Food & Culture

Benjamin Law: how I eat

The writer on the joys of instant ramen, celebratory Champagne and yum cha dates with strangers.

By Lee Tran Lam
Benjamin Law
Your dad ran a restaurant called Thai Breakers when you were growing up. Was Thai food a big part of your diet?
That came in the teen years. He's Cantonese-Chinese and he had Cantonese-Chinese restaurants when we were kids. His Thai restaurant was my first introduction to the cuisine. His staff were Thai; they were such great cooks, so I felt really spoilt for other Thai food I'd eat later on.
When you were starting out as a writer, was there a budget meal you ate when money was tight?
A good brand of instant ramen with fresh greens. I think that's legitimately a good meal. That's what I ate then and it's what I eat now.
How did you celebrate your first book deal for your memoir The Family Law?
My boyfriend Scott has always been great at getting a proper bottle of Champagne when something like that happens. And I'm not talking about Tasmanian Brut sparkling, even though I love that shit. I might've bought oysters. Champagne and oysters: clichéd sitcom aphrodisiacs!
The book was adapted for SBS and became the first Australian show with all-Asian-Australian leads. What was that like for you?
It was in the back of our minds that it'd be a landmark show, but in the forefront of minds, we wanted to make a really good show that was about divorce, while making sure the cultural aspects of the family were right: they spoke Cantonese round the table; they had congee for breakfast – even though it was a Queensland summer; the dad watched late-night Canto dramas while eating fruit with hot water on the sofa.
The Family Law's latest season broke ground for being the first Australian show to focus on a teenager coming out. What kind of response was there?
A lot of parents were watching with their children, so we got these beautiful moments of parents and their teenage kids writing in and saying how important the show was. People talk about the "gay agenda" and we absolutely went into it with one that was quite aggressive, but also fun and silly.
One of the prizes during last year's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's telethon was a yum cha date with you. How'd it go?
The date was won by a lovely woman. We ended up really connecting and we remain friends to this day. I think people were like "ugh, is that weird, you're going to yum cha with a stranger?" Every Chinese person has been to yum cha with strangers, because you have at least three relatives there that you don't know and you don't even know how you're related.
You were once given a gingerbread Benjamin Law. Is that the best gift you've received?
That was pretty special. And it wasn't just me, there were gingerbread representations of me, George Christensen and Tony Abbott. Strange yet illustrious company. And I got to eat us all.
You were on SBS's Filthy Rich & Homeless. Did it make you think differently?
I realised that I've never been properly hungry. And then faced with not having money, temporarily, it's all you think about. How am I going to ask that café for a sandwich? Are they about to throw stuff out? How am I going to dumpster dive tonight?
You recently edited the Growing Up Queer in Australia anthology. What helped you get through the job?
That was fuelled by lots of green tea. Particularly ti kuan yin. And fruit. You know what? I'm becoming an elderly Asian father. Green tea and fruit, oh god!
Growing Up Queer in Australia (Black Inc, $29.99, pbk) is out 6 August. The Family Law is currently showing on SBS on Demand. Benjamin Law co-hosts ABC's Stop Everything! podcast.
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