Monday, 11 April 2011

Basic Instinct

Along with sex, shelter, God, and happiness, food is one of our primal needs, and one of the things that’s always on our mind.

Well…at least, food is always on my mind.

I ate well growing up; there was always simple but delicious food on the table. I ate well in my profession; I was a publisher with a leading Singapore food magazine, then later with a Gourmand Award-winning cookbook company, in which I helped rejuvenate classics such as the Mrs Lee’s Cookbook. And I ate well outside of work, most notably with my foodie “kakis” in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Guess I had eaten well 24/7, for more than 50 years! 

After all, didn’t the Turkish writer Abdulhak Sinasi observe, “One should not pass over these things, simply saying they are food. They are in reality a complete civilization.”

I totally agree. Whether you’re just so-so or obsessed, food is a big part of life.

Food has shaped human history and directed our progress in ways we’re just coming to understand and acknowledge (check out the loads of recent books on this). But that isn’t my story. This blog is about food on a more intimate, personal level.

I’ll share with you what food means to me, my attempts to know it better, and my efforts to give food its proper due and place. Food as memory, food as nostalgia, emotion, imagination, desire, and dream -- that’s the message, the soul, of Gastronaut.

Just think of childhood. You may forget places, customs, languages, sounds, faces, and even names, but you never forget taste. A taste is something you instantly recognize though the separation in time may be years, or even decades.

A taste never leaves you. From the comfort food we crave for in times of illness and loneliness, to our choices in front of a restaurant menu, to the imagined delights that could make us drool in anticipation, food is woven into our chemistry and being.

This blog will explore and celebrate this.

And because I cook, you’ll be witness too as I gingerly probe, decipher, and trial-&-error my way through the mysteries of the kitchen. And who are my guides and resource? The distant memory and the yellowed recipe; the whispered advice of a dear long-gone aunt; the conversation with a chef, a writer or a food-crazed friend; the cutout from a magazine or newspaper; the inspiring cookbook or cooking class…

What I especially treasure are recipes that have vanished -- or nearly so. And with the inexorable march of the pre-packed ingredient, the shortcut recipe, and the indifferent cook, such “endangered” dishes will only multiply. I’ll unearth these dishes and write about them where I can.

For instance, while something like the dish below still exists, it is so little known that were it to die out, I think no one would even notice. I remember it from my childhood, from times when there was an unexpected guest, or when Grandma wasn’t in the mood to cook, or when one of us had lost his or her appetite. It's so easy to prepare (easier than instant noodles!) yet amazingly tasty. Try this “emergency” dish on its own or with rice. Enjoy!

“Savory Tau Hway”

Bean curd (豆腐花)             250g (without syrup)
Premium soy sauce            2/3  tbsp
Infused oil                            1 tbsp
Spring onion                        ½ tbsp
Fried shallots                       ½ tbsp
Sesame oil                           a dash, optional
White pepper                       a dash, optional

Infused Oil:
Oil                                         ½ cup
Spring onion                       100g, only white part

Method (for infused oil):
1.     Gently heat oil in a heavy-bottom pan. Add spring onion and fry until the spring onion turns light brown. Discard the spring onion.
2.     Sieve oil to remove any residue and store it in an airtight container.

1.     Place 2/3 tbsp of soy sauce in a bowl.
2.     Heat 1 tbsp of infused oil until very hot; pour it over the soy sauce.
3.     Just before serving the bean curd, add soy sauce with infused oil to the bean curd and sprinkle with fried shallots and spring onion.
4.     For a final touch, add sesame oil and pepper just before serving.