When David of A Banana in Australia tagged me to this cooking meme, I was thinking, Oh No! I am no good with memes. Everyone knows I am an imposter at cooking. My vino friends sigh that I still cannot differentiate left from right or old from new. I am also not the type to do personality tests to check which kitchen condiment I closely resemble.
But, well, turns out this meme is right up my street. It allows me to do my favourite thing which is to blabber and wax nostalgic about my younger days. It was started by Nicky of Delicious Days .
What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
Cooking: I was about 9, I think. Instead of studying, especially if the subject was Mandarin or Math, I would hang around the kitchen. To observe Chan-Che peeling prawns, cleaning chicken kidneys, cooking dinner, making rempah; sometimes I asked questions and sometimes she assigned me simple chores like cutting cucumbers or beating eggs. Sometimes she would throw in small wisdoms that still float in my head, like" never add water when frying kangkong, or only salt the fish moments before frying"
Eventually Chan-Che let me fry a whole egg by myself. Then I graduated to roasting peanuts in the wok. Once or twice I fried rice for our lunch.
Baking: That would be at Marymount Convent School, where I made Rock Cakes-recipe in our Home Economics text book which comes after Tea / Coffee. I was 13 then and it was my first time using an oven.
Before then, we had an oven in the house but neither Chan-Che nor Mummy knew how to bake. So the oven was more an object of curiousity, we opened the glass doors to hear the metallic echo, and sometimes stored our toys and books inside.
Who had the most influence on your cooking?
At first I thought of Chan-Che, but later I remember that I only seriously started cooking when I went to study in London. The main person who guided me was my aunt L.
We call L aunt even though she is close to our age, about 5-6 years older than us- because her father is my grandfather and her mother is my grandfather's third wife. I credit L with opening my eyes and palate to foods I would never have discovered on my own. Aunt L has her own family to look after now, but back in London almost 20 years ago she was also our surrogate-mother figure, looking after me, her younger siblings and other cousins.
I first arrived in London a week before Christmas. L made the roast goose, a large platter of lamb chops and helped grandmother make some chicken curry for the Christmas Day feast. That set the standard. Pretty soon it was my turn to cook. My cousins helped me to make spaghetti bolognaise with minced beef and tonnes of vegetables, no recipes, we threw everything in the pot and boiled them well. When it was served, all the meat had melted and disappeared. Obviously there was room for improvement.
L is not really the best cook I know, but she was adventurous and really loved cooking elaborate meals for us. She didn't have many cookbooks but what she had, she used extensively. The Yan-Kit So cookbook which was our bible, sometimes Ken Lo contributed a recipe. A thick book on classic English foods, though we ignored those recipes that instructed boiling the meat. She shared tips she learnt from going to cordon bleu classes, I learnt what is shortening, and ventured to make my first quiche, first custard, first shepherd's pie. We were always cooking, it could be creme caramel, or her mum's special siew yoke.
So, yes, L. While Chan-Che dispelled any fears of entering the kitchen, I have L to thank for encouraging my curiosity and for being around at a time when I either could learn to cook and eat well, or be lost and subsist on instant noodles and institution food like some of my university mates.
Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
No. Our family had one camera and it stayed in its special box most of its life. Photo studios are places one go to to have pictures taken.
Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
Not really, but recently I've had some disasters with making zhong nai- a milk pudding set with ginger juice.
What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Most valued: The wok. It steams, fries, boils, smokes and roast.
Biggest letdown: The mezzaluna mincing knife I bought when we honeymooned in Paris. The cleaver does a better job.
Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
Only when I am not feeling well: cut-up overcooked ramen in canned mushroom soup.
Fu yu (fermented bean curd) mashed with rice wine, sugar, sesame oil.
Minced parsley (loads of it), scallions, chilli and anchovies, mashed and bound with olive oil. A versatile sauce to go with boiled vegetables, fish or pasta. I know many people who hates parsley and anchovies.
What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
1. Rice and by-products: I need rice fix at least every three days. Fine beehoon every week.
3. Roast duck. Crispy aromatic duck. Duck with sour plum sauce. Assam duck. Erm, duck.
Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!
Your favorite ice-cream… Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie
You will probably never eat… dog meat.
Your own signature dish… stir-fried chilli-shrimp eggplant.