Thursday, November 17, 2011


My father taught me how to make wontons as a child. I may have learned as young as five or six. We sat at the kitchen table with ground pork (mixed with oyster sauce, salt and corn starch), square wonton wrappers and a bowl of water. He held a wrapper in his left palm with one corner pointing to the wrist. After dolloping pork in the center, he wet the border of two perpendicular sides with his right hand's index finger. He folded the wet borders on to the dry ones to create a triangle, pressing edges together, the pork safely enveloped. Then he tucked the right corner underneath the left one to complete the parcel. The simple yet elegant process infatuated me.

I started making wontons myself in my post-secondary years. In the first summer of my 20s, I made a turkey version for friends because one, as a Hindu, ate no meat except poultry. My buddies devoured the turkey dumplings. In fourth-year university when I lived on my own, a classmate requested I prepare the original recipe with him because, I think, it reminded him of his mother who passed away. More recently, I taught the man I love how to wrap wontons for one of the first dinners we shared at home together. Just two weekends ago, my eldest sister served me her wontons for dinner. About her five-year-old son, she remarked, "You know Raja helped me make some?"

Monday, November 14, 2011


I never realized how much I loved rice till I started dating my boyfriend. We see each other nearly every day and always at meal times. (Or maybe we're just always hungry.) If we see each other for seven straight days, I request sushi six times. Fresh raw fish is delightful, no question. But I most crave the sweet, salty, acidic, vinegar-dressed sticky rice that, pressed together into a soft white pillow, still retains every individual grain's character of slightly chewy texture. The rice sticks together but each grain stands separate and strong on its own like a marching army on the thin red line of seaweed, tuna, avocado, cucumber or whatever your sushi tongue desires.

Sometimes, fish is a mere accompaniment—not the other way around. I'm often satisfied with my sushi combo order, yet I find myself staring longingly at my boyfriend's bowl of rice, dotted with sesame seeds. I'm internally appalled at its abandonment for beef teriyaki instead. Historically regarded as poor person's food, rice is often neglected for its mistaken blandness or feared for its needless carb counts. But great sushi rice is rich man's food. Expert sushi chefs spend five years learning how to cook perfect rice and blend it with their master's tried-and-true balanced vinegar mixture to moisten, sweeten and elevate the individual grains to thousands of tiny edible gems. The gems glisten and beckon me to consume every last morsel—though it's not technically mine to consume.

"Can I have your rice?" I ask, though my plate is cleaned and the boyfriend, twice my petite size, could easily eat more.

"Yeah, sure. Go ahead," he replies sincerely.

I greedily gobble and stab my chopsticks at every last piece. Sometimes this rice isn't the same as what they use for nigiri and maki but I must have it anyway. Because leaving one grain of rice behind is an insult to poor and rich alike that I just can't tolerate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cheese, donuts and roast beef

The cheese was as ripe as a pregnant woman in labour for 36 hours.

The donut smelled stale, like an abandoned attic filled with moldy blankets and yellowing black-and-white photos of relatives and their friends long forgotten.

The roast beef sandwich tasted as though I successfully sweated through 90 minutes of a body-bending hot yoga class.