COMMENTARY, Dec 31 – Meals is a private journey. That is what 2021 tasted like, for me.
Through the first a part of the 12 months, when the lockdown was nonetheless in place, many people received used to cooking or ordering a meal for one.
When you’ve got been residence alone for a lot of a month, separated from household and pals, from family members, you adapt. Reunion dinner this past Chinese New Year, for example, was spent reminiscing about reunion dinners previous, when everybody may collect on the identical desk.
There are advantages, nevertheless, to having to eat alone: You learn to make a new friend… with yourself. You learn to take it slow, a lesson picked up from consuming mindfully at ramen outlets in Japan (however extra on this, later).
Each chunk is a meditation, a prayer of gratitude for the meals we’re blessed to have.
Nonetheless, it will get lonely. Maybe this is the reason, then, after weeks of takeaway and deliveries and cooking at residence, dining in feels like such a luxury. I’ll by no means take with the ability to saunter right into a café for a sit-down brekkie without any consideration ever once more.
In tough occasions, we wish meals that consolation and console us: A bowl of clean congee, studded with morsels of salted egg and century egg. Chicken rice from my favourite stall the place they begin getting ready my order the second they see me approaching.
A soothing mouthfeel issues, be it a spoonful of creamy black glutinous rice tong sui or spongy, espresso-soaked tiramisù or the dashi-drenched crunch of agedashi dofu. These acquainted textures inform us issues might be okay.
Soups, specifically, match the invoice: from nutrient-rich purple Chinese spinach soup to a hearty seafood soup that can rescue us from the worst of the blues. This 12 months, I’ve even discovered to make my own simple superior stock at residence; it has served as the bottom of many a last-minute soup!
That’s one other lesson, you see. When issues are powerful, we’ve to study to not squander our sources.
Waste not, need not. The thrifty residence cook dinner makes irresistible meat floss from leftover cooked meat and avoids meals waste by turning a fruit surplus into an easy-peasy vanilla spiced berry compote.
Cleansing out your fridge and freezer? We will flip the chances and ends in our pantry into a tasty “fried rice surprise” if we get artistic. 2021 is the 12 months of discovering the incredible in frugality.
In fact, we don’t all the time need to cook dinner, even once we are caught at residence.
If 2020 was the 12 months everybody turned to baking (didn’t it appear as if everybody you knew was making their very own sourdough bread?), then 2021 is the 12 months we lastly realised we’d somewhat have others do it for us, particularly now that meals supply is a lifestyle.
We’d order our double cheese croissants and our Italian bombolone. We’d devour our sourdough in the form of soft pretzels and fluffy Hainanese bread. Be it bagels, baos or babkas, 2021 was the 12 months we by no means ran out of baked goodies to eat.
Because the lockdown lifted, we started to dine out once more. And when interstate journey was permitted as soon as extra, we started to enterprise additional, tentatively at first and while following security measures.
Although I had missed the style of Melaka, the flavours of my hometown are never far away. As a substitute, for me, the true eye-opener of the 12 months was discovering (or rediscovering) Perakian flavours with recent eyes and an keen palate.
From roti bakar and genuine white espresso at Kong’s Kopitiam alongside Jalan Pasir Puteh to silken, slurp-worthy tau foo fa at Humorous Mountain alongside Jalan Mustapa Al-Bakri, the simple pleasures of Ipoh never change.
We take pleasure in yong tau foo at the foot of the iconic Big Tree; we chase bowls of hor hee at Loke Wooi Kee with nostalgia-tinged crème caramel. Even again in KL, we are able to take pleasure in Perak-style chee cheong fun simply today; nothing is so far-off that it might probably’t come to you.
Until it’s actually far, far-off, that’s.
Whether or not it’s Mexican-style breakfast burritos to gas gruelling hikes in Patagonia or handcrafted artisanal jams made within the college city of Dunedin, each meals reminiscence was a longing, not simply the now almost forgotten tastes, however a eager for the best way it was earlier than.
I recall this tiny restaurant in Ushuaia, Argentina. It was on the very finish of the world, it appears; there was no metropolis additional south. Any additional and we’d be on the best way to Antarctica.
Their queso frito, fried breaded native provoleta cheese served atop marinara sauce, burning my tongue as I took a chunk however I couldn’t resist anyway. Their king crab stack with its ceviche like acidity however more energizing, as if to remind me the crustacean was nonetheless within the ocean hours earlier.
Would I style these flavours once more? They appear so very far-off, in 2021.
Japan, specifically, has been on my thoughts. The Land of the Rising Solar, the place all 4 seasons had their very own rhythms of feasting. Come spring, there are younger sardines (shirasu) and fritters of “cherry blossom shrimp”(sakura ebi). Tender bamboo shoots are grilled over charcoal or loved merely as takenoko gohan (or bamboo rice).
Summertime meals entails a tantalising contrast of hot and cold, of smoke-infused yakitori (grilled hen on skewers) and of refreshing hiyashi chuka (chilled ramen noodles served with strips of ham, omelette, tomatoes and cucumber).
Autumn requires apple pies, cinnamon doughnuts and strong black coffee. And when the temperature drops additional, when there may be snow on the bottom, then Japan’s wintry menu consists of effervescent vats of oden, bowls of shiruko (candy adzuki bean soup) and a decadent slice of strawberry cake.
Oh, how I miss these seasonal treats!
Thankfully Japanese meals will be discovered all over the place today, from ramen outlets and onigiri at comfort shops to even omakase particular eating places. Washoku (conventional Japanese delicacies) isn’t what I miss essentially the most.
No, the flavours I crave essentially the most are these of our northern neighbour. For me, the Thai quintet of waan (candy), briao (bitter), ped (spicy), kem (salty) and kom (bitter) and the fragile stability of those flavours collectively are what jogs my memory that there’s a lot extra good on this world we’ve but to savour.
For dessert, I may make my very own khao niao mamuang or mango sticky rice, an ideal pairing of glutinous rice, wealthy with coconut cream, and juicy, ripe mangoes. Or a tropical cherimoya salad, flecked with inexperienced cilantro leaves and crimson chook’s eye chillies, that may have you ever saying like a Thai beverage industrial: “Sodchun!”
That’s the trail to my coronary heart, because the cliché goes, by my stomach – by whetting my urge for food and having me craving extra.
What did 2021 style like? For those who requested me, it was a 12 months of flavours each acquainted and recent, as soon as forgotten and now discovered. It was a 12 months of rediscovering our style buds and our style for all times.
And as 2021 attracts to a detailed, we give thanks for what we savoured, each bitter and candy, and hope for extra of the latter within the new 12 months to come back.
For extra slice-of-life tales, go to lifeforbeginners.com.