A new species is being cooked in the alembic of fusion. The membrane between cultures, between worlds, between old and new ways of being is breaking down. In the past, migrations and diffusions allowed for gradual changes and exchanges between cultures and identities. Now nothing is gradual; we are watching a speeded-up movie of stranger multicultural mitosis and their stranger spawn.
Born in a Bengali household, I remember not enjoying instant-noodles, pizza on a Chinese flatbread or peanut-butter sandwiches even when I was in college, living on a budget. I always preferred getting my own groceries and stirring up a home-cooked meal no matter how busy my schedule was while living on my own.
Growing up, I was always thrilled about cooking or just being in the kitchen. I remember staying up till 2-3 am to watch Nigella Lawson on TLC or Siddiqa Kabir’s repeat telecasts. I loved watching cooking shows even though I had little to no sense of cooking at that time. The first thing I ever made was an English breakfast at the age of 12. Not gonna lie, the scrambled eggs were actually quite nice.
By the time I was 16, I used to host dinners for my friends where I’d cook for them. The chicken spicy wings I grilled, made it to the cut. My friends loved my food. Fast forward to my college years, I moved to KL when I was 20. My first year was all about eating out! I barely even had breakfast at home. Now the thing about KL or I’d say any Asian country is their food. Fusion food. You can find out about a country and it’s culture through their food, and I’ve had my fair share in KL. From Nasi Goreng or chicken rice to Char Kweo Teow and a hot cup of Teh Tarik was all that I needed to get through the day. But after a year, I was tired of it. I was tired of eating out in general. That’s when the magic happened. I decided to go grocery shopping and cook my own meals instead of going out or ordering in.
I have experimented and learned so many things in two years sometime I wished I went to a culinary school instead. One of the best parts of all this was grocery shopping. The smell of fresh produce and uncured herbs. Sometimes I’d make two runs a day even if I had everything I needed. The sound of that excited me. I started cooking every day for myself, for my friends. They all loved it and encouraged me to keep going! During my second year in 2018, I decided to open an Instagram page “stove and spoon” formerly known as “’khaadok” to share my culinary journey through pictures.
I was inactive for a year after that until I moved back to Dhaka in February 2020 and the lockdown began the month right after. Now we all hate this situation and are genuinely frustrated between the four walls. I get that. Nothing good really came out of it except the fact that I had plenty of time in my hands to explore my culinary skills. Given that we have people to help out with the cutting and cleaning here, things got a lot easier and I went ham. It’s been three months since this lockdown and I have been cooking almost every other day. I started taking orders too for one of my most loved dishes, Khao Suey. It’s a Burmese delicacy, basically a choice of meat cooked in broth, curry, coconut milk and all that goodness which you later assemble with noodles and condiments. Everyone loved it!
During this lockdown, I’ve been introduced to many Facebook food groups where people are displaying their passion to cook. Honestly, that makes me so happy. Anything related to food makes me happy. And I personally think people who love food are the most joyful ones. There are also people who are quite scared to enter the kitchen thinking it might be a disaster, but I’m here to tell these people that go ahead! Stir up a disaster or two, that’s one it’ll take to make a great dish really. For me, there is nothing more therapeutic than cooking. When I’m sad, I cook. When I’m happy, I cook. It brings me some sort of tranquillity to cook and feed people.
I think that when you have a genuine love for something, you cannot help but be completely consumed by it. People often ask me when it was that I fell in love with food but there was never an exact moment of time I can pinpoint. Cooking and eating for me is quite simply joyful and that’s why I do it.
What we’re cooking now is not just “modernist” Asian cuisine. It’s a type of cooking that has filtered through the multiethnic influences of our upbringings. Asian soul food can be located in the broader trend of mixing acquired skills with low ingredients. It’s definitely one of the more interesting movements in food now.