Reading some old newspapers today, I was astounded to find that “from 2008 to 2009, Asian cookbook sales grew from 54 per cent to 60 per cent of total cookbook sales, and most of them were Singapore cookbooks.”
I don’t buy cookbooks, like I don’t buy self-improvement, investment or management books, especially today when all the gems I need I can just grab from the Internet.
However, I guess there must be tons of people who do, hence the unending stream of books on these topics selling at somewhat ridiculous prices, when most, if not all, don’t dispense advice that isn’t self-evident or unavailable for free from the Internet.
Still, my beef is mainly with cookbooks because of terrible outcomes when using them — thank goodness, a long time in the past.
Sure, I must confess I’m not one of those who had begun cooking when they were knee-high to the grass hopper.
In fact, be4 I went to the UK to do my A-levels, I didn’t know how to even boil water, as i lived in a household filled with adults who believed that children should concentrate on their books while the grown ups provided the food, finance and the cleaning.
I did learn to make scones as part of domestic science at school but since my talents didn’t force me into that stream, I never progressed beyond that.
But in the UK, I was forced by circumstance to pick up cooking for self-survival and managed even to earn my first wages as a cook during the long summer holiday, which says a lot about the British taste buds.
Back home, inspired by colleagues who weren’t only good in the office but also in their kitchen, I too aspired to cook and so acquired one of those cookbooks supposedly a Singapore classic.
For me, it’s a classic for omissions.
I tried to cook fried rice and kong bak using its recipes. Not exactly trying to replicate the Emperor’s Banquet, for heaven’s sake! So how difficult could it be?
Read on for what happened!
For the fried rice, the instruction was to use two cups of rice. Silence.
As someone who believed in following instructions to the last punctuation when I’m on virgin ground, I put two tea cups worth of rice into the frying pan, after having fried the other ingredients.
I fried and fried, but the grains refused to soften or puff out.
Of course the cookbook author had meant that the two cups of rice should be cooked first.
Should I known that? Perhaps but cookbook writers shouldn’t assume that everyone using their recipes is a seasoned cook. They shouldn’t even assume that the user wouldn’t be using rice for the first time in his/her cooking.
Now, if that wasn’t a real co-k up, my attempt to make kong bak was even worse, if being scalded by angrily leaping oil could be considered “worse”.
The recipe had asked for the pork to be washed, marinaded in soy sauce, 5 spices etc and then put into the wok where the oil had been heated to boiling.
Not a single word on patting the pork dry before marinading, and after that to drain off the marinade as much as possible before putting it into the wok with the bubbling oil.
So no guess what happened to Auntie when I put the dripping wet pork into the heated oil. There were angry splutters from the wok followed by screams from me as the oil leapt up — but thankfully only small droplets hit my right hand and arm as I managed to jump back quickly enough.
The biggest damage was to the kitchen floor and hob where oil splashes were everywhere; also my back as my body hit the fridge when I jumped.
I’ve since learned to cook well enough — by asking friends, experimenting and from the Internet, so much so that mum’s maid Siti often suggests snarkily: “Ma’am why don’t you check the Net?”
And she’s right. Five years after executing this recipe , I still revisit to reprise. (Go to the item Monday, June 27, 2005 Sake no Oyako Don, or Mother & Child Salmon Rice Bowl).
The Internet offers the best cookbooks, gratis!