Benjamin Law has written for more than 50 Australian and international publications, and has penned two books – all by the age of 30. The Brisbane-based author learnt to cook by osmosis from his Chinese-Malaysian mother, and here he shares his foodie loves and challenges.
Catherine Osmond

27 Aug 2013 - 1:15 PM  UPDATED 13 Jun 2017 - 9:52 AM

What's for dinner tonight?

We’ve got a friend over so I’m cooking. We’re having lemon thyme salmon in panko crumbs – sort of a blend of Japanese and Italian. With roasted carrots and beans, and for dessert a spiced apple and ginger pudding.


It sounds like you’re confident in the kitchen …

I know a lot of people find it stressful (and it can be!) but I sort of cook to get out of myself. And it’s just a part of our daily rhythm of life – my boyfriend and I probably eat in most nights.


Your parents ran Chinese restaurants when you were growing up in Queensland. Did that have a big impact on your attitude to cooking?

I don’t think we helped in the restaurant that much because we were sort of bratty children, but I watched my mother cook. Just watching when the garlic goes in, the onions and the soy, which chilli sauce to use … you learn all that stuff by osmosis, and you learn to take care in cooking.


So were you raised mostly on Chinese food?

I didn’t have my first Sunday roast until my early 20s or something – that was a really foreign thing. There were a lot of stir-fries. But my mum is Malaysian-Chinese so you’ve also got a lot of Malaysian flavours and British colonial influence – Bovril as a seasoning, for instance. We also had our share of greasy takeout … one thing that binds my family together is a love of meat pies.


What's a family dish that you still love?

I still eat congee, and clear soup with noodles, vegies, seafood or meat is real comfort food for me. Also my mum’s sweet and sour pickled mustard greens and tomato soup, which is kind of a hot and sour Chinese-Malaysian version of minestrone.


What ingredients couldn't you do without?

Eggs. Also onions and garlic … and frozen pastry. It just means you can do something with whatever you’ve got in the fridge. Anything with pastry tastes good.


What do you eat when you're working from home?

My habits can get really bad, but that’s why ramen’s so good: you make a soup base, chuck in the noodles and some leftovers and it seems like a legitimate food.


What’s the most challenging thing you’ve ever eaten?

I’ll pretty much eat anything. When I was growing up we used to try to gross our friends out at yum cha by eating chicken feet (after doing a puppet show with them). The one thing I haven’t eaten is balut – egg with a partially developed embryo in it. I’m curious to see whether that would be my last threshold.


And your last supper?

Fresh oysters and good fresh rye bread and butter … and a Bloody Mary.


Benjamin Law is the author of The Family Law (Black Inc, RRP $22.95) and Gaysia (Black Inc, RRP $20). Benajmin Law's childhood memories come to life in The Family Law season 2. Tune into SBS for the brand new series starting Thursday 15th June at 8.30pm. Find more about the new season here

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