My mother was of the idea that a man’s place was never in the kitchen, and this was ingrained into us as she shooed us out of the kitchen every time whenever we tried to get into the kitchen to see what was cooking. It might not have been the best or correct thing to do, and as a result, her children -the sons, including me, grew up not knowing how to cook until we were college going kids and had to live away from home and to start to cook and fend for ourselves.
Disadvantaged as we were in cooking for ourselves, it made us more aware of the beauty in mum’s cooking. Mum’s prepared food that was absolutely marvellous, both in taste and smell. Meals prepared by her were never ordinary. They were a delight to behold, a pleasure to consume – no matter how simple the dish was.
Now in her twilight years, mum can no longer cook for herself. She has bouts of amnesia, and old age has taken a severe toil on her. Dependent on others to cook and serve her meals, she can sometimes struggle to the kitchen and still manage to prepare a ten minute fast cooking instant noodle, much to our chagrin and anxiety. The doctor orders were not to let her near a stove for fear of a fit or a fall, lest she burn the house down.
Just yesterday, in the quiet of the night, I was able to recall times I had with mum when I was about to go to college. Vivid in my mind, as history started to flash back, I remembered words of wisdom from mum on cooking. We were always profuse in our praise and bountiful in our appreciation for mum’s fantastic cooking.And on one occasion, she revealed the secret formula that had always enveloped the food she cooked.
“In Chinese cooking,” she said one day,” the two most important things are to have a sharp knife and a hot stove. Always sharpen your knife so that you can slice through your veggie and your meat or fish. Cutting them up becomes a pleasure and not a task. Be sure to have everything prepared before you start cooking: the vegetables washed, drained and cut; the meat cut and marinated; the sauces prepared.”
“And get yourself a good wok – It is the one piece of cooking equipment you may want to purchase before you start cooking Chinese food. Always heat up the wok. When cooking meat or poultry, make sure that the wok is very hot before adding the food. If you are going to stir-fried meat and vegetables, stir-fry the meat first and set it aside. Then return it to the wok with a sauce during the final stages of cooking. And use a little cornstartch as a binder at the end of your cooking, if it calls for that. Just remember how the dish tastes like, the way I cooked it”, she said.
Throughout the years when I had to cook, her words of wisdom flashed back to me whenever I despaired over my cooking. I had seen my cooking improved, and had added more styles and recipes to vary my cooking in the later years.
“And the secret ingredient in all Chinese cooking is to add a little bit of inner joy to your dish as you cook. When you approach your cooking with this little bit of inner joy, you will have a song on your lips as you cook. Something mysteriously will spur you on to do your best and turn on the magic in your cooking,” she added.
That day, last week, when I recalled those words of mum when I prepared a meal for her, I could only add not just a little bit of inner joy, I tried my best to give her a physical massive hug of love.
“Vary your ingredients to add textures, colors and flavors.Then it is possible to find harmony and balance in your meals. This is an important principle in Chinese cooking.”
Mum may be frail and too old to handle a wok anymore, but her words of wisdom in Chinese cooking has helped us through the many years. Her simple tips for Chinese cooking may help you too.