I’ve always loved cooking and baking, and have been doing so for many years, for my family, for my friends, and for the community.
How did it all start though? Well, let me tell you a story. Not about myself, no. The main character in my cooking story is actually my mother. You see, my mum has been the greatest influence on my cooking.
Being the eldest child in her family, she was married at 13 years of age. Like any other woman of that era, she left home and was thrust into a new environment where she was expected to cook and clean and ensure a hearty home. So, very quickly, she was forced to learn to cook. She came from a great cooking background though – her own mother was a Chetty Melaka (a Peranakan Indian), a culture known for its special blend of cuisine with Chinese, Indian and Malay influences. Her new home was in an area predominantly populated by a mixture of Chinese and Malays, and so she then became very knowledgeable about these cuisines. My father (who hailed from South India) also took my mother back to his hometown for a number of years – here, she learnt typical South Indian dishes. I believe these various influences ultimately made her own cooking diverse and creative.
One of my earliest memories of my mother was when I was about 5 years old and playing with my brothers – and my mum feeding us in turn whilst we were playing. I don’t remember exactly what I was being fed, only that it was delicious!
Growing up, every day after school, my 2nd brother and greedy little me would head into the kitchen first to see what was in store for us to eat. Every day for afternoon tea, my mum would have prepared a dish for us – maybe a crispy treat, or kuih.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps because my mother was such a great cook, I hardly ever entered the kitchen to cook or prepare anything. And my mother never expected me to! In fact, there was a time when I was 16, my mum had gone to the clinic and I decided to cook dinner. I made masak lemak with taukee, bean curd and soh hoon. When my mum returned home, she could hardly believe that I had made that. She even asked me if our neighbour had passed over a pot of lemak!
There was one instance though, where my mum actually asked me to prepare a dish. This was when my eldest brother’s future in-laws were coming over for dinner, and she asked me to make dessert – an Indian sweet called gulab jamun. She sat over in a corner and gave me instructions and watched as I followed. It turned out fantastic; it made my mum very happy.
Unfortunately, my mum passed away when I was just 18, when I was preparing for my ‘A’ level exams. I hadn’t had time to learn anything from her. This is what saddens me the most.
Nevertheless, following that, I would focus hard and try to remember the taste of the dishes that I used to eat, and slowly learnt how to mix spices, bake cakes and tarts, cook briyani, and other kinds of dishes. I love to look back at my mum’s heritage and many a time, reminisce about all the food that she had cooked for my two older brothers and myself. And of course, recollecting all of the food that I had eaten and trying it out for myself to see if I could recreate the taste. This has led to interesting discoveries of new dishes (well, I like to think that some of my mum’s creativity has been passed down to me!), and tweaks and tips for traditional recipes.
Today, I want to document all of this down so that you too can enjoy these delicious recipes. For me, my cooking is all about using fresh and quality ingredients at all times, in simple recipes that ensure the cooking is done quickly, and yet give amazing results. Sounds too good to be true? No, it definitely isn’t!
So start cooking – my dear friends!
* kuih – bite-sized savoury/sweet snack, typically Malay
* masak lemak – coconut-based gravy
* taukee – beancurd skin
* soh hoon – vermicelli
* briyani – a one-pot dish of Basmati rice flavoured with various aromatic spices and meat or fish, associated with South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures