Beginner’s Choice: Meal and Cooking Solution Finders

A Student’s Solution to Missing Spicy Home-cooked Food

By Soph

                           (Founder of the Weave the Story YouTube Channel)

I lived in a university town in New England, NSW, where there were 6 Chinese restaurants, but no Thai, Vietnamese or any other Asian restaurants.

After eating at various Chinese restaurants, I got a bit bored and wanted something spicy and food to remind of home. Being overseas made me appreciate my culture and heritage. During the pre-smartphone days, I would call international and ask my parents to email me recipes.

Then there would be follow-up phone calls to clarify on preparing the dish or how it went. My family cooked using the agak-agak approach and cooking without understanding the concept, there were so many questions to clarify.

I had a little red notebook with recipes written, printed recipes and newspaper cuttings. Back then, not many recipes were available online and YouTube wasn’t invented. I would rely on asking around, going to newsagents, bookshops and interacting with Singaporean and Indonesian students, asking and sharing recipes. Some recipes were from magazines.
Later, I moved to a temporary accommodation which had a kitchen and I would invite friends over for dinner. I was keen on sharing my culture with my international friends. Then an unexpected a twist of fate, I moved to a hostel and missed cooking. I missed the simplicity of even cooked fresh rice with a fried egg. Eating out everyday wasn’t the ideal situation. Within the month, I managed to move to a bigger room with a kitchen sink.

With a limited budget and a rice cooker, I thought maybe I could make it work. Limitations led me to become creative!

Cooking with a rice cooker took longer than conventional cooking, but I did get some of the most satisfying meals.

A rice cooker is not built for frying items, but I managed to improvise. For example, the cook button would switch from cook to heat (or keep warm), but I would use a wooden clothes peg to ensure it would not switch functions, ie so that it would remain on cook.
The dishes I cooked would range from freshly cooked jasmine rice to fried rice, curries, fried eggs, stir fries, and fried chicken. Because the heat was regulated, meat dishes were always well cooked and more moist despite taking longer.

My favourite dishes were:

– five spice fried chicken wings,

– Ayam Lemak; and

– Panang curry.

I started to invite friends again, this time one or two friends at a time. I think friends who came were surprised at what I was able to cook with a small rice cooker. I was the only person I knew who cooked everything in a rice cooker.

The obvious solution would have been to move to another accommodation with proper kitchen equipment. However, I didn’t feel the need to move out. I was comfortable where I was, and I thrived on finding ideas and inspirations on what to cook for the evenings.

The experience cemented my joy of cooking. I enjoyed working around the limitations, and finding creative ways to approach cooking. I was keen on writing a cookbook based on the experience. Life, of course, got in the way. I graduated, went back to Singapore for career opportunities. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed cooking and finding opportunities to do it whenever possible, which led to what I’m doing today.

I enjoyed that period of my life (my student days) when everything was a new discovery. Having come a long way, I look back and think that it is time to share some tips with students who are away from home and are missing home and home-cooked food.

Soph’s tips

1. Start small – make simple dishes and even use instant curry/spice pastes. I started making curries and sambal belachan first, then moved on to try other dishes.

2. Don’t be discouraged when your dish doesn’t turn out as what you had imagined. Practice makes perfect, and it always does.

3. We’re in living in an amazing time when we have resources such as YouTube and blogs for free recipes. However, not all recipes will work, so it’s always best to look at a few sources and see what works best for you.

4. It’s also good to understand the profile of each dish you cook. For example: What’s the best chicken parts to use in a curry? Breast meat, chicken thighs, chicken wings? How long to cook a steak if you want to serve medium rare, medium well and well done?


While cooking can be a straightforward process, it is the little technical approaches that help enhance your dishes.

5. When entertaining friends, it’s better to cook tried and tested dishes that you know than to cook a new dish you want to try, unless you’re fully confident that it will work out well.

6. When you have built confidence cooking a dish, don’t be afraid to try something different. Take baby steps. You will realise that some dishes you thought would be impossible to cook, or will take a very long time, are be achievable.
7. Talk to people who enjoy cooking. They can be an important resource as they will share their experience and give you some tips.

8. Attend some cooking classes or cookout sessions when possible. YouTube and other resources are great, but doing these sessions and interacting with facilitators help you to build experience and gain more confidence.

A young professional’s food cost-saving solutions

By Feisan

I very recently started working, and I used to eat out all the time. I also used to subscribe to a meal plan, but I thought I could save money if I just prepare my own meals. A lot of times I just wanted something home-cooked, so meal prep was the answer!

For my first attempt, I cooked a simple pesto pasta with cut vegetables and burger patties (leftovers of a church picnic). I was so happy with the result! It was tasty, and I saved money from eating out!

For my second attempt, I made pan mee (brown rice and beetroot) seasoned with fried shallots, with sides of roasted vegetables and eggs. While waiting for the ingredients to cook, I made overnight oats with cut fruits, yogurt and chia seeds. The result was even more delightful. The meals were pleasing to the eye in addition to being nutritious and delicious. I am very much looking forward to eating them in the coming week!

Note from the Editor: HomSkil would like to thank Soph and Feisan for their contributions to this week’s blog post. Soph is based in Lisbon and Feisan is based in Kuala Lumpur.

Posted by Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 29 May 2022

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