Faking it in the kitchen

This was my first article to appear in a print magazine, my first column piece and the first writing gig that I was actually paid for.

In my family, cooking is a tradition. Everyone has a signature dish. My specialty was burning food. Once, I forgot I was boiling water and scorched the saucepan.

I married a man who wouldn’t know a tong from a tweezer. ‘You’ll make a great cook,’ he encouraged. The words of a desperate man. I hoped the honeymoon would last long enough to survive my first meal. I was counting on love to keep us alive should dinner explode.

With Hubby’s promise to do the dishes, I began my quest to cook like Mum. Starting with the basics, I grabbed five tins of corned beef off the grocery shelf. What could be easier? I thought. Five attempts later, I proudly served a perfect meal. Puzzled, Hubby told me I’d forgotten the peas. ‘Peas?!’ I fumed. ‘Do they even have peas in the Philippines?’

Cooking Tip #1:

My Mum’s cooking is better than yours. Hubby’s corned beef habits of a lifetime couldn’t be overcome by love alone. Neither can the potatoes in his bistek or the oyster sauce in my spaghetti.

I tried to make something with universal appeal. ‘Pls snd rcpe for sinigang,’ I SMSed Mum.

‘Use packet,’ she replied. After half an hour of meandering through the Asian aisle at Coles, I gave up.

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Cooking Tip #2:

Find an Asian supermarket and stock up. I took a shortcut through Mum’s pantry and scored packets of tocinosinigang and chop suey mix.

I ran into trouble trying to buy veggies for my sinigang. Whipping out my phone, I sent Mum a frantic SMS. ‘Wats kangkong in English?’

‘Good question,’ she replied.

‘How do u make bistek?’ I messaged back, desperately contemplating 500 grams of defrosted beef. Two hours and three trips to Coles later, my salvage attempt was well received. After all, it was 10pm and we were starving.

Eventually, I had my veggies and a kilo of meat as instructed on the back of the sinigang packet. The meal was a success … except Hubby had to go out of town for a few days. After enduring four days of eating nothing but sinigang, I returned the remaining packets to Mum.

Cooking Tip #3:

Filipino recipes don’t cater for small households. Even desserts like champorado lose their appeal after a few days. ‘Your corned beef was so good,’ Hubby would say gravely. ‘I have no room for dessert.’

Despite the setbacks, I love making meals that my family appreciates – even SPAM and eggs. Cooking, I’ve learned, requires flexibility. Peas in bistek? No worries.

And if all else fails, I have Mum on speed dial. ‘Coming over 4 dinner. Pls make fishballs,menudo & taho. Luv u Mum! xox’

This article was first published in the debut issue (September 2006) of the Australian Filipina.

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