Beginner’s Choice: New Insights into Food

Food for thought

New Year’s Day is a cause for celebration as it marks a new beginning. While preparing celebration menus, one cannot help but think of those who have been badly affected by typhoons, tornedos and floods.

Food in a crisis situation

Andrea, who is the most frequent contributor to this blog, has been busy helping flood victims in Malaysia. Among the items on her to-do list are to get medication for flood victims and buy rice and lentils for food support.

P’Pew, another frequent contributor, was up early today to travel from Bangkok to Ayuttaya to donate food to an orphanage.

I have both been following news from friends from the Philippines of the devastation caused by the typhoons. Roofs and even whole houses have been blown away. Concrete houses remain standing, but many have been badly damaged by fallen trees. Vegetable gardens have been washed away.

Despite the upheavals and damage, everyone is glad that their family is safe. Houses which are still intact are now shelters for many families that have lost their homes. The resilience of the people in the Philippines has always amazed me. Somehow, the storm will pass and they will rebuild their homes again. In the meantime, they will help each other.

Food for survival

Many years ago, I accompanied someone to a ferry terminal in the Philippines, where ferries sail to different islands spread out around the archipelago. I noticed a family waiting to board a ferry. They  had a big bag of cooked glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves, which was their packed meal for their journey. The thought came to my mind that that was all they had to eat on a long journey. Just then, the mother of the family noticed me looking at the rice sticks and thought that I was hungry. She took pity on me and offered me some. I was very moved by her generosity. The poor who need food for survival are often the most generous people.

Last week I heard of a young man who founded an organisation that has provided meals to food-insecure communities in several countries as a way of giving back to society.

Food and social life

Food will always be essential for survival, but there are also social aspects to food. Food reflects culture, traditions and family values. Dining together as a family is an important part of family life. We not only share a meal, we share the account of our day; we share our life.

Eating out is common in many countries. The fast food culture has been around for years now. Perhaps it’s time for the slow food revival; taking the time to think about why we eat and what to eat.

Food and culture

A country’s cuisine is part of its cultural heritage. Every dish tells a story. I was fascinated by a Eurasian lady who spoke about Eurasian recipes, and how Eurasian mothers would bequeath their well-guarded recipes to their children as their inheritance. The recipes were considered family treasures.

I certainly enjoyed trying the local cuisines of the countries I visited. I discovered that there are also cuisines specific to different regions within a country. My cousin Siri, who loves to travel, told me about the Weave the Story YouTube channel, which has a series of cooking videos on curries from around the world. It was started by Soph, a Singaporean who lives in Portugal. He left his job as a lecturer to pursue a new career in what he enjoys most – cooking. He had the following to say about food and culture:

“My journey has taken me to Portugal where I am now doing something I have never thought of: Southeast Asian dine-in experience. Southeast Asian food is not well represented in Lisbon. I saw a potential in presenting Southeast Asian cuisine not available or known in Lisbon and Portugal, as well as Portuguese Eurasian and Malay food with Portuguese influence.

This is a rather mammoth task to take upon arriving in this country but at the same time, I felt right about doing this. I wanted to create that awareness and share the diversity of Southeast Asian cuisines. I started with Portuguese Eurasian cooking workshops through Airbnb Experiences. During the workshops, I realised that people requested dine-in experiences. Southeast Asian Supper Club is the result of requests and it is presented on Meetup platform. People who have dined in like my cooking and I have had returning clients which I am absolutely grateful for. There is still potential to grow and in 2022, I am planning to do pop-up events featuring various Southeast Asian cuisines including Chinese New Year dishes celebrated in Singapore, Thai Songkran festival, Portuguese Eurasian cuisine and Malay cuisine with Portuguese influences.

Personally, cooking is a life skill to have. However, to me, cooking has been more than just that. It is a window to my culture, understanding my world, connecting with my ancestors through the foods we eat.”

New Year Inspirations

While we remember those who are suffering the consequences of illness and natural disasters, there is still reason for celebrating life and a new year, but perhaps in a sober manner. Celebrations and treats don’t have to be grand to be memorable. Once a group of friends wanted to give me a treat and all they could afford were some sugared buns and coca cola in a plastic bag. I will always remember that simple treat.

Friends have been sharing photos of their cooking, and they are great for inspiration if you are thinking of what to cook for the new year.

Pearl, who is a nursing student, sent a photo of the dinner she and her friend cooked for the family: soup, chicken and fish cakes.

Fish cakes

Belinda sent a photo of the homemade pumpkin soup for her celebration dinner.

Pumpkin soup

Cecille’s salmon is a great idea for those who prefer a lighter celebration meal.

Simple Salmon

Brenda baked smores cookies.

Smores cookies

Going local

I thought I would try something more local this year for Christmas. I made popiah for the first time. I remember going over to a friend’s house for a popiah lunch, where we assembled our own popiahs. (I have to thank my friend Karen for the idea) I bought the popiah skin from a stall in the market and made the filling from scratch.

Mum knows best

My mother wanted me to try a new recipe: honey and beer chicken wings. She thought chicken wings are a good alternative to turkey. They are certainly more tasty.

Ingredients

1 kg Chicken wings

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon of salt

1 tablespoon of fish sauce

4 tablespoons of minced garlic

2 tablespoons of honey

Cooking oil

1 can of beer

Method

Fry the minced garlic in 4 tablespoons of hot oil until brown.  Remove from the wok and set aside.

Add enough cooking oil to cover 5 chicken wings at a time.

Add 5 chicken wings at a time into the oil (dry with a paper towel before putting into the hot oil)

Remove the chicken wings when they have turned brown

Fry all of the chicken wings

Once all of the chicken wings are done, put them back into the wok and add the fried garlic

Add salt, pepper, soy sauce, sugar and fish sauce and mix

Then add the honey

Add the can of beer last

Leave to simmer until all the liquid has evaporated

Remove from wok

Serve with white rice or with garlic and egg fried rice

Chicken wings are good as appetizers or for a light meal. They are also great for celebrations on a budget.  

Whatever resolutions you make for the new year, we hope they will include a resolution to cook more sumptuous meals at home and to think of healthier choices (without blowing the food budget).

In case you are wondering what is in the featured image of this post, it’s cream cheese covered in almonds. Another one of Elena’s creations.

Wishing you a Happy New Year.

By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 26 December 2021

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