If a genie came up to me one day and granted me three wishes, my answer to him would be as follows:
1. An unlimited collection of Christian Louboutin shoes
2. Island properties in the Maldives
3. The ability to master Asian cookery (or speak various Asian dialects….either/or)
Growing up Italian, even though my mother often cooked foods from around the globe, our family didn’t eat a lot of Asian food. When we did it was stir-fry, or Americanized Chinese takeout from Mandarin (which was also usually stir-fry). It was only during my university years that I discovered the joys of late night ramen at Kenzo, impeccably fresh sashimi at Sushi Couture and the infamous dumplings from Mother’s. With an apartment right in the heart of Chinatown, I also explored the different markets and vendors flanking Spadina.
After trial and error, I found the best place for Asian ingredients was Oriental Harvest. The only issue remained the whole language thing—which still prevents me from fully understanding what I’m buying. Unless the packages, bottles or signs have some English on them, I’m completely lost. And that’s just during grocery shopping. Actually taking this stuff home into my kitchen to put together a dish, with some semblance of authenticity, is really challenging.
What usually ends up happening is me half-hazardly throwing together a protein, some veg, and a few spoonfuls of any of the following condiments I have in my fridge: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, generic stir-fry sauce, mirin, chili oil, bean paste, chili paste, pimento paste. Then I toss in some grated fresh ginger, chopped green onions, perhaps some dried red finger chilies, stir-fry the crap out of everything, and serve on white rice. There is no magic formula. I don’t follow a recipe. The results are sometimes good and sometimes bad.
I’ve never handmade dumplings out of fear I’ll botch the dough and I’ve only tried my hand at green onion pancakes a few times, with lacklustre results. I never seem to get bibimbap just right. I would also probably ruin fileting fresh tuna and hand-pulling noodles.
All of this is pretty funny – given how confident I am trying my hand at recipes/dishes from any other cultures. Despite the tender coaxings of Martin Yan and other Tv-friendly Asian chefs who make it all look so easy, I still approach this type of cuisine with trepidation.
In March I visited the TIFF Bell LightBox to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi – an excellent documentary following the story of a man considered to be one of the best sushi chefs in the world. His extreme attention to detail, reverence for the culinary history that comes alongside sushi culture, and his fanatical approach to only serving the most fresh and pure ingredients completely turned me off meddling around with Asian cuisines at home.
My conclusion? Perhaps it’s better left to the pros. Plus, there is such a thriving Asian population in the Greater Toronto Area that finding delicious Asian food is easy peasy – from steamed bao to kimchi to green tea pastries. Funny enough my new office is located at Hwy 7 and Leslie in Markham, giving me so many options for great Asian eats over my lunch break.
Now if only I could read the menus….
(EDITOR’S NOTE – I got my inspiration for the title of this article as follows…)