Disaster strikes in the kitchen. It’s the stir fry sauce! There’s something wrong with it! That strange acidic flavour on my tongue is not sesame oil. I check the label. Those berries do not look like sesame seeds. The rest is all in Chinese. Yuck! But if it’s not Sesame oil what then? Thank heavens I tasted it before adding it to the noodles that are stir frying. Oh wait, the noodles! They’re burning! While I was focussed on the sauce, I forgot that they were cooking with the veggies, the char siu (Chinese dried sausage) and the prawns. Ok. Turn the fire off, take a deep breath and make a plan B.
I suppose I should explain myself. I’ve always been quite laissez faire when it comes to following recipes. This is probably one of the reasons why I am a terrible baker. Over the years I have developed a special talent for freely adapting recipes that I have sourced online. Give or take a hit or miss, my system works quite well. I cook with intuition and believe I have an innate ability to haphazardly feel my way through recipes according to how I imagine they should be. Which is why when the editor of Yummy proposed that I cook a Chinese meal strictly following a recipe, I jumped at the challenge.
So I hit Google, found a great website called chinasichuanfood.com and settled on what seemed a simple stir fried noodle recipe. Next I headed to a Chinese supermarket near Yaya centre. That place, oh! You could write a hundred stories just by standing there for an hour observing people go by. I proceeded to buy the listed ingredients.
Except of course everything in the supermarket is written in Chinese and few people in the place seem to feel that English is a language that is worth their while. A few attempts at querying shop attendants over what something was, resulted in hilarious miscommunications. Eventually the Kenyan shop attendants offered to help but by then I had already decided that the oil in my basket was sesame oil. Plus, it said so on the sticky note on the shelf!
I thought I had curry powder, one of the listed ingredients, at home. Instead, my spice cupboard offers up tandoori masala, coriander, cumin and turmeric. Close enough. For the sauce I was supposed to combine light soy sauce with dark soy sauce. I only have the latter and substitute liquid aminos for the light sauce.
Close enough. But then the disaster strikes and I am forced to start my sauce afresh. No sesame oil. I decide that at this point I don’t even trust the soy sauce I bought, the label states (in English) Hong Shao Soy Sauce. Is that a special kind? Anyway, I revert to my traditional Kikoman sauce and mix it with some red wine (the recipe called for cooking wine), the aforementioned aminos, some corn oil and a tablespoon of sugar. Eventually, I turn the noodles back on, pour my new sauce in and manage to come up with something that tastes fine but has little resemblance to the picture on the recipe.
Flavour-wise I have never actually tasted Singapore Mei Fun, the dish I am supposed to have made, so I have little to go on. I might have to give following a recipe to the letter another try. I am not ready to be defeated. However, I am beginning to think that I should start a video log recording my misadventures trying to and potentially failing at following recipes.