When I was in kindergarten, my best friend was a girl called Lulu. We both had straight long black hair - often braided or in pony tails - and we both loved ribbons and we both often brought home made goodies for reccess. Lulu and I were both the only daughter in a family full of boys so our feet had never touched the ground. We both loved each other and used to share everything and went everywhere together. Then one day, we talked about banana cake.
"My mother's cake is the best in the whole world." She said
"No no. My mom's one is the best. Hers is moist, full of banana, tastes of butter and full of special nuts."
"My mother's cake smells, taste and feels like banana."
"No no my mom's cake is the best. she made it with real butter and real banana. Not banana essence."
"My mother make hers with real banana too and I help to peel them."
I kept quiet when she said this of course. I was never allowed in the kitchen then. And honestly if my Mom had her way, I should never be in her kitchen at all... not even when I was 35.
"Aww Awww" I remember screaming. Lulu was always pinching me blue and black when I seem to be dreamy and not paying attention to her. This is her favourite way to *wake me up*. She inflicted pain on others since she was 4. Maybe that is why she is now a dental surgeon.
"Say something. Stop dreaming. My mom's cake is better. Tomorrow I bring you some."
The next day Lulu came to school with a big white box. She slid into the bench we shared and whispered, conspiringly, "Can you smell it?" Her eyes glittering. I nodded. she slapped my shoulder excitedly.
"I brought you one whole cake. ONE WHOLE CAKE. My mom made it just for you."
The teacher didn't approve of the gift and took it to the staff room. Lulu wouldn't have it.
"Teacher, my mother made the cake for Lisa not for you or other teachers. She made it special for Lisa and Lisa only." The teacher told her she shouldn't bring such a colossal gift for one person and I wouldn't be able to finish the cake on my own. I should share it with the other children. The cake she said will be safe in the staff room and she will cut it to pieces to be distributed to all the children.
"Teacher, my mother made the cake for Lisa. Lisa has to be the one who cut it and eat it. She must see the cake in one piece so she can see it is pretty and full of banana." Can you see she is adamant? Lulu's face was getting redder from anger and frustration.
I raised my hand and stood up next to Lulu.
"Teacher, Lulu said her mom made the best banana cake in the world. She bring it today so I can eat it."
At this time, the teacher was quoting Lao Tze and was telling some ancient chinese stories - yes I went to a chinese kindergarten - something about people being poor, and the lesson in life is to be noble and sharing your food with everyone.
"The children here are not poor," Lulu was stomping her feet by then. "Charles' dad is an engineer and Edith's mother is a doctor."
"Yes their mother can make their own cakes," I stomped my feet along.
Suddenly half the pupil were raising their hands.
"Teacher, my mother makes the best banana cake in the world." and another hand was raised, another child making similar claim.
The room was bustling with claims whose mom makign the best banana cake.
"My mother makes the best banana cake in the world. If you all must try it, you can each have a small piece but the cake belongs to Lisa."
By this time, the head teacher was already inside the room. Having found out we were the ones who started the commotion, we were told to stand in the corner and not allowed to have a piece of cake. We were told to think of what we did and to *repent*.
Lulu and me didn't *repent* that day. We were not allowed to talk to each other or anyone. Being in the corner means you ahve to keep quiet and think of your mistakes and sins. There was a silent bond between us not to cry or cave in for that cake. We were comrades in the war of the rights bring the best banana cake to school. The war to protect her mom's honour. The war for her rights to bring her best friend a whole cake if she wants to. And the war for me to eat a whole cake if I want to. We didn't get a single slice of cake. We didn't see the cake at all. We went home with more home work that the other kids - more words to practise our calligraphy on.
Yes we were both that stubborn. We would rather be hungry than share the cake with anyone else. Maybe we were that greedy.
That afternoon, my mom received a call from the school and from Lulu's mom. She wasn't happy with the call from the teacher but she was laughing with Lulu's mom. And then she told me she is going to make banana cake for Lulu. For the first time, I was allowed in the kitchen to peel the bananas. That was also the first time I saw how a cake is made from start to finish.
My mom was explaining to me that you must cream the sugar and butter until it turned *white*. And the eggs were to be mixed one by one and the flour had to be folded. I was intrigued. My mom promised that when I am bigger I will get to mash the banana.
"Mummy, can I maybe bake the cake one day?"
"When you are bigger of course," she promised.
The next day, I went to school with two cakes. A big one to be cut and shared by all the other children and the teachers. A smaller one - I think around 6 inches - just for Lulu. My dad passed it to Lulu's dad at the school yard before we enter.
The kids were happy to eat a piece of cake at reccess. I told each of them, "Better than your mom's yes?" They nodded, happily eating.
"Your mom's cake is wet and sweet," Lulu said. "My mom's cake is dry. It doesn't stick to my fingers." She was licking her fingers as she say this.
"I told you my mom's cake is the best in the whole world."
"No, your mom's cake is just wet. And why does she put all these nuts in them? It is banana cake." She said.
"Because it makes it yummier. My mom's cake is better than yours."
"No. My mom's cake is the best. She will send you some on Friday so the teachers will not steal it again."
Lulu was right - her mom's cake was drier and crumbly. It was more of a butter cake with banana in it rather than the real banana cake that my mom made. My mom sometimes make the drier version when she made banana cupcakes but usually it is the dense, moist and nutty and full of banana. Just the way I like it.
I have waged other (less fun) wars with other Malaysians and Singaporeans after that all on banana cakes. I remember the last one - I was 29 - was with this woman who made a banana cake with cream cheese frosting just to prove her mom's cake was better than mine. I got so tired of competing
with her, I took my brownies once when she invited me to her house for dinner. Everyone there loved it and it made her cry. My brothers christened the brownies *The Brownies that made the CPA cries* after that. I felt bad for stealing her show but I was quite relieve not to have to listen to her "My so and so is better than yours" anymore. I still wonder why each of us with moms who bake will go to war for their banana cake's honour! why not butter cake or chocolate cake?
Lulu now lives in Canada and we call each other once or twice a month. When my mom was still alive, she used to call her too for recipes and such. Once she called me 20 times on the same day to find out how to make chocolate bread pudding. She called my mom in between just to be sure I didn't hold anything on her.
My mom makes the best banana cake in the world.
And the recipe will remain a secret.