THE IMPORTANCE OF HOME COOKED FOOD, HOWEVER SIMPLE
Home cooking used to be the rule, not the exception. It was the domain of the lady of the house, the Mum, wife or even Grandma in extended family households. It’s heartening that today, the stereotype has evaporated and so many men adore cooking. Whilst they used to be kings of the barbecue, now they’re bringing their talents into the kitchen.
For some time now, home cooking has taken a back seat thanks to the saturation of cafes and restaurants in the cities and the plethora of home delivery services. Our time-poor population needs a rest. It’s all too easy to tap a few buttons on an app and have food brought to your door. But there’s a lot to be said about taking the time to cook a fresh meal at home.
HOME COOKING IN MALAYSIA
Growing up, I recall both my humble home and outdoor kitchen were always a busy central hub for the family. Mum (Amma) spent a great deal of time planning and preparing meals. Sometimes it would take a few days, especially if she was preparing something for a special occasion like a birthday or festive day. Spices were washed, dried and ground, vegetables picked and cleaned. Dad (Acha) would be given instructions on a variety of items that had to be specially purchased or brought in from his main garden. Conversations centred around which scrawny chicken was ready to be a central celebratory meal. These are memories I recall now with extreme fondness and nostalgia.
I also remember mum, toiling away – somewhat happily I think – in her kitchen vegetable garden. Both Mum and Dad were blessed with green fingers. Any vegetables they grew such as cabbage and some gourds grew a bit too large for my liking! But they had their own ideas around gardening.
You could say I wasn’t entirely impressed by our meals back in those days. Our daily diet consisted of mainly vegetables, gourds (lots of them), fruits, lentils, eggs, dried fish, the occasional fresh fish and the very rare appearance of a chicken or duck from our own backyard for a celebratory occasion.
GROWING UP WITH HOMEMADE FOOD
We didn’t eat or cook beef then and rarely purchased pork or mutton as budgets were tight. But there was always homemade food, and lots of it so none of us was ever bored. We enjoyed all sorts of homemade breakfast staples, made using various flours, lentils, millet and rice which Mum fermented and turned into crisp flat pancakes or steamed into dumplings called idlis. Sometimes, she made deep fried doughnut and lentil fritters called vadais. All sorts of coconut chutneys were made to complement them. We had our very own coconut tree which, under Dad’s careful watch, produced abundantly for us.
We often enjoyed a variety of tea time treats thanks to my mum’s ingenuity using tapioca, yams, sweet potatoes and bananas. These humble ingredients were turned into fritters, dumplings and doughnuts, and even thick pancakes. Both sweet and savoury versions were made, either with a homemade light sugar syrup or a sweet chilli sauce to accompany a savoury vegetable fritter made with bean sprouts.
It wasn’t uncommon for us to have a sweet or savoury breakfast or tea time treats. It all depended on what was available and what Mum felt like making.
For dessert, Dad maintained an orchard on land that didn’t belong to us, where he grew loads of seasonal fruits. We made them into drinks like lime juice and cane juice. Other fruits like papayas, mangoes and rambutans were turned into fruit salads. Dad also turned jackfruit into a jam which I particularly loved.
But of course, all I ever dreamed about was cheese, chocolates, cornflakes, Chinese noodles and pies! It seems the grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? I smile now at the thought because I grew up to establish a business that helps Australian consumers enjoy the kinds of flavours I grew up with.
FAMILY-STYLE MEALS FOR ALL KINDS OF FAMILIES
Home cooked food is important because it establishes precious memories for us. The old ‘home and hearth’ expression means something special. Families that gather together to eat, talk and share their experiences, value that time. Eating ‘family-style’ is about lively conversation and tasty food.
‘Family’ doesn’t have to be Mum, Dad and two kids. A gathering of best friends over a bowl of laksa and a glass of wine at home is family. Calling the neighbours over because the tandoori chicken roast turned out so well that you want to share your pride with others, is family. Having interstate visitors sitting around the table mopping up the juices from a slow cooked lamb, is family. All these experiences create lasting memories.
SIMPLE OR FANCY, IT’S ABOUT THE MOMENTS
It doesn’t really matter what you put on the table. Throw together a simple curry or take your time creating a culinary extravaganza including a wonderful dessert. What matters is the moments you make happen. The smells emanating from the kitchen will draw everyone closer. The sounds of sizzling and chopping and the tap-tap-tap of the stirring spoon in the saucepan are the soundtrack of many a family meal. Cook a simple steak and dress it up in seconds with a chimichurri sauce. Toss a few fresh salad leaves together with a splash of vinegar and maybe a dash of chilli oil.
MY CHALLENGE TO YOU
I would love to humbly challenge you to plan two or three lovely home cooked meals in the upcoming week. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, anything is great. Be as ambitious or as easy-going as you like but spend a little while browsing recipes on the internet or in your cookbooks and pick out a few recipes you like the look of. Maybe set the table really nicely, put some favourite music on and leave the TV off. Whether you eat alone or have family or friends around you, make it an experience to enjoy and remember.
A SAD TRUTH
It’s only now when I have just myself and my 21 year-old daughter to cook for that I sadly reminisce how quickly time passes and one day you find yourself with an empty kitchen table with no one to cook for. My husband has been living in a nursing home for exactly a year now, due to the advanced stages of vascular dementia and parkinsonism brought upon by multiple mini strokes over 12 years. Until a short time ago, I took him a weekly staple of simple home cooked foods that he enjoyed. But his recent change to a diet of soft foods due to Dysphagia or swallowing difficulties, means he really can’t enjoy this treat anymore.
So from my experience, I encourage you cook and feed your loved ones while you can and while you can all enjoy the simple pleasures of life that will long remain in treasured memories. I’d love to see what you cook so please do post your photos on my Instagram or Facebook.