Food-ciations

It’s hard to explain why I love cooking. I think my favourite part is attempting one of my mum’s dishes when I’m feeling homesick. Food has such an emotional connection for a lot of people and it’s definitely deeply ingrained in my upbringing.

I was raised in a family where dinner was eaten together almost every night. It made for some seriously late dinners because my father was such a workaholic. There were exceptions, of course, but we still keep that tradition going now. It’s a chance for us all to catch up on each others’ lives, share important details of our day, and just be together. I’m realizing now that my mum did most of her parenting at the dinner table, too. My brothers and I were taught from a very young age to invite the elders to eat first and it’s a practice that’s so ingrained in us that it’s become a habit. We carry it out to whenever we eat with our parents’ friends or our friends’ parents and we still get praised on what well-behaved children we are (which fills us with some really smug pride!). I was taught to help clear the table after every meal despite growing up with a live-in maid and it’s one of my major pet peeves when guests don’t offer and sit like blocks of cement after a meal. I was taught to ask to be excused after dinner, even if everyone else is finished but this is probably the reason why I love lingering around the dinner table after a meal… I’m waiting for the conversation to start!

More than that, I think my mum’s food always portrays how deeply she cares for her family. If one of us were sick, the whole family got really healthy food (think less oil, steamed or boiled dishes) and we’d follow up with a lot of fruits and probably barley water. She always went marketing with a plan to make somebody’s favourite dish and said person would get first servings of the dish. Even when we eat out, she’d order a variety of our favourite dishes to make everyone happy. We were spoiled rotten, can you tell? We still are, actually!

So being away from home, I do miss my mum’s food and its connotations. I never ever get it perfectly right when I attempt her dishes. There’s always something a little off about my replications and I’m never sure what it is because I’d call her up and she’d talk me through her dishes but I’ve learned that there’s a magic about a mother’s cooking that just cannot be reenacted.

Fish cutlets

Tonight’s dinner: Fish cutlets on rocket salad.

Knowing this, I improvise and make my own dish instead. Tonight I made fish cutlets but I don’t have my mother’s recipe for this so I winged it and it tastes pretty close but mine is highly fragile whereas mum’s is more crunchy on the outside (possibly because she uses Panko breadcrumbs and I didn’t have those!). But it reminds me of my childhood and birthday parties, because she’d make a ton of these tiny potato+fish patties and my friends would go batshit crazy over them. Her version is to be had with steamed rice and other dishes, and sauced with Thai sweet chilli sauce but mine is a main, on rocket leaves and sauced with Tobasco sauce.

Roast chicken

Roast chicken

One of my favourite dishes that my mum made in my teenage years was her roast chicken. Well, Kylie Kwong’s ‘radical’ roast chicken, to be precise. It’s probably been years since my mum made it but it’s something that’s stuck with me and I make it so often that I never have to look at the recipe anymore. I highly recommend it, it’s one of the best roast chicken flavours I’ve tasted. It’s crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside, and smells like heaven (read as: butter). And the vegetables that soak up the chicken’s juices… ooh! Especially the shallots. I now add more shallots because the amount in the recipe is too few for me. I like it completely cold from the fridge, too as I’m always lucky enough to have leftovers! My mum said her favourite part is the gelee that forms when the gravy is cooled but I’m all about the roast vegetables. It’s not that the chicken isn’t great, it’s fantastic but it goes so well with the veges. Honestly, put all your negative feelings about Kylie Kwong aside and just try this recipe.

The one missing component about my dinners here is the lack of family. I have a different sort of family here, though. Most of my weeknight dinners are shared with my dear friend and housemate, Jacey. But last Friday night, Kristine and Su Yin thought we’d have a wild night of baking cupcakes together (pandan cupcakes with pandan fudge!) and Su volunteered to cook dinner. We’re real party animals, can you tell?

Su in action

Su Yin in action

Su Yin made us some amazing spicy prawn pasta with rocket, I believe it was a Jamie Oliver recipe.

Portion

Oversized portion

We each got an oversized portioned plate but somehow managed to polish our plates clean. Then we proceeded to eat our cupcakes (which I did not photograph, unfortunately).

They were all really good dinners but sometimes food isn’t just about the success of the dish but rather how it is shared, and I am blessed to have all good associations of my dinners from two different lives as they all comprise good company, much laughter and titillating conversation.

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