A literary taste for gingerbread

Since it’s Christmas and all, my son decided to make gingerbread men. This is a new step for our household, where gingerbread belongs in that territory occupied by Halloween, Hans Christian Andersen and Hannah Montana. That is to say, it’s familiar from the global cultural ether – storybooks, TV, store displays – but without so far having found expression in any personal appropriation of specific gingerbread-related practices.

Until now. So, he looked up a recipe on joyofbaking.com, and I went off to Pantry Magic in Thonglor to buy an appropriately-shaped cutter.

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The misguided search for authenticity

I made Chicken Everest last night, out of Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Guide to Asian Cooking. I’ve had the book for years, but – perhaps snobbily – had never tried this particular recipe listed in the Indian and Pakistan section, because it was one her husband had invented, and not a “traditional” recipe. (“Mr Charmaine”, in his concoction, uses various Indian spices, roasted rice powder – and then a Chinese ingredient: soy sauce.)

It was delicious. And it tasted..Indian. Which made me think about what counts as traditional or authentic.  Continue reading

Aunty Kuppu’s amazing vegetable pickle

The year was 1987.

The national daily I worked at, The Star, had just had its publishing licence revoked by the government.  Overnight, the entire newsroom was out of work. So, I’m sitting with my housemates – also reporters – in our shared house in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, mulling over matters of press freedom (lack of), and career prospects (apparently doomed), when Mrs Kuppusamy – Aunty Kuppu to us – suddenly shows up.

Aunty Kuppu had been a headmistress of Durian Daun Girls’ School in Malacca in the ’50s, an admired colleague of my mother’s, and later much-loved family friend. Despite the name – a legacy from her second husband – she was a Malacca nyonya: light-skinned, and (unusually) big-boned and tall. No matter the occasion, or lack of one, Aunty Kuppu’s formidable presence always brought an atmosphere of burlesque, with her sharp eye, quick wit and terrible jokes, delivered at a volume suitable for school assembly before PA systems came in. These were always interspersed with a braying “hah?…hah?” and perhaps an elbow-dig, in case you were slow to respond.

She didn’t say anything about the political situation on that occasion, which really was beyond words,  but she did give us a jar of her special homemade vegetable pickle – I guess, to cheer us up. It was so mind-blowingly good, I had to ask for the recipe.  Continue reading