Category Archives: Dans Ma Cuisine

Dumplings For Dummies


It’s been a while since the start of the Chinese new year.  The Chinese are into their Water Dragon year and they are hoping the economy will start looking up this year. Who isn’t?  With the state of affairs in the Eurozone and America, whether you’re Chinese or not, we all want the economy to be looking up.

At the girls’s school, I was invited to celebrate the CNY along with the children.  Why me?  Well, I am a bona fide Chinese after all, born to Chinese/Singaporean parents who hail from immigrant peasant stock.  My maternal grandparents come from Swatowa province in China.  My father’s folks, though, are a little different because they are well established in the Malayan peninsular for over 3 generations and they belong to a nomadic tribe of people called Hakka.  Daddy’s great grandfather came from China to work in the rubber plantations in Malaysia. On my father’s side, we are Peranakans and since the Chinese are patrilineal, I am a Peranakan by descent.  The Peranakans also celebrate CNY in a big way, having kept most of the Chinese traditions and festive celebrations.  So that means, I’ve been celebrating the CNY since the day I was born.  So obviously, I have lots of experience in this important Chinese celebration….. you’d think, anyway.

I’m always a little nervous when I have to represent “The Chinese”.  It’s a sad state of affairs, I know, when a person has difficulty representing who they are! It’s a major case of identity crisis!  My excuse is this: I’m Singaporean, albeit Chinese/Singaporean, besides I’m a Peranakan.  I am just not in the position to represent 1.3 billion people who speak 56 different languages depending on what part of China they hail from, with Mandarin Chinese being the nations’s only unifying language.

Anyway, my problem, not theirs.

During the school’s CNY celebrations, I learnt that in China, on New Year’s eve, families gather together for a reunion dinner in anticipation of the New Year and eat lots and lots of festive dishes pregnant with flavours and symbolisms.  One of them being – the Chinese Dumpling or jioazi.  The Chinese teacher doing the presentation taught me this.  I already know of the Reunion dinners, having missed out on them for over 20 years since leaving Singapore.  I have very fond memories of the delicious dishes that my grandmother used to cook for these dinners, only we didn’t have dumplings.  My late grandmother was Cantonese so the symbolic dishes she cooked up were very different. We had every else except dumplings; there were noodles, braised duck, steamed fish and a vegetarian dish steeped in symbolisms except no one bothered to tell me what they were about. This said dish consisted of very fine seaweed, a type of sea moss, that resembles black hair, stewed in a gravy made with air dried oysters.  Pork belly adds oomph to this dish and I remember talk about the entire thing being stewed for hours on end.  This dish has a pun to its name which in Cantonese means “fortunate happenings and good luck”.   Speak about identity crisis.  I couldn’t have done this presentation even if  I wanted to.  The children of the International School of Paris, although used to living international lives and being taught to be internationally minded, would be so confused.  I couldn’t be responsible for this.  Luckily I found someone whom I could delegate the job to. She’s the park teacher at school, born in Shanghai but brought up in New Zealand by authentic Chinese parents – more Chinese than I’ll ever be. Rule number one in management: When you can’t handle the job, delegate!

She explained to the children (and I was paying lots of attention) that the dumpling is a very important dish to partake of during the reunion dinner.  The dumpling itself being the quintessential symbol of unity and re-union.  It is in how the dumpling is made that this symbol of unity comes from.

As you may already know, the Chinese dumpling is a wheat based, meat filled parcel.  All the ingredients for the dumpling are mixed together before being used to fill a skin made from flour and then folded in a particular way so that the ingredients are kept intact in the cooking process which usually requires boiling.

There you go, the symbol of unity – tight familial bonds.  Family members all wrapped up together, united and strong.

I’m an expert at eating dumplings along with my family and tons of other people out there.  I’ve never made dumplings in any way that made me appreciate the labour and love that go into producing them.

After listening to Dani, the Chinese teacher explain why dumplings are so important and symbolic, I decided to hire myself a dumpling teacher to show me just how these little morsels of deliciousness are prepared.

My kawan, Cindy Z-P, a Korean who has lived all over the world, has a lady who comes and cooks for the family twice a week.  She can cook both Korean and Chinese.  Wow! Two birds with one stone, I thought.  Great news!  So I hired Mme Chian as well.

Mme Chian or elder sister Chian as I refer to her came with all the ingredients necessary for dumpling making:

1 kg of mince pork

3 bunches of Chinese chives, chopped into 0.5 cms length

1 bunch of Spring onions or green onions, chopped into the same length as chives

1 sliver of ginger, chopped finely

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 carrot, grated

2 cups of bean sprouts, chopped finely

1 piece of tofu (the firm type), chopped into small cubes

1 kg of organic Flour (farine de blé)

I watched her squeeze all excess water from the vegetables before adding them to the meat that she had flavoured with soya sauce, sesame oil, a sprinkling of salt and pepper. She leaves the ingredients to take in the flavours of the marinade and proceeded to make the skins.

Adding water to the flour and an egg to bind, she mixes and kneads until a fine dough is produced.  To keep the dough moist, she puts it into a zip lock bag and leaves it aside for later.

Then she proceeds to prepare the storage equipment to place the wrapped dumplings.  This comprises of my chopping board that she wraps in foil. She explained that she needs an area for dumping the dumplings after they’ve been cooked so they can cool down for packing.  (In most cases, dumplings are prepared and consumed instantly, so they are piping hot and fresh.) I was kindly asked to clean (disinfect, rather) the draining area by my sink for this operation.  While I’m washing the cooling station, she is preparing the vat of water that is needed to boil the little gems.  To the water, she adds a pinch of salt and a drop of oil.  Then she wraps in tin foil a baking tray which she has retrieved from my oven to be used as a storage dish for the cooled dumplings.  My kitchen is segmented into various work stations.  I am impressed by all the improvisation that goes on. In a Chinese kitchen, there are no special contraptions for anything, everything is improvised.  I think about how complicated a French kitchen is with its myriad of contraptions and cooking tools and utensils and laugh at my purchase of a special asparagus holder.  I only bought is because being in Paris suddenly made me feel very lacking in terms of cooking utensils, naked and insecure in my kitchen, cooking asparagus without this special container.

It’s wrapping time.  She takes half a spoonful of meat and plops it into the middle of the skin which is round in shape, folds the two halves together and the corners to make a shape like a semi circled pillow.

She makes 20 in under 10 minutes, wrapping, folding, wrapping, folding.  I offer to help.  She shows me how and I make one in 10 minutes because I can’t get the folding right. I persist, wrap, fold, wrap, fold and I finally get it.  She is so proud of me and laughs.  We chat about all sorts of things, she, in her very heavily accented Mandarin and me, in my pidgin form.  We manage to understand each other – amazing.  I lack vocabulary and she makes up for it by signing or pointing. She laughs again when I finally get her.

She tells me about Liaoning, where she is from. Being so close to the North Korean border, she also speaks Korean.  Her grandfather is Korean, she tells me, where he escaped into China, running away from poverty stricken North Korea.

She tells me about her daughter who has recently graduated from the “Big School” or University and is now in Beijing working.  Her husband is in South Korea, also working and she has been in Paris for the past 7 years.  In this way, both spouses hope to earn enough to retire back to China by leveraging on the interests earned from their incomes in both the Won and Euro against the Renmenbi.

We wrap, fold, chat.  She tells me that in Liaoning, they eat dogs.  I raised my eyebrows at her, signalling to her “let’s no go there, lady”.  But facial cues are different in different social scenarios and she doesn’t understand me and continues.  They’re wild dogs, she tells me, not the lap dogs that I’m thinking of.  These wild dogs are big and “very wild” (her words) and they have to be cooked in a special way with special herbs, to eliminate the strong odour of their flesh.  Someone, expert in slaughtering these dogs, comes to the special restaurants where wild dog stew or soup is served to take care of the dogs and by that she means, kill them.  While I’m listening to her, I’m thinking that this is really not a very good case for the people of China in convincing some other people in the Western world that eating dog is a good thing, just like eating deer or wild boar.  Elder sister Chian actually says that wild dog meat is like any other type of meat. Nobody bats an eyelid about eating dogs in Northern China. To me, it’s like saying that it’s good to eat that huskie, wild and savage as it is.  I’m not convinced but I don’t say anything, it’s too political.  I wrap and fold, wrap and fold and just listen, wrapped up in my own thoughts and culture shock.

I cast my mind back to the day that my girlfriend and I were walking her dog, a little yorkshire terrier, in Kensington Park, London when an old and very eccentric English lady pointed to my friend’s dog and told everyone concerned to be careful in case I, pointing an accusatory finger at me, end up cooking the mutt.

The water is ready and she drops the dumplings gently, two by two, into the pot.  Then she returns to the folding station and wraps and folds some more.  The water comes to a boil and she tips a small cup of cold water into the pot.  The bubbling stops and she leaves the pot alone.  I ask how long the dumplings usually take to be cooked.  She explains that I have to tip in cold water twice before they are ready and on the second tipping, I have to retrieve the dumplings immediately.  Don’t let the water boil over because the dumplings will break, she warns.  So I don’t have to watch the clock, I say, just the pot!  This brings to mind that a watched pot never boils but who’s to argue with a wise old Chinese lady who has cooked dumplings like this for time eternal, just like her mother and ancestors before her. I am humbled immediately.

It took us 4 hours to complete the task of making and cooking these dumplings.  She leaves me with over 200 little gems of deliciousness that I served up for dinner that night accompanied by a dish of soya sauce infused with a drop of sesame oil for the children and the same concoction but with an addition of chilli powder for the Italian and me.

Dumpling making for a dummy like me has been a wonderful learning experience.  She will teach me how to roll the skins she says in part 2 of Dumplings for Dummies.  I can’t wait.

In the process, Big Sister Chian and I became friends, bonded by the laborious nature of wrapping and folding and cooking, then cooling the dumplings to be stored in freezer bags for storage, chatting and laughing all the time.  I envisioned many a females on the day of the Reunion wrapping and folding, chatting away, exchanging news of adventures and love in a country kitchen, happy to be reunited with their sisters, aunts, mothers and grandmothers in “laojia”, the old family home before the start of every New Year….. I am reminded that I belong to this tradition and I instantly feel proud of my roots.

*** Kawan kawan, please bear with me. I will be posting photos of my first class in Dumplings 101 in the next blog post.  I am experimenting with a new way of blogging, text first followed by photos in a separate blog, to see if my “fans” like it…. please feel free to comment.

 

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For the love of Jamie


Another school week has ended, bringing us to the weekend of Epiphany.  We celebrated the Galette des Rois at CB’s with plenty of food and more presents. There we ate lollipop chicken, hungarian sausages, Italian Panettone and of course, the galette, accompanied by copious flutes of champagne.

Weekends are usually for rest and relaxation.  SS often has plenty of homework to complete and RN just wants to stay home and listen to music.  She said a very funny thing one Saturday morning, a few months back while lying on the floor, still in her PJs, head on a fluffed up cushion and a woollen sofa throw over her legs, “Ahhhhh! I dream of staying home everyday, listening to music in my pyjamas!”  She had her eyes shut, clearly in another world with Andrea Bocelli  playing in the background.  This child of mine!

Today was an exceptionally lazy Saturday.  My plan was for some R&R – reading, listening to music and writing, simply chilling.  Of course when you have a young family and a husband with exactly the same plans, the only R&R I got was cooking the dinner at lunch time! But who can blame the Italian, he had been at work all week and the last thing he needed was for his femme to tell him that she had no plans but to chill which translated into man-talk sounds like this: ‘It’s your turn, honey!’

However disgruntled he was with my R&R plans, he acquiesced and took RN to the movies later, leaving me time to bond with SS. Not exactly the “alone” time that I had planned but that’ll have to wait until the kids fly the nest and the husband takes up golf in his mid 50s. There is hope yet!

I had a plan to start this year on a clean cooking slate.  This plan involved cooking more wholesome, tasty food with the freshest of ingredients, to improve on my repertoire of dishes so that the girls and the Italian would benefit from a wider variety of cuisines.  I also planned to utilise more herbs and spices to add depth to my dishes.

I’ve been a fan of Jamie Oliver for the longest time.  His recipes are so easy to put together and to execute.  From time to time, I would delve into the only cookbook I have of his,”Jamie’s Dinners”, looking for inspiration and pointers.

I thought I would make my own version of Caldereta  since the family enjoyed the last one that manny Ted had made.  Jamie has his version called “Jool’s favourite beef stew’ which I thought I’d copy and adapt to the ingredient in my fridge and dried goods corner.

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 Onion chopped

A generous sprinkle of herbes de Provence

800 g of stewing beef or boeuf bourgignon, cut beef into cubes of 5 cm

sea salt or kosher salt (I used sel de fleur)

flour to dust

4 carrots, peeled and halved or sliced into big, thick chunks

1 red pepper, chopped into chunks

2-3 tblespoons of tomato purée

1 beef stock cube (pot au feu) mixed into 285 ml of water (of course if you have stock that you’ve made yourself, you win the award)

2 glasses of red wine

3 -4 cloves of garlic, depending on how much you like the taste of it

Piment d’Espelette (optional)

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 162 degrees C. Put a generous glug of olive oil in a le crueset or casserole pan. Add your onions and herbes de Provence and fry until fragrant, takes about 3 -4 minutes. Toss your meat into some seasoned flour, then add to the pan and brown.  Add water and tomato purée, 2 spoons if you feel it is enough.  Add your stock cube, wine and bring to boil. Add the piment. Put the lid on the pan and bunk it in the oven and let it cook for 2 hours.  Depending on your oven and your meat, this stew should take no longer than 4 hours. I cooked mine in 3.

In the last hour, add the carrots and red peppers and allow to cook until the meat is tender. This ensures that the carrots still keep their crunch and the peppers are not overcooked. Jamie’s version included parsnips which are quite rare in Paris but there are green grocer’s who sell them, and Jerusalem Artichokes which are plentiful here.  He adds all his root veggies at the beginning of the cooking process but I prefer my vegetables crunchy, so I added my carrots and pepper later. The stew is basically done when the meat is soft and yields to the prodding of a wooden spatula.

Serve this over pasta or rice.  I served mine with big pasta tubes.  Jamie says adding a sprinkle of a mix of chopped rosemary, garlic and lemon zest will pump up the volume on this dish. I can see why because this mixture which is his tweak on gremolata releases a fragrance so beautiful when it hits the hot stew that it leaves you salivating for more. No wonder it’s Jool’s Favourite Stew. Lucky her to have married a celebrity chef!

My Favourite Stew

What is your vice?


Kawan kawan, the three cooking mamas are back in full force, this time with a new addition, GWF, otherwise known as Zen Mama.  We cooked a very simple dish from Singapore, chosen by yours truly.  This dish is called Gambling Rice and is adapted from a recipe by fellow Singaporean, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan of “Tiger in the Kitchen” fame.  The story goes that Tan’s grandmother who used to run a gambling den in her very own home invented this dish to keep her patrons gambling.

Gambling , a very Chinese past-time, is indeed very rife in post-colonial Singapore and Malaysia.  Gambling dens, although illegal, were found in almost every nook and corner of 1950s Singapore.  These dens were mostly run by matriarchs, eager to make some money on the side while their husbands toiled away as coolies, carrying sacks of rice and other goods on their bare sunburnt backs to and from the platform to the godowns found along the Singapore river.

Today, this river is a site for another sort of trade – restaurants and nightclubs. The godowns which used to store goods have been converted into trendy restaurants and nightclubs and have become a tourist hotspot.

Two years ago while on holiday in Singapore, I had the opportunity to stay in one of the 2 casino hotels that was recently opened in the city-state.  The Marina Bay Sands boasts of a SkyPark, 57 stories high where you can swim in a swimming pool the whole length of the hotel against the skyline of Singapore.  The observation deck boasts of views of the Singapore River, Sentosa Island and some other very famous sights of the city.  The view was indeed spectacular, kawan kawan, and the swim in the pool was fantastic.

With the opening of the Marina Bay Sands and the Resort World Sentosa (both since 2010), we see the official opening of Singapore’s first casinos, recognised and endorsed by the government of Singapore.  The history of legalizing gambling in Singapore has been a fraudulent one.  In 1823, it was briefly legalized in the then British colonised Singapore but this led to gambling addiction and the rate of criminality soared which led to gambling being made illegal once more within the next three years.  It is not without much debate and rancour that arose amongst the citizens of Singapore regarding the building of casinos before these casino hotels were opened.   Many groups in the city-state like the muslims and christians stood up against the legalizing of gambling in this form.  As a result, the government has levied a tax/fee on any Singaporean entering the casinos in an attempt to deter some people from this vice.  If you were a Singaporean citizen the fee to enter any of the two casinos is S$ 100 per entry and you would not be allowed to take out any credit facilities otherwise extended to non-Singpoareans.

Like Tan’s grandmother who understood that gamblers cannot bet on empty stomachs, these casino hotels have 24 hour restaurants or snack bars serving their die-hard patrons who are willing to fork out huge sums of money in the hope of making more.

Everyone has a vice, I suppose.  For some people, it is gambling, others, smoking and still some others, it may be shopping.  Whatever the case, all vices somehow involve an exchange of money, in my opinion.

Tan’s grandmother fed her gamblers rice in order to facilitate and make it easier for her patrons to part with their money so that her own pockets could be lined.  I say, “What a way to make money, Madame!”  This dish is also so easy to prepare.

Follow this link to her recipe:

Whilst preparing the ingredients, I could see the many variations this dish could take.  Instead of pork, chicken can be added.  Why not try duck too?  The dried shrimps could be substituted with fresh prawns.  Cabbage is a great vegetable for this dish so I wouldn’t substitute this at all.  And, if you are like me, without a rice cooker big enough for the proportions required for this recipe, you can use a cast iron pot or a clay pot.

Here’s my own version of this dish: I used already cooked belly pork , siew yok, instead.  I removed the crackling and diced up the meat into 1 cm cubes.  The heibi (har mai in Cantonese) or dried shrimps is a a typical condiment in SE Asian cooking.  It is used to make stock for soups or added into bland vegetables, like cabbage to enhance its flavour.  Instead of these dried shrimps which has a very distinct aroma of its own, one can also use dried scallops.

Dried Shrimps

The dried ingredients like the chinese mushrooms and fungus and dried shrimps had to be soaked in warm water first.  The mushrooms needed to be re-hydrated before being sliced into thin strips and the shrimps had to be softened before being roughly chopped into smaller pieces.

Soaking the dried goods

The bowl at the far end is the siew yok that I had cubed.  I discarded some of the crackling but kept about a handful for flavouring.

These ingredients then had to be fried separately starting with the shallots.  This flavours the oil for the next batch of ingredients like the pork and heibi.  But kawan kawan, I imagined myself the matriarch of an illicit gambling den, having to feed my gamblers asap with whatever I had in my pantry so that they would stay on gambling into the wee hours of the morning.  Did I have time to fry the shallots, remove them with a slotted spoon, put aside but leave as much oil as possible in the frying pan before frying the pork, browning it only to remove the meat to do the next batch of something?  Of course not, kawan kawan! My hungry gamblers had to be fed.  The girls and the Italian had the honour of playing the parts of my hungry gamblers. So a matriarch with hungry gamblers has to do what a matriarch with hungry gamblers has to do – fry all the ingredients at once.

RN came into the kitchen scrounging up her nose for the smell of the dried shrimps.  You’ve been warned kawan kawan, they smell to high heaven if you’re not used to aromas from a SE Asian kitchen.

But when fried altogether, the smell of these tiny prawns disappear and become mixed into the general aromas of cooking.

All the ingredients happily mixing together

The cabbage was added last.  The recipe called for soaking the shredded cabbage leaves in water before frying.  I just washed mine in a colander and allowed to stand before adding the moist leaves into the wok.

Now add the greens

These greens were then stir fried for a couple of minutes until a little wilted. Don’t over-cook the cabbage as the last part of the recipe says that the ingredients will have to be added into the rice cooker/claypot/le creuset cast iron pot with the uncooked rice and then cooked some more until the rice is done.

I used my le creuset cast iron pot because my rice cooker was pathetically too small for the recipe amount.  I would have liked to use a claypot but induction stoves don’t make for good claypot using.  So there, I had my answer and the le creuset which doubled up as automatic rice cooker and claypot.  If you were to use a claypot, a crust of burnt rice will form at the base of your claypot which is very normal. When serving from a claypot, you just have to be careful not to scrap the bottom too much.  WIth the le creuset, I had my crust of burnt rice too. This actually reminded me so much of home because when The Mother cooks her version of this type of rice dish she calls claypot rice, we actually loved scraping the bottom to get pieces of burnt rice out – it’s crunchy texture and slightly bitter aftertaste added another depth to our family dining experience.

My le creuset Rice

This dish is really a very Teochew one.  Tan’s grandmother, like my mine and my mother all come from the same province in China.  The ingredients for this dish are so typical in a Teochew household.  They are also ingredients that have long shelf lives so can be kept in the pantry for a rainy day.  Cabbage keeps for a quite a good time in the fridge.  I have a feeling that this dish was “invented” by Tan’s grandma out of necessity.  I have great admiration for such women.  Tan tells the story of her grandmother in her book ” A Tiger in  the Kitchen”.  You can follow her and read about her adventures in her blog.  Scroll down and find her on my blogroll. She is a fellow migrant soul and a wonderfully kind person.  I know that because she is friends with my baby sister which links Cheryl and I together in an uncanny way. I am truly proud of this fellow Singaporean who followed her heart and wrote a book about growing up in Singapore, sharing stories and anecdotes (some very private ones) of her extended family.

Serve the rice immediately with any type of Asian Chilli sauce.  I served mine with papa’s “secret” chilli sauce.  Just so you know, the kids loved it and the Italian even had a second helping.  Well, that’s always a good sign when an Italian digs into a Teochew risotto!  Marco Polo, grazie!

Gambling Rice - Pua Kiew Bng

Liking the Latkes


Latkes are a traditional Jewish dish served during Hanukkah.  It has gained popularity as a Hanukkah dish because of its method of cooking.  Latkes are fried in oil, commemorating and reminding the Jewish people of the oil that provided light for 8 days.  Hanukkah is in essence the Festival of Lights, a Jewish celebration that lasts for 8 days, of the rededication of the Temple as depicted in the Bible or Torah.

A Hanukkah Favourite

I came across this recipe from a mother at the girls’s school.  My daughters, one big, one small, both go the International School of Paris where they are educated in the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy that celebrates and embraces difference.  Of course, mathematics, science and PE, amongst other academic subjects, are taught too, just in case you’re thinking that the IB is a strange religious sect that only teaches the children to eat, love and pray.

Jokes aside, we love the IB way of education.  My children are learning to be citizens of the world, they are beginning to understand that we are all different and also the same in the human race and that it is our responsibility to observe, preserve and conserve peace in the world.  They are beginning to see that dialogue is so very important in the pursuit of peace and that language is no barrier to communication.

Latkes:  I wanted to make something with the potato that I had in the fridge.  I had a packet of Latkes flour which I’d purchased from the Jewish boucherie on the corner of my appartement.  It had been sitting on my dry goods shelf for ages and was speaking to me in a language that only I understand….. Eat me! Eat me!, it said.

Well, what actually happened was that the packet of Latkes mix miraculously jumped off the shelf when I was pacing my kitchen floor for some inspiration as to what I can do with 4 potatoes.

Well, it required grating the said potatoes, leaving it to dehydrate whilst I sliced up a small onion and minced a clove of garlic.  It is important to squeeze every bit of H2O from the shredded potatoes in order to make beautiful latkes.  Water will cause the oil to spurt and spurting oil is UGLY! (in Mrs M’s favourite word! Don’t you just love it? A single word that gets to the point! Thank you Mrs M.)

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 4 medium size potatoes, shredded
  • 1 tablespoon grated onion or a small onion
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Latkes mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional if using Latkes mix)
  • 3 tablespoons of rapeseed oil for frying

Directions

  1. Place the potatoes in a cheesecloth and wring, extracting as much water as possible. It also works by simply squeezing hard with your hands sans cheesecloth.
  2. In a mixing bowl stir the potatoes, onion, garlic, eggs, flour and salt together. No salt if you are using the Latkes mix.
  3. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet or le crueset frying pan, over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Using your hands to form a patty, place the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them with a flat wooden spatula  to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Allow to drain on paper towels. Serve immediately!
Latkes was originally made with grated cheese as the potato is a New World food.  But since the discovery of the New World, Latkes has been made every Hanukkah with grated potatoes. It is less salty and heavy.
I ought to have allowed the patties to brown a little more.  So, do unlike me and let them brown.  They are delicious served with grilled sausages and a simple salad.  A really easy thing to whip up for a Sunday brunch or late lunch.
Try, kawan kawan! Then tell me how it went!

Sausage and Spud

I like it a bit charred, darling!


La Rentrée is the month when the whole of France returns from their summer away.  Parisians return bronzed by the summer sun spent in far flung countries or simply on the beach in the Mediterranean.  Paris is brimming with glee, the tension that had set in before the long summer break has been eased with plenty of R and R and les Parisennes are quite contented to be back in the City of Light. The first week of September begins with a frenzy of getting school supplies, reminding the children that the vacation is over and that school will start again this week and most of all, getting the little ones off to bed earlier.  They’ve had 2 months of late nights, tons of ice creams, lots of days spent building sand castles and running bare foot in the sand.  Well, it’s reality check time. School starts now.

This is also the month when most stay at home mothers like myself heave a sigh of relieve.  After 2 months of kiddie activities and other child related things on a trot with no respite, I am glad to be sending my off-springs (one big and one small) back to ecole.  Aren’t you? 🙂

The first morning that the kids went back to school, I had a coffee at my favourite café in Paris – Yamazaki.  I was pleasantly surprised upon entering the café to see that it had been given a face lift…. big time!  The entire café had been ripped apart during les vacances ( some people were working!),  new tables and chairs replace the dated ones that had been there since the 80s and the new glass display counter for their gâteaux and delightful pastries make them look even better than before.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of shops have replaced old furniture with new ones or have been given a lick of paint.  Ah!! so this is what happens during the month of August when literally the entire Parisian population leave town: other resourceful Parisians take the opportunity to revamp themselves in the tranquility of the month.  Delightful!  I love changes.  To me, a change when positive, is a symbol of growth, of the ability to move forward, to modernise.

I found inspiration in this for my cooking this September, having also not cooked very much during the vacation. I vacation with my family on both sides and the mother and MIL do most of the cooking or we tend to eat out, especially in S E Asia where hawker food is so readily available, economical and yummy!

Inspired that I was, I decided to make a change too.  I will be more adventurous, not worry about cleaning up the kitchen too much post cooking and simply go with the flow, let my fancy guide me.  And kawan kawan, I fancied myself some Char Siu during the weekend, a week into the start of the academic year.  And guess what?  I made myself some!

Char Siu is Cantonese char grilled pork that has been seasoned in dark soya sauce, honey and a little garlic.  This is eaten over a bed of steaming white rice in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand for lunch or dinner.

We all love Char Siu in the family.  What’s there not to love?  Succulent pieces of grilled pork charred to perfection that leave a sweet/savoury taste in your mouth; white rice drizzled with the syrupy Char Siu marinade that has been used to bast the pork loin as it grills in the oven.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1. 5 kg  filet mignon de porc or pork loin (cut into 4 or 5 pieces)

1 clove garlic (finely chopped or minced with a garlic press)

1 1/2 tablesp sesame oil

Char Siu Sauce:

1 1/2 tablesp honey

2 tablesp granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablesp hoisin sauce (optional)

1 1/2 tablesp dark soy sauce (add 3 if not using hoisin sauce)

1 tablesp Chinese Cooking wine (I used Shoa shing but if you can get Chinese Rose wine, even better)

2 dashes white pepper powder

3-4 whole star anise or 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder

Method:

Add all ingredients in the Char Siu sauce in a pan, heat whilst stirring well until liquid becomes slightly thickened and sticky.  (This should  yield 1/2 cup char siu sauce.) Set aside to cool.

Marinate the pork pieces with 2/3 of the Char Siu sauce and the chopped garlic overnight for maximum results.  If not at least 2 hours before cooking.

Heat the oven to 220 degrees C and roast the char siu for 30 minutes. With a pastry brush, bast the remaining char siu sauce every 10 minutes or so whilst roasting until the meat is cooked or slightly charred at the sides. Depending on how thick your meat is, it is vital to check if your meat is cooked thoroughly and adjust cooking time to suit.  I used a fork to check, as I don’t have metal skewers. When the fork goes through the meat with no tension, I know then that it is done. When the meat is cooked, turn the grill on in your oven and grill the meat until it chars a bit more.  This step is optional if you prefer not to char the meat too much. Remove from oven and slice the Char Siu into bite-size pieces, drizzle the remaining char siu sauce over and serve immediately with steamed white rice.

Notes:

This marinated cut of meat is perfect for BBQs.  In effect, Char Siu is BBQed meat as the original method of cooking it requires the meat to be skewered with a S-shaped hook, and grilled hung over a charcoal fire.  The meat is basted several times until cooked since the umami comes from the Char Siu marinade and the meat gets charred from the sugar in the it.

Charring ever so nicely

Kawan kawan, I really recommend that you try making Char Siu.  It is really not difficult, if I can, so can you.  Then, if you live in Paris, like me and miss good Chinese grub, you can always make it yourself.  My good ole pa always says:  Self sufficiency is the best policy!  So there, I am passing on to you a very golden nugget of advice, brought to you all the way from Singapore, where else? 😉

Char Siu à la chez moi

Gotta Get the Temperature Right


Kawak kawan, what do you do when you’ve got yourself soooooo excited about cooking a particular dish that you forgot the only thing that you needed to make that dish work?

A friend and culinary soulmate lent me a recipe that always works, so he says, if the temperature is at 65 degrees C. For that I will need a meat thermometer, kawan kawan and at present, I don’t have any.  Rien!

So off I trot to BHV, Paris’s famous home-ware store where one can find everything home related, including beautiful underwear.  That was when I got distracted, kawan kawan.  My eyes spied a beautiful soutient-gorge from Calvin Klein which led me to inspect it for boob support functions which led me to dream about how good it’ll look under a new blouse I’d just bought which led me to stray from my intended purpose of buying this darn thermometer.  I caught myself all too quickly and turned left toward the escalator for the kitchen ware department.  There, I got distracted again, this time by knives.  I’ve coveted a good kitchen knife for ever so long and my eye caught the glimmer of a sabatier blade. It was too tempting, kawan kawan and I had to have it.  I pictured slicing onions with this blade, I imagined what my julienned carrots would really look like as a result of this blade and I knew that I had to have this masterpiece.

It was only on the métro home when I remembered that darn thermometer.  So there, I returned home sans bra and worst of all sans thermometre!

I had to resort the plan B, my friends.  Luckily for me, I always have a couple of packs of minced beef in the fridge, if not in the freezer.  I had sent manny Ted shopping this morning and he had come home with the two staple packs of minced beef moins 20 % fat.

I quickly resorted to seasoning the minced with a dash of soya sauce, a sprinkle of sugar, a guzzle of sesame oil and a good glug of shoashin wine. That I set aside to let the marinade soak in whilst I chopped up a red onion, minced a couple of cloves of garlic, make that 3 cloves, I think.  I was thinking on my feet, kawan kawan all whilst marvelling at how my chopped onions were looking at the end of my sabatier blade.

I took out a bunch of basil, thinking that if it was a bunch of sweet holy basil, I could make a Thai inspired dish.  But then I thought, who am I kidding? I live in Europe.  Sweet holy basil?!?  I have to improvise, create and re-invent the wheel here.  So I chopped the basil up into strips, again with the coveted knife that is now all mine, to sprinkle into my minced beef creation later.

The stuff that all beef are made of

I needed greens and what better vegetable can there be when one needs to throw everything together than green beans chopped finely.  Yes, again with my sabatier. 😀

Out came the le creuset frying pan with lid.  In went a glug of huile de colza, rapeseed oil and the chopped up red onions and minced garlic.  Under a low heat, (remember temperature is everything, here) I sautéed the onions and garlic until the onions are almost caramelised and importantly, not burnt.  I thought that if I were to bring out the sugar in the onions, my beef would be sugar coated and would therefore taste dishy.  Remember, I am still on the creative path here and it’s whatever goes, since I forgot that darn meat thermometer.

Well, it is important to note that the chopped green beans went into the frying pan when the minced beef was still pink in parts.  This is to ensure that when the beef mince is done, the greens beans are still al denté. I wanted to keep the greens crunchy.  There is nothing worse than overcooked vegetables, in my books.

Pink - sign of health

I added more shoashing wine, juice of half a lemon, a good dash of fish sauce and a sprinkling of brown sugar.  That should bring out the subtle flavours of sweet and sour.  I then added the chives which I had cut into 0.5 cm strips and gave the pan a good hearty stir. When the mince was cooked through, I added the slices of red onion that I had kept aside with a pinch of freshly minced garlic and lowered the fire to allow the red onions and garlic to cook a little in the releasing steam .  To that I also added the thinly sliced basil.

Minced Beef Creation

This dish was received by both RN and SS with whoops of delight.  I served it over a bed of fluffy rice, made from both white and red grains.  Needless to say, the girls gobbled up their dinner with relish and even asked for bis.  I was a proud mamma tonight!  SS requested the same for lunch tomorrow.  Double proud!

Since I had recently learnt about wine pairing in Asian cuisine, I cracked open a bottle of red.  Light and fresh, this red is perfect for summer and the dish that I’d just invented. Santé!

The Perfect Red

Kawan kawan, I didn’t get that darn thermometer but I was saved by the packets of mince and this red.

Pasta alla Norma


Trust the Italians to name a dish after an opera written by one of their own. Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma which premiered at La Scala in 1831 is that opera and also that dish.  Pasta alla Norma hails from Sicily, from Catania, to be precise. Bellini also hails from Catania, Sicily. See the connection?  Since we’re on the subject of connections, he intended the soprano part for Norma  to be performed by Giuditta Pasta who was said to have 3 distinct vocal registers. That just means a dream voice, kawan kawan, one in a million, next to Maria Callas’s.

Nino Martoglio, a fellow Sicilian from Catania was so smitten by this simple pasta dish that he compared it to Bellini’s Norma and promptly christened it thus.

We will be leaving for SE Asia in a couple of days.  The girls and I for 4 weeks and the Italian for only 2.  Someone has to bring home the bacon, you see.  I wanted to cook something memorable for the Italian as he will be on his own in Paris, no doubt, with plenty of things to entertain him and lots of work to complete.  I wanted to show him my appreciation for his dedication and support through the years and mostly, my amore.  He loves aubergines, he also loves pasta.  So nothing can be easier than Pasta Alla Norma.

Here’s the recipe:

350 g spaghetti or linguine

450g of peeled tomatoes (it doesn’t matter what brand you use, but I tend to use Italian tinned tomatoes.  You can also use fresh tomatoes which are an optimum choice. Remember summer tomatoes tend to be sweeter than winter ones.)

1 medium sized aubergine, sliced to about 1 – 1.5 cm thick

2 cloves of garlic peeled and smashed

3 fresh basil leaves or a sprinkle of dried basil

2 tbsp of olive oil

2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar (less if you are using sweeter tomatoes)

generous amount of grated ricotta cheese or parmiggiano

Slice the aubergines into 1 – 1.5 cm thick.  Put the slices into a colander and sprinkle generously with coarse salt.  Put a a heavy dish over the slices and leave for 30 minutes to allow the vegetable slices to release their liquid. When you see a blackish puddle at the bottom of the colander, the aubergines are ready to be rinsed. Rinse carefully in cold water until you remove most of the salt.  Leave to drain, then squeeze out any excess water with kitchen towels. Set aside.

Heat some oil in your best casserole dish and fragrant it with the garlic.  Add the tomatoes and allow to simmer for 15 minutes before adding salt and sugar.  Taste to adjust to personal preference. Leave to simmer for another 30 minutes.

Bring a pan of water to boil.

Heat a good amount of frying oil in your a shallow frying pan.  Make sure the heat is low because you don’t want the oil to be too hot. When the oil is warm, not smoking, add the sliced aubergines.  Leave to fry until they are soft and slightly brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain excess oil on kitchen towels. Then add half of them into the tomato sauce.

Frying Aubergines

Whilst the aubergines are frying, cook your pasta according to packet instructions.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and toss into the tomato sauce.

Serve in pasta dishes, decorate each dish with the aubergine slices that have been set aside and grate a generous amount of ricotta or parmiggiano over the top.

Would you like Ricotta or Parmiggiano

The dish will look better decorated with fresh basil leaves.  Because I didn’t have any in the fridge, I used the dried version instead.

The ricotta you see in the pic above is found only in Sicily.  It is sun dried to this bronzy hue and used instead of parmiggiano all over Sicily. They are left to tan in the Sicilian sun by individual ricotta producers in little sheds like this:

Sun Tanning the Ricotta

The chicken wire keeps the flies and insects out.  The stone prevents the family cat from getting to the cheese!

And allora, you have Pasta alla Norma:

Pasta Alla Norma

I love the aubergine/melanzana/brinjal/eggplant/berenjena/茄子 (Qiézi).
Call it in whatever language it comes in, this spongy vegetable has to be cooked just right.  I hate it when it is undercooked, hence tough and bitter.  Brinjal has to be cooked with love and patience and is normally delicious in a stew or curry. Thai Green Curries usually feature aubergines, but small grape shaped ones only found in Asia.

When frying eggplant, you can get away from using too much oil by slow frying. They are also lovely steamed and eaten with a fish sauce/lime juice and chilli dip.

Tell me about your aubergine dishes, kawan kawan.  I would love to hear how you cook them.  Look out for further posts on aubergines Asian style.

Whachya Cookin’ Baby?


When I was young and still believed in the magic of Jim Henson, I used to love the Cookie Monster.  He was my favourite Sesame Street character with a voracious appetite for, guess what, cookies.  ‘Me want cookies,’ was his usual refrain, followed by ‘Om nom nom nom’ in between mouthfuls of food.  He was my pal, my foodie compatriot and I loved him.  I think I may still have my Cookie Monster toy laying somewhere about my parents’s apartment.

Then when I got savvy with the computer, I learnt that cookies in tech talk refers to small files held on one’s computer that stores a modest amount of information belonging to a website or a person that can be accessed by that person or by users of the internet.

I mean who thought to give that name to computer files?  Afterall, cookies are small pieces of dough full of chocolaty/peanut butter/oatmeal  goodness that have been baked in the oven to be consumed as soon as they are cool enough to take a bite into. I suppose as far as metaphors go, then cookies are pieces of dough filled with nutritional information that our cells can access.

SS came home to Paris bearing gifts from London.  She had with her two boxes of cookie cutters that Senga M had sent as a belated present to RN.  They were really an appropriate gift because I’ve been wanting cookie cutters for a while but haven’t been able to locate any, even in the Parisian home ware store, BHV.  I suppose cookies are not really a Frenchy thing.  The French have learnt to eat them from the numerous Americans living in Paris, who have brought with them good old American recipes for cookies and fairy cakes.  I even found a cookie shop in St Germain des Prés one day.

Alphabet and Number Cookie Cutters

Well, as you can expect, the girls wanted to bake cookies immediately.  Today being Bastille Day, a national holiday in France, I thought it was as good a day as any to bake us some cookies.

So off the three of us trotted to the supermarché to buy the ingredients necessary for cooking making.  I know they ought to be the easiest things on earth to make, but kawan kawan, I don’t bake as you may know, if you’ve been following my posts.  Baking brings with it a certain amount of stress because it is all about science and exact measurements.  There is no room for aghak- aghakness.  As many of you may also already know, I tend to cook in this imprecise way, changing the measurements of the ingredients to suit my taste. I consider this letting my creative side reign.  Alas, with baking, one just  cannot do that.  Baking is a science which requires precision and exactitude. I failed chemistry miserably at school.  Casting my mind back, I once passed a chemistry experiment exam because I managed to cause effervescence with a teaspoon of soap powder behind the teacher’s back as the experiment that was suppose to bring about some form of effervescence had flopped.  The liquid in my test tube was as flat as a glass of Evian water, no bubbles there!  So I faked it by adding some soap powder and shaking the test tube vigorously which fortunately for me produced enough bubbles for me to pass the test.

Well, for the love of my girls, whom I have deprived greatly of baking due to my own fears, I decided to bite the bullet and do what good mothers do – bake.

Seeing that Senga M is Scottish, I chose a short bread cookie recipe from the internet.  But to be completely and precisely honest, it was also because the first recipe I found required baking powder and soda, the French equivalent of which I was unable to locate in the local supermarket.  So shortbread that does not require the baking soda and powder it is et voilâ, here’s the recipe:

3/4 cups butter (I used one that is marked doux which roughly translates to slightly salted, I think, since I couldn’t find unsalted butter.  I did not add any salt to this batch of dough since the butter already has salt in it.)

1/4 cups granulated white sugar or 1/2 cups soft brown sugar

2 cups organic flour

1 egg

1/2 cup of milk

3 drops of natural vanilla extract

1 cup of chocolate drops (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° F before mixing in all the ingredients until you form a dough.  Then roll out the dough to about 1/2 – 1/3 inches thick before cutting. Bake them for 20 – 24 minutes.

(Conversion charts on baking can be found on the internet for those who, like me, can’t see the ingredients in cup sizes!)

Here’s me mixing the dough until it has formed into a ball of dough.

Kneading the cookie dough

I added the chocolate drops after this step which is incorrect.  Be warned, kawan kawan, when using chocolate drops, add them before this process, then your dough will be evenly mixed with the chocolate buttons or drops. Unlike this:

A lot of dough and four chocolate buttons

RN loved the mixing in bit, so I let her do some of it whilst I greased the oven tray that has been lined with some grease proof paper.  When the dough has been formed, I sprinkled some flour on the dining table and proceeded to show the girls how to roll out the dough. SS is an expert, having baked on numerous occasions with Daddy Dave.  She stood by to watch and give me instructions.

Rolling out the dough

Here’s RN demonstrating her rolling prowess:

Concentrated rolling in progress

We decided that the cookies ought to be S, R, 1, 3, 5 and 0-shaped:

The cookie cutters

When not taking the photos, SS can be seen disentangling the number 3 from the mother dough.

The Older Sister doing her stuff

The when the dough has all been cut and the baking tray full of numbers and letters, it was time to bake the goodies.

Cookies in the Oven

After exactly 24 minutes, here are the cookies:

The Cookies

The girls reported that they tasted delicious.  I had a bite and indeed they were, if I can say so myself.  They tasted slightly sweet, not sickeningly and the organic flour does make a difference.  They are really shortbread biscuits and not the familiar cookies that are gooey in the middle.  In any case, they are sedap and taste of homebaked goodness.  I am rather proud of them since they actually came out edible!  I’d be hard pushed to get any dinner down RN’s throat tonight for the number of cookies that she has eaten.

YES! I can bake, kawan kawan and I will do more of it in the future. I am thinking oatmeal cookies, peanut butter ones, peanut butter and chocolate cookies and and and white chocolate chip cookies.  Kawan kawan, the curse has been broken because I felt the fear and did it anyway.  From cookies to cakes next.  My sister in Singapore has promised to share a cheese cake recipe, so look out for a future blog post featuring the cheese cake .

Egging You On!


I love how versatile eggs are, kawan kawan! I love it that  you can do almost anything and everything with eggs.

Paintings dating as far back as the 1st century still exist because they were painted with an egg tempera, making them exceedingly long lasting.  Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after the 1500s before the invention of oil paints which then replaced and superseded egg tempera paintings.

The whites of eggs when smeared generously over a baby’s bottom act as a natural barrier that can prevent nappy rash. How cool is that?  No need for sudocream, or whatever barrier creams out there.

Eggs also make very nourishing face masks.  Egg whites are known to cleanse, exfoliate and tighten your pores whilst the yolks moisturise, nourish and smooth your skin.

A friend of mine swears by her egg yolk hair mask, which she says conditions her long blond tresses and keeps her highlights looking fresh.

Beat an egg in a metal bowl and dip your chicken juliennes in them before coating with breadcrumbs or crumbed cornflakes.  The beaten egg will bind the meat to the crumbs easily.

Wake up late on a Sunday morning, children/husband/household pets permitting, slip on something easy, like a pair of joggers and an old T-shirt and put on your best super large sunglasses, take a stroll down to the nearest bistro/café/pub, newspaper in hand, just in time for a brunch of Eggs Benedict or Eggs Florentine. If in London, ask for a side order of hash browns, or extra strips of bacon, read your paper in between mouthfuls of runny poached eggs soaked in Hollandaise sauce.  If in Paris, take the eggs as they come, don’t complain if they’re not runny enough or you’ll get the perfunctory “C’est comme ça!”, forget about a side of order of bacon because no side dish of bacon exists, relax and read your  Le Figaro, if you understand enough French and be thankful that you can even find something close to Eggs Benedict in the City of Light.

Sunday Brunch

Have you tried a type of egg cooked in an aromatic liquorice sauce made with green tea and soya sauce infused with star anise?  This is called tea eggs and is eaten widely as a snack food in China, Taiwan and some parts of SE Asia.  These eggs can be eaten hot or cold and is simply delish – sedap!

Here’s the recipe:

Boil 6 – 8 eggs in slightly salted water until cooked thoroughly and set aside. When cooled, tap lightly and crack the egg shells without removing them.

The sauce:

3 cups of water

2 tbsp dark soya sauce

2 tsp of green tea leaves

1/4 tsp of granulated white sugar

1 tsp of salt

2 – 3 star anise

1 stick of cinnamon

2 pieces of dried Mandarin peel (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil.  Then place the cracked eggs into the liquid which should be high enough to cover all the eggs.  Simmer for up to 2 hours, adding water when necessary.  There should still be liquid left in the saucepan when the 2 hours are up.  To get a more intense flavour, it is advisable to simmer the eggs for longer than 2 hours, adding water  as you see fit.

Before eating your egg, remove the cracked shell, you’ll see before you a dappled hard boiled egg, streaked where the shells were cracked with the soya sauce that had been stewing the eggs.  Savour the hints of liquorice from the star anise and let the slight taste of cinnamon linger on your tongue.  This eggy snack can be devoured in two morsels and trust me, you’ll want another.  They taste even better the next day too.

Tea Eggs

A nest of egg feathers sitting atop a bed of garlic fried rice looks picture perfect.  I used a crêpe pan to ensure that my omelette is paper thin.  It only took a minute on each side before the omelette was done.  Then with a sharp knife, I sliced the omelette into feathery strips and sprinkled them over the rice. Et voilâ!

Egg Feathers atop Garlic Fried Rice

The Japanese steamed egg dish called chawanmushi is a delight.  It glides down your throat without making a fuss and leaves in your mouth the rest of the ingredients to be masticated and savoured.  This dish is a really tasty winning dish to wean your baby into solids.  I did for both my girls and they loved it!

Share your egg recipes with me, kawan kawan.  I would love to know what you do with your eggs.

What tickles your nose?


I find comfort in smells, kawan kawan.  Good smells, of course. Musky aftershave colognes that titillate, feminine fragrances that when inhaled send triggers of happy thoughts of summer days and girly nights out, the clean and crisp smell of newly laundered sheets and clothes,  aromas released by spices being heated in a frying pan, the confectionary perfume of cakes baking in the oven. These are a few of my favourite smells….

However, my most favourite smell of all has to be the fragrance of rice being cooked.  Did you know that rice has a perfume of its own, kawan kawan?  This beautiful aroma is released when the rice grains are almost cooked.  It permeates the house just like coffee being brewed in the morning does.

Rice, being the staple carb in my family, features in every meal, especially at dinner time.  Dinner is a whole family affair, announcing the return of the patriarch, my dad, from work and when homework and chores have been completed. Dinner is when my sisters, both parents and I get to sit down ensemble to chat, discuss, argue and converse at the wooden table in the kitchen with its tiled top where we all convene for meal times.  My mother would have prepared a soup – a clear stock of some meat variety, a dish of sautéed chinese greens, a plate of meat, usually chicken or pork stir fried with another variety of vegetable and/or a dish of steamed fish with slivers of ginger, soya sauce and sesame oil.  Sometimes, she fries the fish that has been seasoned with a little salt and tumeric which turns the oil she fries them in to a yellow river.  This is her tweak on the signature Malay dish called ikan panggang, a type of grilled fish. For this dish, she will have prepared a dipping sauce infused with  lime, sugar, minced chilli peppers and garlic. All these dishes are eaten with a bowl of white rice, with the soup served in individual little bowls to be eaten at the same time.

I know when dinner time is approaching just by the smell of rice permeating the house.  This is shortly before the click of the on/off button on the rice cooker, signally that the rice is done. A little hole on the lid of the rice cooker lets out the steam which is the element that cooks the rice, the steam which is produced by the remnants of what water is left that is required to cook any rice.  The rice is done when all the water has been absorbed by every rice kernel.

My Favourite Smell - Rice steaming

I was feeling a little lost and displaced again the other day. I don’t know what had caused this feeling, I only knew that I wanted some home cooked comfort food. I had been doing a little voluntary work at the secondary school, helping some students with their English.  A Korean girl that I was assigned to had been all but receptive of my role. I had sensed by sitting next to her and through my failed attempts to make conversation that only produced monosyllabic answers that she not only resented my presence but also resented the fact that she had been transplanted from her country to a harsh and foreign place where she doesn’t speak the language and where she has to be taught in a tongue that she finds hard to decipher. My heart went out to this girl because not only is it difficult to be uprooted from what you know, to be transplanted to an unfamiliar territory which can seem hostile because of a language gap and then to have to endure an education in a language that you are not wholly comfortable in, couple that with raging hormones which can cause confusion and irrational mood swings. Not a great combination, my friends.

I was told by her teacher that she is an intelligent girl when she wants to be.  One manifests intelligence in one’s tongue because one knows what words and phrases to use in a conversation, discussion or argument.  It is a challenge to show how intelligent you are when you don’t fully understand your medium of instruction, let alone having to express yourself in this foreign tongue. When expressing yourself in your mother tongue, you can be eloquent, elegant and intelligible.  In a foreign tongue, you risk sounding gauche, awkward and frustrated because the words don’t seem to roll off your tongue like they ought to….. in your language.

At the appartement later, whilst preparing dinner and waiting for the rice cooker to sound her familiar click signalling that the rice is ready, I was suddenly overcome by a throng of homesickness.  It was the fragrance released by the rice that caused me to feel this way, it occurred to me later. Another reason could be my feeling terribly sorry for the Korean girl that spurred this feeling of homesickness on.  Standing next to the rice cooker, I inhaled deeply, taking in the aroma.  I felt how good it is to be able to recreate this sense of childhood comfort.  The fragrance of the rice represented home and hearth, it symbolised the security of the familial space, a haven where I can be myself, let my hair down and put my feet up.  I was glad that in a foreign land, I was able to find this little piece of heaven.

For the Italian, it is the aroma of the tomato sauce simmering or the fragrance of the bell peppers stewing that bring him home.  For my children, it is a mélange of the rice cooking one day or the pasta boiling on another which also emits a unique perfume of its own, both recreating the sense of home for them .

That night, I had the rice ready, and a dish of scrambled eggs with tomatoes to accompany the rice.  This very easy to prepare dish is called Fānjiādàn 蕃茄蛋
in Mandarin and is really a very typical rustic dish.  It is eaten a lot in Taiwan and in SE Asia.

Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes

This is one of my favourite comfort food, kawan kawan.  Surprisingly, this dish is also much loved by la grande and the Itlalian.  It is what SS remembers eating as a child when life was just the two of us.  Sadly, I have yet to pass this love completely to RN who endures this scrambled egg dish but is not totally enamoured by it.  She only eats eggs if they are white!  I might cook this dish with egg white only, la prochaine fois, mes amis!

I hope that those who are feeling displaced due to a recent uprooting are able to recreate a sense of home through a particular smell that they love coupled with a particular food that they enjoy.  Eating dinner that night, I whispered a little prayer for the Korean girl who tugged at my heart strings, wishing her well and that somehow, in this jungle of foreign words, she is able to recreate a sense of home.