When the lemon grass travels far

March 16, 2017




I was told that I did not cry when I was first given chilli at the age of four. I don’t remember what it tasted like, but I do know that through intense contemplation it felt rather natural. Thai country folks believe that eating chilli represents the ritual process of quitting childhood: even though I’m not sure I would go that far, I do know that it was a vivid moment of something new and exciting.


Funnily enough, however, I do remember very colorfully every flavour in my very first bite of spaghetti bolognaise. I tasted this farang (foreign) food at our family table not long after I ate the chilli. I felt privileged and particularly lucky that out of all the kids in the neighborhood I had had the opportunity to savour something so exotic. At that vibrant moment, I secretly told myself that this would be one new dish I would learn to master. I would be able to cook it and impress people!


After many attempts at both cooking and eating spaghetti bolognaise, before we knew it, this staple was naturally adopted by our family. Without having ever lived in Italy, and out of many other alien dishes, pasta became a part of my life. It continues to hold me today; it hardly ever disappoints. Chilli is often found in numerous versions of our pasta too.


Foreign food always inspires me. It gives me both the same time the challenge and honour to discover. I find it comforting that people share many common senses in the kitchen. It makes me appreciate my own native food and want to cherish and share my experiences. More and more I realize that we all are open to these ‘lovable’ foods – be it from any culture, from any land, from any ocean. I hope someday I’ll be able to tell my younger ones that the originality of our food is important… and must not be forgotten.


Cooking has always been a global language, one way or another. Lemon grass is no stranger to the Provencal cooking and fish sauce is common ingredient in Australia. Cooking today is more universal than it has ever been. Take the ingredients, for example. It’s such a blessing that luxurious access to different countries, agricultural technology and handy communications have almost eliminated scarcities. Seasons now are nearly occurrences no longer limited to only certain months of the year.


Even climate seems to have become more tolerant towards cooks’ wishes. Fragile products decades ago are commonplace and hardy today. Look how easy it is for cooks these days to have access to almost anything from any part of the world. Exotic Oriental ingredients are easily obtained items in Europe – and vice versa. Every moment, there is always something in season somewhere. At a price, households today can enjoy summer fruits from the southern hemisphere at almost any time of the year. The supermarket culture prospers while the seasons seem to slowly fade away… or do they?


It seems that the soil has turned into one same-dark-colour the world over. Now any species of coriander will grow almost anywhere. The increasingly mixed cultures and constant travelling across the globe by people of all types have begun to result in a world without barriers. At the same time, our culinary barriers are being broken. I see this as a positive. Good, authentic food is now largely dependant on the good hands and spirits of cooks – rather than on the nationality and location of the dish.


Like many cooks of my generation, I share an admiration of both worlds: the world of genuine respect for my culture’s beautiful traditions in the kitchen and the contemporary culinary world where practicality and adaptability are significant factors. I’m fortunate that I can access both: there are extensive varieties of foreign foods around me, not to mention home delivery, yet I have all the traditions of the past at my fingertips.


It would be frightening if we were in a world where seasons didn’t exist, or we forgot the origin of food. With all the conveniences in kitchen preparation and little culinary skill involved, it could happen. If that became the case, how could we appreciate the fresh earthy taste of a summer tomato? How would we experience the difference between hot and cold? It would be like tasting meal with no flavours.


With this in mind, I believe we should not take seasonal food for granted, and we need to be grateful for how certain things were originally invented and how our great grandmothers worked in the kitchens in the past. Certain methods and dishes are important. Let us be reminded of those times and the seasons: the passing of time helps us appreciate the other times… and our roots.


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