“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

On the last evening of Ramadan, I sit on a stool with my tummy grumbling, silently begging for a mouthful of beef rendang that is stewing on the kitchen stove.

My senses are assaulted by the fragrance of coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots, and chili flakes dancing in hot oil and the sweet aroma of glutinous rice and coconut milk slowly simmering in bamboos over open-pit fire. All around me, Mama and her siblings are busy tending to one cooking station after another, mixing spices and meat to the delight of my cousins and I, who are watching from the sideline.

“Keep pounding that kerisik, we need it for this rendang!” Grandma’s gravelly voice reminds us that we are not, in fact, mere spectators but apprentices who will one day learn the recipe and take over this tradition.

With that sensory renaissance, I marvel at how these disparate ingredients, under intense heat and pressure, cooked over time, create such explosive flavors balanced by simple harmony of the different elements.

I was ten then, but that one moment in time remains vivid in my mind. That simple lesson I learnt in my grandma’s kitchen rings true; individually we are unique but not exceptional, just like a single stalk of lemongrass is aromatic but not delicious.

My life will be like that delicious beef rendang, awakened by heat and pressure but made rich by the diversity I have experienced along the way.

— Adzmel Adznan