With Margaux in her London Home Kitchen
Food is sustenance to the body, turning it into fuel for living but food is so much more than that. Food is an experience, food is family, food is sharing, food is love, food is kindness, food is taste, food is excitement, food is enjoyment, food is happiness, food is joy. Food is what I live for. I live to eat. I am one of those who would wake up thinking of food. What I would eat for breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and a cheeky late night snack (not so much these days as the weight is quickly piling on during the lockdown!). I even go to bed dreaming of good food!
My relationship with food grew deeper as a child when I was out (on business trips) with my father, who was very much a foodie. He taught me taste, enjoyment, the sampling of good food and the love for good food. It was our father daughter bonding time, best of all with great food.
You may not be surprised to know that as a toddler, I was a difficult fussy eater. I would turn down food most times. My grandmother told me that she had to trick me to get me to open my mouth and quickly shove a spoonful of rice in. Feeding me as a baby and a toddler was a traumatising experience for my mother and my grandmother mostly.
When I was out with my father (on his business trips), we would talk about the good food local to the area. Of course, we would go together to sample them. I definitely remember one of the best Chee Cheong Fun (豬腸粉) from a simple food truck in Kuala Lumpur. We stood by the truck eating it out of the packet but the taste was just simply outstanding, better than many good and highly rated dim sum restaurants around. It was a family business and the rice noodle rolls were handmade each morning by the mother. There were no special scallops or tiger prawns to go with it. It was just the simple rice noodle rolls delicately made, so thin, made with great skills and love. The accompanying sauce was also heavenly, sweet with that special umami served with toasted sesame seeds. It was not posh but that taste, that entire experience has remained in my memory all these years simply because it was authentic and it was so good.
Each place has it’s own special locality food. It doesn’t have to be in a posh Michelin starred restaurant, it could just be a road side stall. It’s the bringing together of the ingredients, preparation, cooking methods and most importantly the preservation of the natural authentic taste that really makes good food great. Growing up in Asia, I was very fortunate to taste a variety of good food from Chinese to Malay to Indian to Thai.
My father also taught me the importance of ingredients. Good food comes from good, sustainable ingredients grown with love and care. I am definitely a firm believer of sustainability especially in food. Preparation of food matters too. Handling food with love and respect goes a long way. Food wastage is something I cannot bear and growing up in Asia with a Tiger Mum, I wasn’t even allowed to leave even a single grain of rice in my bowl. In my home, we still have a no wastage policy. Loving and respecting food means no wastage. Cooking methods are of utmost importance when it comes to good food. The Japanese philosophy on making sushi is crucial to understand food; especially on texture, taste, freshness and skills. Understanding how to bring out the ingredient’s natural flavour and understanding the basics of flavour combinations.
One of the things I loved to do at the weekend as a child was to accompany my father to the market. No, not a supermarket but a proper big market with both wet and dry food sections. I learnt many things like picking the best ingredients, smelling them, how to choose a fresh fish, the best sirloin cut, getting the best belly pork! It is often not about looking for the perfect shape, but the feel, the weight, the tympanic sound (of a watermelon), the elasticity (of a meat), the freshness that really matters.
When you taste good food, you develop a special food memory of that very moment, that taste, that atmosphere, that smell, that happiness and that joy. All the senses combine to create a golden foodie moment. Good food can also bring you back to happier times. Sometimes, when I taste something authentic from my childhood, it makes me feel all warm inside, and transports me back to the happy food memory I have had, often with my father.
One of those foods is Zhong Zi (粽子) or Bak Chang. It is a traditional Chinese dish made with glutinous rice and filling of belly pork, shiitake mushroom, dried shrimps, dried scallops, salty duck yolk wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. You can find them easily in Chinatown but none could take me back to my happy childhood days. It’s all about the ingredients, the taste, the love. The right combination can unlock the memories. Last year, I was fortunate enough to have a renowned chef friend who made me some 粽子. Proper homemade 粽子. They were heavenly. One bite, just one bite and it transported me back to my childhood with my father picking 粽子 and him explaining to me what a good 粽子 should contain. Those happy memories unlocked with all its senses; the taste, the smell, the auditory, the sight (though in my head), the feel (in my heart). I could almost lean over and hug my father and tell him how much I have missed him. I am lucky enough to have those heavenly 粽子 again today and spurred me to write this good food blog.
Food can also bring you back to some sad memories. 涼瓜排骨豉汁 Braised bitter gourd and pork ribs in black bean sauce. This dish can reduce me to tears as it reminds me of my (maternal) grandmother and bitter memories she had with my mother. The sense of taste certainly can have powerful links to the heartstrings.
Cooking is one of my ways to chill. I love to experiment. I never had any formal cooking lessons. When I taste something I like in a restaurant, I often try to reproduce it at home. The cooking flair is a creative art form, not just techniques and following methods. One has to be creative.
Fusion is a type of food born out of creativity but sometimes overly confused and unnecessarily complicated causing a real confusion rather than fusion. One has to be very clear on the basic taste before combining them. I tend to steer clear of any fusion. The other of my pet hates is the deconstructed something.. like a deconstructed strawberry cheesecake for example. Why reinvent the wheel, why mend something that isn’t broken? As a traditionalist, some foods are meant to taste and look the way they should, just because they shouldn’t be tampered with and spoiled.
Although food is mainly about the taste, it should always look as good as it tastes. It’s all about the senses coming together with the taste of the fresh produce and ingredients combination. You should smell it as it is being prepared, see it when it is served and immediately want to pick up your fork and dive into it. Have a mouthful of that delicious taste combination dancing on your tongue and form a golden food memory locked away to savour and yearn for.
The mood you are in when you are cooking can influence your food. When I am angry, my food tends to be more fiery. When I am quite low, my food tend to mellow. I do believe that if you cook with your heart (of course do taste it with your tongue!), your food will be filled with love.
This is mainly why I love food and how my love affair with food begun. They often say the best way to man’s heart is through his stomach. I say the best way to anyone’s heart is through good food prepared with love, and that certain je ne sais quoi artistic food flair. I am teaching my two boys to love their food as much as I do and teach them to cook. They are pretty good I must say. I am hoping to share many happy good food memories with them. I hope you can join me in my journey of good food as I share my recipes, experiences and tastings here with you from my London kitchen.