"I've never been interviewed before", said my sister-in-law when I asked if she could tell me a little about her cooking. She's the best Asian cook I know. Half Japanese, half Filipino, Jey grew up in Los Angeles. It was there that she was brought up on her mother's mealtime customs and where she learned to cook a mish mash of delicious Japanese and Filipino dishes that she continues to share with our family today.
On the day I spoke with her, I started off by asking her about must-have tools for the Asian cook. I knew one of them before she answered, as I've never seen her in the kitchen without wielding a pair of extra-long chopsticks:
1. What is your favorite, must-have kitchen tool for Asian cooking, and why?
A wok. Most versatile pan ever. Good for sautéing, deep frying, and boiling. Also, a long pair of chopsticks are a must. They can be used as tongs, to stir with, and to skewer foods.
2. What staple ingredients are a must in your pantry?
Shoyu (soy sauce) is a must! The brand matters. I like to use Kikkoman: Umakuchi (Enhanced Flavor). Amakuchi (sweetened) is also very flavorful. Shoyu is used in many sauces. Use it in place of salt. Also, Hon Dashi (fish flavor base) is something I can't do without. I use it in soup bases and to enhance flavors in almost everything else I cook.
3. How does the traditional way of serving a meal in your home differ from Western customs?
Asian meals consist of a few different dishes placed on the table to be shared with everyone. Each person gets a bowl of starch, particularly rice, and a plate placed in front of them so they may take small portions of the other dishes to place on their plate. An accompaniment of pickled vegetables is also served with the meal. Chopsticks are used instead of forks and spoons. It is proper to pick up your soup or rice bowl to scoop food into your mouth. Slurping noodles shows the cook that you've enjoyed their cooking. These are more of a Japanese custom. I'm not as familiar with Filipino ways, as we were brought up with my mother's traditions.