In light of the recent events on Masterchef All Stars (a television programme which, admittedly, I avidly follow) I have decided to do a food themed article. It has been a topic on my mind for the past few weeks, flitting in and out of conversations, popping into thoughts at random times, and generally bothering me quite a bit.
But no matter how short the time it occupies my head space, an unavoidable question continues to come up: what is my favourite food? Whether it originally comes from me, or from someone else, I can never answer. I think and think, and the best result I can come up with is: “I don’t know.” I can never find that one glorious dish that I know I love. Then again, I’ve never searched for it.
So now is the time.
I know I like many foods, I know I like many cuisines. Since the latter is broader (and therefore has less choices) I think it is in my best interests to start with that. From there I can work towards finding favorite foods within favorite cuisines. Plural, yes. I think I’ve got no chance at finding one single dish, but say, three most favorite dishes? Much more achievable.
I’m Asian, so it is no surprise that food from my home continent appeals to me more than any other. Asian food is incredibly diverse, though, and many of its genres and sub-genres are just as important as the bigger picture. But if I had to pick three, they would be Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese.
The first combines traditional staples with modern tastes and flavours. Its Szechuan style is filled with spicy zing. Yum Cha gives me something I love even more - choice.
Vietnamese is light, tasty, and stylish. Salads are particularly prominent, and so are fish; spectacular combinations of herbs and spices bring them to a whole new level.
The last cuisine offers a myriad of colours, tastes, and dishes. Bento boxes and sushi take a leaf out of China’s book and provide choice. Prawns, cucumber, and carrot combine to create just one of the many Japanese salads that rival that of the Vietnamese. It has got fabulous recipes of its own as well, so I’m putting the Japanese cuisine over the others.
I’ve got the cuisine, now it’s time for the food.
When you think “Japanese food”, what comes to mind? For me, it’s mainly just sushi. Sadly, it can’t really be classified as a dish, it’s more of an almost-bite-sized snack; a Western equivalent could be canapés. Then how about… agedashi tofu? Again, it’s small, but I’ve recently taken quite a liking to it. It’s easy to cook, and easy to eat, though I can’t really imagine proclaiming it as one of my favorite foods. I need something that packs a bigger punch, something with substance. Like noodles. Or meat. Something salty, or sweet, or…
Here we go, here’s a lead - teriyaki. To be specific, teriyaki chicken. It’s meaty, it’s tasty, and definitely packs a punch. It ticks all the right boxes. My efforts have finally been fruitful - now I can say that one of my favorite foods is teriyaki chicken.
So what comes next? I’m feeling that I should move away from Asia for a while, and seek something completely different to contrast my first choice. Some Western cuisines seem appropriate, European cuisines in particular. Now that my field is narrowed down this far, it’s instantly clear to me which one is my favorite. I like Spanish food’s heat and flair, and I love French food’s sophisticated yet hearty flavour, but nothing beats a good old Italian pizza, pasta, or risotto.
However, choosing between the three aforementioned foods will be much tougher. Pizza - crunchy crust, gooey cheese, and delicious toppings. Pasta - penne is pleasing, ravioli is resplendent, and fusili is fun. Risotto - often smooth, often filling, and always luscious. The result will come down to one question. Which one would I order at a restaurant?
Pizza it is, then.
So now I’ve got two out of three. I’m on the home straight but I’ve got no clue as to where I’ll find this last food. I’ve searched the world, from China to Spain, from Italy to Japan. What other prominent cuisines are there to encounter? After an age of contemplation, the answer came to me.
I’ve talked about my home continent before, but I haven’t gone to a greater depth that is needed - I haven’t talked about my home country. The Philippines has a wide range of traditions and customs, and food is an important part of our culture. At each family gathering, an extensive array of dishes line the tables. Colourful, varying, exciting. Adobo, sinigang, and pancit are often seen, while longganisa and lumpia make occasional, but important inclusions.
One Filipino dish stands out to me, though. Usually eaten for breakfast, tocino is cooked by marinating and then frying pork. The end result is a reddish, sweet, and tasty meat that goes well with fried rice or fried egg. Now that I come to think of it, tocino is the perfect food to fill up the last spot on my list of favorites.
I’m sitting here pleased, and mildly surprised at my findings. It means that there is one less “I don’t know” to add to my set responses to typical questions. The next time I am asked what my favorite food is, I will no longer be stuck awkwardly thinking about it. I’ll be able to readily say “teriyaki chicken, pizza, and tocino”.
For someone with a cultural background like mine, steamed rice is a staple food. We eat it breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s versatile. Fresh. Clean. (Almost sounds like I’m describing an Apple product.)
Fried rice is the complete opposite. But I love it even better.
Where steamed rice is soft and fluffy, fried rice is hard and crunchy. Where steamed rice is plain and healthy, fried rice is rich and flavoursome. Where steamed rice is all-round and multipurpose, fried rice goes with only a few things, but it is perfectly suited to them.
Its taste is inexplicably sharp. Each element of it’s elegant simplicity blends seamlessly into the one grain. A grain of perfection and balance. It is a satisfactory dish just by itself.
I’m not talking about the fried rice that you find at Chinese restaurant. Not the oily guff with stale peas, mushy scrambled egg, and wilted spring onions. I’m talking about the real fried rice. The one that’s rice, cooked in a searing pan with nothing save a pinch of salt, a drop of vegetable oil, and a small clove of garlic. It’s rice. That’s fried. As simple as that.