Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lessons From My First Cook Book

Published paperback in 1989 by Dorling Kindersey in Great Britain, I received in 1991 when as a grade- six student my head was stuffed with science fiction and biology. Pursuing a career in the culinary arts wasn’t something I considered heavily at an early age although I should admit I enjoyed many hours in the kitchen.

There have been a few cookbooks at home, like Imelda Marcos’s popular “Your Food and You” – an intensely- read material we harassed with purple and orange crayons, but nevertheless gave me my first glimpse of boob- shaped gel desserts. Then there’s “The Filipino Heritage” from where I first read Ma Mon Luk, decorative pickles and exotic fruits; “The Young Home Maker”, with basic recipes of escabeche and sinigang.

But this Yan Kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook is really something else.

With this cookbook came my first French knife, filing knife, serrated knives, Pyrex wares, cookie cutters, food processor, cleaver - all purchased abroad and given by my father before he lost fortune and succumbed to a lifetime of self- doubt.

For those who understand food, I know that you all know how much our cooking is attached to the chemistry of our emotions. This cookbook witnessed many emotional days, such that even with the simple instruction of chopping finely, I got too clumsy. Or the eggs just keep sticking to the frying pan. For a time when Lady Luck frowned at our family, suddenly the kitchen hearth got colder, the family chef died of old age, we siblings were struggling through college, and opulent celebrations just didn’t exist anymore.

Somehow Yan Kit So’s passion fueled heat during many tough times. Her use of non- fancy, pragmatic traditional kitchen tools had a great effect on my psyche: “ Look at this lady, she uses only these, but she creates marvelous dishes.” Efficiency.

As a student in food science (a hybrid course of pre-med and culinary arts. There was just as time when I thought I was going to be a doctor, but then realized that I’d rather spin caramel than dissect a cadaver), I leafed through the pages in search for healthy recipes. Critically- thinking this book gave a lot of evidence why Chinese women don’t get fat. I appreciated her particular attention to details, of the simple arrangement for example of cucumbers with the jellyfish and the fictional title of food, i.e,”ants climbing a tree” (minced meat on a heap of glass noodles) her passion on the simple things in general.

From this book I first learned the four regions of Chinese cooking: Peking (Northern), Shanghai (Eastern), Canton (Southern) and Szechwan (Western). The book is also written in a way that it seems to converse with the reader. I can relate very well for the ingredients have always been familiar to me. With excellent photographs, it could show the difference between a corn oil and sesame oil; you could feel the dampness of the prawns, and almost hear the crispness of the tientsin fen pi. Featuring only two knives, she could make five- way spring onions and cut meats paper- thin. Plus, her instructions on using the chopsticks made it easy for me when eating in Chinese restaurants.

I think many recipes in this book has embedded in my subconscious because for a long, long time I’ve had a close penchant to stir- frying, egg soups, glass noodles and my constant love affair with mushrooms (Mushrooms, mysterious and dark creatures, what was God thinking when He created you?) . The stir- fried Chinese broccoli with beef (p 160) has become a staple dish in our busy days in the city, the stir- fried bean sprouts (p169), the bean curd soups have become more popular for us than french fries, and my craving for nai cha (milk tea) every time we eat out is extremely unstoppable. The dishes are practical, healthy, tasty and colorful such that even when I am taking a bath and my sister is doing the cooking, I could recite the instructions for her in thirty seconds.

Yan Kit So and her very amiable aura (as it seems to reflect on the pictures- she’s always smiling) could very well fit into being Amy Tan’s kitchen god’s wife.

No wonder books – and travels – can greatly influence who we are. For now my dining lifestyle es muy Chino – breakfast, lunch, dinner, I eat with chopsticks, on a blue china bowl, squatted on the carpeted apartment floor. But the ultimate lesson is this: when you respect food- and with the simple application of the Chinese philosophy of being happy and content with what you have- Lady Luck smiles all over again.


Anonymous said...

You can recite cooking instructions while taking a bath? Wow. You never fail to impress me! :-)
I'm too busy blowing bubbles. hehe

foodhuntress79 said...

Under the spell of the kitchen god's wife, yes, chef, most certainly ;)

A. said...

Try out some of the recipes that I got from