rice, because Tippy always had cooked rice that was ready to go. Sometimes she would give out traditional Pad Thai with a side of whatever chopped fresh vegetables were in season or she had from the supermarket. Many times Tippy used leftovers from the previous day and freshened them up with a dash of special sauce or even fresh fruit.
One of the ingredients Tippy did not mention, but always included, was love. Every single Buddha Bowl was exquisitely delightful to eat and special because of the love she had for family and friends.
To know Tippy was to be well loved and fed with wholesome food. It was always an honor to receive a Buddha Bowl and be treated like a holy monk.