I love cooking not only because I love food and could spend my days cow-like grazing on edibles but also because I love experimenting with flavour and fragrance. A few years back I discovered there was something called fusion cuisine and I have been inspired by it ever since. In fact I can’t remember the last time I made something clearly identifiable as ‘Italian’ or ‘Burmese’. Neither can the Mr. He says I’m ‘innovative’. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t think I’m a great cook. I make a mean roast lamb after all, inspired by Greek cuisine but mostly marinaded in Moroccan spices.
So it probably goes without saying that I love the Food Network but sadly don’t get to watch it as much as I would like to, which brings me to this week’s topic: Great Mysteries.
Now you’re probably wondering what has food got to do with the unravelling of deep existential questions like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ or ‘What came first, the chicken or the egg?’
Probably nothing. Maybe everything. But because I’m shallow and pretentious I have never spent more than a nanosecond pondering those questions, instead I allow other mysteries like the one I am about to share with you to tumble about in the laundromat of my mind.
There is something called Peranakan cuisine. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to sample it on your adventures or in Indonesia. Peranakan cuisine is the product of an intermarriage between Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines and the basis of it usually contains ingredients like coconut milk and lemon grass. There is a nut – much prized – in Indonesia called Buah keluak. Should you stumble upon one on your wanderings through untamed regions of Indonesia you should not under any circumstances eat it. It will kill you unless you boil it first and then bury it for 40 days under ash and soak it in water for three days to soften the shell before eating it. Apparently it tastes like chocolate.
My question is this: who were those first men and/or women? 39 brave volunteers (whose names are not recorded on stone tablets; no statues built in their honour) that consumed this nut and died in order for future generations to consume this chocolatey delight?
Why oh why is there no honour roll for these gastronomic heroes? I want to write songs about them.
Do you find yourself wondering how certain foods got on the menu?