Out with the Old, In with the New-Old

rebel-with-a-course

Rebel With A Course reads like an ah chek regaling with colourful tales of the good old days prior to the hawker centres and HDBs. Except, Queen’s English rolls off the author’s, Damian D’Silva’s tongue, and the slightest details that usually escape one’s mind embellish his stories — “The wet market had two rows of food stalls at the front, selling a host of dishes from the different Chinese dialect groups. There was you char kway, lor mee, yong tau foo, chwee kueh, and our favourite, mee pok tah.”  I am captivated and almost convinced that the past was better than the present. Perhaps, heritage dishes, like he says, should be preserved the way it was.

But I’m afraid D’Silva and the many else of his generation are the only ones who truly appreciate heritage dishes. They have had their fair share from the street peddlers, or have been forced to help cooking some at home. Pleasant or not, these experiences in their formative years shaped their preferences. Today, where the flavours of the past are no more, they yearn for the old and lambast the new.

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Experimental Eating

Image taken from Amazon.com

Image taken from Amazon.com

A meal can simultaneously be good to eat and good to think (words borrowed from Levi Strauss), as I learnt from the recently published Experimental Eating. It is a book that compiles more than 60 food-based creative projects across the globe, most of which intersect with art, design, and science. They push boundaries on how we understand, relate, and experience food, and also call attention to neglected topics, either related or tangential to food. To induce salivation and considerations at the same dinner table is no small feat, given that few will voluntarily ponder over climate change and slavery when presented with a plate of tantalising fish steak. As the book’s authors, The Center of Genomic Gastronomy, writes: “Contemporary art is an essential domain of experimentation and research, because art still makes room for unpopular views, freedom of expression and non-instrumental research.” Let’s digest some of these projects…

Smog Tasting by The Center for Genomic Gastronomy

An egg-whipping performance that made smog visible and tastable. During the performances, egg whites were whipped at traffic junctions and on rooftops to harvest air pollution. As egg foams are up to 90 percent air, smog from different locations could be tasted and compared in the form of polluted meringues. This project urges us to think about the relationship between food, the environment, and our body.

Image from The Center for Genomic Gastronomy

Image from The Center for Genomic Gastronomy

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The Taste of Contentment

A photo posted by Sheere Ng (@sheerefrankng) on

I’ve been thinking about death lately. I am afraid, yet hopeful, about the prospect of consciousness after life. I will like a chapter two to my brief humanly existence, but I also fear, that in this sequel, I will be written into a new plot with completely different characters. I appreciate personal accounts of impending death, be it of one’s own or of the loved ones, as I wanted perspectives, preferably one that can help me see the silver lining to the eternal separations with my parents and my soon-to-be husband. If that’s not possible, at least I wanted to know how others deal with the pain.

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Good Fruits and How to Buy Them

Good Fruits and How to Buy Them

“Good Fruits and how to buy them” is not only a point-blank title for a book but also its authors’ blunt statement about people’s level of ignorance of an everyday know-how. Many consumers have a clearer set of logic for clothes shopping than for fruit picking, even though the latter would have greater impact on their lives. It doesn’t help that fruits these days are uniformly looking by design, giving shoppers the impression that there is no meaningful difference from one orange to the next. But according to the authors, who published the book in 1967, there are telltale signs of a sweet, ripen fruit even amongst the uniformity. The book teaches about more than 20 fruits available in the U.S., but remembering the characteristics of just seven that are common in Singapore would be a good start.

Avocados

Avocado skins may be smooth or leathery or rough, depending on the variety. The authors found no relationship between skin texture and quality of the flesh. “Select heavy, medium-sized avocados with bright fresh appearance and which are rather firm or which are just beginning to soften.” Softening may be hastened by placing the fruit in a warm humid place. Inversely, softening may be delayed by keeping the fruit in cool dry place. But not below 5.5 degrees C, as low temperatures will turn the flesh black and ruin the flavour. Therefore, don’t buy avocado which the grocer had refrigerated. Continue reading

Learning from Cookbooks Written for the Non-locals

The next time you go to Europe or the Americas for holidays, perhaps look out for old Singaporean or Asian cookbooks in secondhand bookstores. If these books were distributed in those continents, where the dominant populations were unfamiliar with the cuisines, even better. This is because the authors would make an extra effort to explain the methods, ingredients, and utensils—things that other authors writing for the local cooks would leave out because they assumed their readers already knew. But those of you who are only staring to learn cooking will know this assumption cannot be more wrong. People who are born into the culture but do not practice it are as much a stranger to its traditions and wisdoms as those who didn’t belong by birth. Cookbooks written for the non-natives might be the answer to your own cultural cuisine. I bought a few in the US and they had become my treasure troves. Here are some things I learned:

old asian cookbooks

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Japanese comic serves palatable underbelly

A stripper walks into an eatery she frequents and orders mentaiko (cod roe). Medium rare, she says. Weird, because she usually likes it raw. But the chef and fellow regulars understand quickly – the change of her taste also means the change of her heart. She has met someone new, again. But no matter how she much wavers between how it is done, mentaiko is here to stay, as the sac that it comes cocooned in resembles the full lips of her childhood sweetheart.

One fine day at work (as she sits wide-legged on stage), her eyes meet with those of a man who wears a smile that looks deliciously like mentaiko. She disappeared from then on. Rumour has it that she retired to marry her childhood sweetheart.

Of course, like all of her past relationships, this didn’t last long either. “That man is a mummy’s boy,” she complains when she returns. So, amidst merriment, business resumes, and so is her hyper-variable craving for mentaiko.

Awkward reunion with childhood sweetheart

Awkward reunion with childhood sweetheart

This is chapter eight in book one of 深夜食堂 (literally translated Middle of Night Canteen), a Japanese comic on the events that happen in an eatery which operates from midnight to dawn. Because of its odd operating hours, its customers are often the underbelly of Japanese society – stripper, triad leader, elderly gay man, retired porn director, spinsters and obese woman. At this eatery, these people obtain redress as their person unveil in each chapter. The stripper desires love like any woman; the gangster turns out to be a generous man sharing expensive fresh Hokkaido seafood with the other customers; the director is coarse with the starlets but is a gentle lover to his girlfriend; the obese woman draws laughter and empathy as she swings between the extremes of starvation and food orgy.

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