Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Culinary Tales

So other than the general malaise, I've been reading quite a bit picking up the random books left in the house. It's a bit of a weird mix, really, the schizophrenic shelves carry Bridget Jones' Diary along with Taslima Nasrin, and then there's Amy Tan next to Khaled Hosseini.

I get a general 'ick' sense from Asian writers, which I know is very obtuse behaviour on my part, but I find their prose to be much too flowery. And for that same reason, I can't stand Paulo Coelho. Picked up Witch of Portobello, got sucked in for half the book, and then halfway through I felt like I had crammed myself full with too much rich tasting food and wanted to throw up.

This just means I avoid most books by Asian writers -- even those that made it to the bestseller list. The rare exception I guess would be Salman Rushdie, but even though I enjoyed his book, it wasn't the effortless magic carpet ride Marquez was.

Surprisingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed The Kitchen God's Wife. Made it through half of The Kite Runner and even less of The Inheritance of Loss. I've lived with these books for months, before finally trying to give it a go -- no go. Badly want to read more Camus or Banville or some depressing Irish thing to balance out the many many lessons in morality I've consumed thus far.

So Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was beautiful change in pace. And it made me very, very hungry.

I'm not a big foodie, and I've never been one of those Singaporeans who would drive from Boon Lay to Geylang just for supper. I suppose Bangladesh isn't exactly the place to be for a Singaporean -- even one who's not a foodie.

I am not a big fan of gulping down my food, but that's the way its done here most of the time. Its hard to savour the spices and curry when I'm cramming my mouth with as much rice it can hold. There's also a habit of pre-mixing everything with the hands, so you essentially get a ball of curry-soaked rice (or rice-soaked curry?) which you shove into your mouth.

And everything is in curry, except the biryani. While I'm a big, big fan of curry -- I wish someone would dunk a whole can of coconut milk into one of those pots and shake things up a little. Or a stick of lemon grass. And don't get me started on the oil. You do realise that chicken fat/skin produces a whole lot of that by itself, don't you?

Oh, and easy on the salt, yeah? Salt is consumed so liberally here you'd think they were shaking black pepper on the dish. My local friends are generally not appreciative if my curries or chilli pastes end up sweet -- which it always does -- and help themselves to insane amounts of salt at every meal to 'balance' out the weird food I make. I made some sambal ikan bilis complete with sugar and lime, and they cringed.

This is the reason why I get upset when I steam fish (traditional Teochew steamed pomfret) and my friends insist on having curry or raw chilli to go along with it. Enjoy the flavour! Smell that damn soup! How are you going to taste anything when your mouth is filled with tumeric and numb from the chilli?

This doesn't mean there's no good food to be had here. God knows I've had my share of fabulous street stall kebabs and roasted chicken, buttery naan and lovely gravy. And the biryani, although a tad bit rich, can be divine. But I can't have this every day of the week. Where's my bak kut teh? Laksa? Mee goreng? Sambal squid? Variety! I need variety!

Did I just write about food and books? Jesus.


ghimlay said...

Try Jhumpa Lahiri and Mohsin Hamid. I think you just haven't discovered the good ones yet :)