The worst kind of choices, I think, are those where one must pick between food and something else, absolutely anything. The choice is very clear but being in that position, even for the briefest of moments at the end of a long day, drains every bit of joy out.
But I wouldn’t wear the “foodie” badge or dare call myself a food-enthusiast for it is the process that I enjoy most, as opposed to the product itself. There may be a sprinkle of a ritual here, a rite there, a dash of habit, an anecdote from past student houses, finally plated with imagination, improvisation and ginormous servings to compensate for the “right” ingredients.
Cooking is something that I, like many, picked up through many failures purely as a sustenance measure after I moved here as a student. I remember the very foreign feeling of gulping down an Albert Heijn salad dinner on my second night here and the nightlong grumbling admonishment that my belly made its opposition clear with. A sole salad for a meal has not happened since.
It started with boiling up and frying simple things, to the discovery of carbonara, rejection of the same carbonara by an Italian friend, naively trusting myself with seafood, and to whatever I call a tiramisu these days. But the process kept itself going, through its many mild successes and devastating collapses. But like with experimental research as a day job, no outcome is as bad as to make you quit (marinating chicken with vanilla-flavored yogurt did demand a change of course though).
Heighten the meal’s overall experience
It’s no more just a basic requirement as there is sufficient confidence that I wouldn’t botch it up altogether. And that turning point from mere sustenance to cookery’s now-important therapeutic function came in the form of a modest lump of rice, meat, vegetables, sauce and a fried egg upended together out of a bowl onto a plate, a recipe rightfully dubbed a “magic bowl” that a friend shared from her childhood in Mauritius. It’s not even about the ingredients here for I have come to realize that those few moments of anticipation before this bowl is lifted to reveal the juicy heap of slightly above-average culinary skill topped by a gooey egg, is often sufficient to heighten the meal’s overall experience.
So now, as exhilarating days sometimes extend long into the night, a final escape to the stove is when the pace finally begins a smooth slowdown in the haze of a poorly-ventilated kitchen. The TV jabbers away in the living room, housemates chitchat about their days and plans over a beer or tea, and as the food simmers on slowly, a few bits of energy and inspiration start to return. Dinner is gobbled up at lightning speed but that’s immaterial for the next day awaits, for the bowl to be lifted from it.