Friday, June 24, 2005

Meme - The Cook Next Door

All right, I've just been to Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Hainan (Haikou, Xia-Shan, Xinlong, Sanya) and Shenzhen and nary a word on the China leg of the food adventures. It's been a week since I got back but, understandably, the photo editing, compilation and making things not-boring is a slow ongoing process which competes with day-to-day life and preparing to leave the country, not to mention an attention starved lover.

But this arrived recently and having not posted in ages, I thought this would be something quick and interesting to post. A cooking meme has been started by Delicious Days and it has gradually reached me via Epicurean Debauchery. You know those "Getting to know you" emails that we've all received and passed on, the ones that ask odd things like, "What colour underpants are you wearing now?" well, this is also a "getting to know you" type of posted, but about our food habits and usages. It's being compiled in a great fashion (all family tree-like) by Delicious Days, so it will be interesting not only to read, but to see how our network is formed.

Anyways (as they say in LA - we say "anyway" in Antipodes) here is my contribution.

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
As a male child growing up in Malaysia, I was strongly discouraged from the kitchen. The many searing gas burners, precariously balanced woks, heavy tree-stump chopping boards and glinting giant cleavers were deemed too dangerous; not to mention the fact that men never cooked (unless they did that for a living, like my grandfather who cooked for the British colonials) but acted as the food critic.

My first attempt was actually a recipe from an Australian cookbook for children: Cooking with Sheri, her Apple Snow (apple puree in uncooked meringue) recipe. Needless to say, I was a major inconvenience to my grandmother at the time with my demands for kitchen access. She was very busy as she had lard to render, prawns to peel, chicken to slaughter and fish to clean. Needless to say this first attempt was rather unsuccessful as the stewed apples were lumpy (I didn't have access to a masher or blender to make the puree and had to squash them with a fork) and the meringue tasteless. My mother took pity on me and help me work with the egg beater to achieve the required texture, but revelled in her prediction-come-true that the end result would be tasteless and bland.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
My mother's uniquely Malaysian (Chinese) sense of the gourmet has the most influence on me. She was the one that taught me about the necessity (if somewhat fallible) chef pedigree viz. "Don't order the curry from [a Malaysian restaurant]. They're Chinese and don't know how to cook good Malaysian curry." She was the one who showed me how to make curry pastes, fried noodles and other essentials necessary for the running of our takeaway at the time. I think it was more out of practical necessity rather than a desire to pass on knowledge that I got educated - but I choose to see the love behind it.

I also have strong influences from the River Café cooks and Delia Smith primarily for their treatment of ingredients and the fresh and clear flavours they espouse.

Do you have an old photo as 'evidence' of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
I'm sure there's a photo of me somewhere with chocolate cake smeared all over my face, but it's in my familie's photo vault in another country. There may be one of me eating noodles as well. Fortunately I have lots of childhood photos, unlike my aunt, whose only photo got ripped up and urinated on by a marauding Japanese soldier looking for comfort women (that's another story for later).

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
Anything with the instructions, "Now working quickly, simply..." Usually this applies to chocolate or other high-fat and low-melting desserts that need to be shaped before they come to room temperature, or only have a very narrow pliability temperature range. I get scared, my hands sweat, they increase in temperature, they heat the food, it melts as I touch it - it all goes wrong.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest let down?
I don't tend to use a lot of kitchen gadgets as I've been living an itinerant lifestyle for the last 6 years or so. I bought a hand-held mixer which has been invaluable in cake making, whipping, etc. I also love my citrus zester which has given me plenty of palate-lifting rind.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
Savoury oat porridge. I like my oats (porridge) savoury with (in preferential order): bacon, sausage, smoked meat, butter and chives, tomato sauce, scrambled egg. I've also managed to convince my bf of the value in the savoury so it can't be that weird!

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don't want to live without?
Butter, fish sauce, noodles. I could live on noodles (but I'm having a break from Chinese food as I'm all Zhong-Guo'ed out from the last two weeks). Butter is the salve of heaven; I recently discovered the Danish butter Lurpak - I never thought butter could taste so good! Fish sauce is another elevating ingredient for me, it converts anything into savoury magical goodness.

Favourite ice-cream: Not really into ice-cream but gelato is the rage here in Sydney at the moment. I would pick wasabi if given a choice.

I will probably never eat: Scorpion, snake, ants, day-old mice - anything vaguely medicinal that is derived from vermin, invertebrates or reptiles. I saw lots of 'tonics' involving the above ingredients in China, usually in giant glass jars in front of the restaurant. I'm curious to try deer penis liquor though.

Signature dish: Very basic, this one - bacon and egg fried rice.

A common ingredient you just can't bring yourself to stomach: Radishes. Odd I know, but there's something bitter and icky about them that doesn't diminish no matter how I've tried them: boiled, baked, roasted, deep-fried, thinly sliced. They're so pretty and evocative to look at but I've never enjoyed eating them. Perhaps I lack the delicious-radish enzyme to release it's true flavour?

Ok, now to pick the lucky three. I'm going to choose Umami, AromaCookery and Tabetai. Not sure if they will all respond, but hopefully this should add to the Asian flair.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Holiday: Day One - Breakfast

I'm on holiday visiting relatives in Malaysia and China at the moment. Here's what I had for breakfast on Day One.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Location: Leichardt, Sydney

Sydney is full of ethnic enclaves. Certain suburbs are like small versions of the original countries. Punchbowl is popular with Middle-Easterns; Cabramatta populated by Vietnamese; Ashfield, Burwood and surrounding suburbs by mainland Chinese (the size of that country takes up a correspondingly larger amount of suburb area).

Leichardt is considered the mini-Italy in Sydney. Thus, a plethora of Italian restaurants.

It was my last night in Sydney before I depart for China and bf took me out to dinner. Our friend S had recommended before that we try Sapore at the forum. The first time we went there with our other friend K, it was Mothers' Day and of course totally packed. That time we went to Dante instead and had a very enjoyable meal.

This time Sapore was busy, but we were shown straight to our table as it was just the two of us. The waiter was incredibly friendly and jocular. We felt very comfortable in his care.

We ordered calamari fritte (deep-fried squid rings) to start. I ordered a linguine gamberi (linguine with prawns in cream sauce with snow peas and sundried tomatoes). Bf ordered a mushroom risotto,

The meal was overall ho-hum. We didn't really like it but the price was ok. A list of what was wrong with the meal:

1. Frozen calamari was used - there really is no excuse for using frozen seafood in Sydney. It possesses the 2nd largest fresh fish market in the world. Japan has a bigger one.
2. The deep-frying oil needed to be changed - You could taste the degraded and burnt fish oils in the batter - not nice.
3. The risotto was made with the aid of a stock cube - I'm not against the use of stock cubes, but this was patently obvious and of low quality.
4. The prawns in my linguine were frozen - see point 1.

If choosing to dine here ask to sit inside. We sat on the 'patio' section and were surrounded by people who thought cigarette smoke is the perfect accompaniment to Italian cuisine. Imagine holding a cigarette and fork in one hand while cutting your steak with the other. Ugh.

So, if you're at the forum, I recommend going to Dante instead. Also ask to sit inside because of the ubiquitous carcinogen problem.

Entrées: $6 to $9
Mains: $14 to $18 for pasta, $20+ for grill dishes, e.g. chicken or steak