Breaking Rules and Busting Myths

Breaking Rules and Busting Myths

When it comes to cooking, some rules are made to be broken. Here's a roundup of some of my favourite rule-breaking moments from my Asian Myths series.

Growing up in an Asian household usually means learning rules – a lot of rules. And this is especially true in the kitchen. For those of us who have learnt recipes and dishes from our elders, there’s a familiar sense that things have to be done a certain way, that traditions have to be upheld.

Well, my series Asian Myths exists to challenge that stereotype. In each episode, I take a rule or myth about Asian cooking, and put it through the ringer. Sometimes, we find out that age-old wisdom exists for a reason, and some rules are not meant to be broken. Other times, we found that old wives’ tales were just that, and so we found newer, better ways to cook up a storm.

Here are some of my favourite mythbusting moments from the show:

Making Silky Smooth Congee in 15 Minutes!

15 Minute Fish Congee

This is one of my favourite hacks to date – making it possible to make silky smooth Cantonese-style congee in just 15 minutes, thanks to some freezer magic. Rinsing the rice before freezing it allows the water on the rice grains to expand and make little holes in the rice. This trick is exactly what Asian Myths is about: blending science with classic traditional recipes, while saving you time and effort!

There’s No Need to Toast Belacan

Sambal Tumis

Here’s another one that saves cook time. Making your own sambal has always been a laborious, intimidating process. After this episode of Asian Myths, I proved to myself that you could at least eliminate one stinky step: toasting the belacan. I’m so happy that I can now make homemade sambal without worrying about this fiddly process.

So You DO Have to Blanch the Meat

Green Carrot and Radish Soup

In this case, the rules turned out to be right! It’s always been a must to blanch meat and rinse it before making Chinese-style soup. I wanted to test if I could skip this step, but in the end, the wisdom of elders like my grandmother won out. The soup made with blanched meat had a cleaner, meatier taste, as well as a clearer appearance. Although this result means that I have to do this extra process when making soup, I enjoyed finding out, because it shows that in many cases, tradition exists for a reason.

Ripe Bananas Always Win

Classic Banana Cake

Banana cake is one of my favourite things to make – and eat! – so it’s no surprise that this episode is a highlight for me. I tested 4 types of banana, making 4 banana cakes (getting a little dazed in the process). The result? Naturally overripe bananas always make the best banana cakes. I tested a hack I found online that recommended baking under-ripe bananas in the oven to ‘ripen’ them quickly, but I found that this trick made subpar cake. It just goes to show that you can’t trust every ‘hack’ you read without proper testing.

Historically, Asian cooking has been passed down from cook to cook in the kitchen, without written cookbooks. That means that a lot of rules have been memorised, and even though we know so much more about science and cuisine now, we still unthinkingly parrot those practices.

I hope that if you’ve tuned into Asian Myths, the one thing you’ll take away is that we don’t have to stick to any rules or myths when cooking. When they work, then sure, we listen to those traditions. But if there’s a better, or easier, way to cook Asian dishes, then some mythbusting is more than welcome.

Sarah Huang Benjamin is a chef and food writer based in Singapore. Check out her personal blog at . Follow her culinary adventures on all socials at @sarahhuangbenjamin.

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