I grew up as a tubby kid – short, round and pretty much cuter than your average 7-year-old. I can’t exactly pin point the exact reason for my lack of metabolism as a child, but I knew for a fact that my family is the kind that loves food.
Being the youngest of five, with three older sisters and a brother before me, I was often the test subject for their experiments. On top of that, my mother is an amazing cook. She makes the best rendang, ayam lemak chili padi, and ayam masak merah. She is the queen of Malay cuisine (okay this might sound biased because you know how we all are towards our mothers’ cooking). There was always food on the stove, no matter how early my mum had to get up to go to work. Even now, as an adult, she worries that I might not have food to eat if she does not have the time to cook before leaving home.
Food and dinner time are integral to my family. Whenever we go nuts at each other, we put food on the table as a sign of apology. When one of us falls sick, we put food on the table as a sign of concern. When we want to celebrate a birthday, we put food on the table. When we know the other is feeling down in the dumps, we put food on the table.
While I struggled with my relationship with food (click on this link to find out more), I realised that there was no running away from the fact that I am a foodie – I was raised in a family of food lovers. Perhaps it is because my mother came from a difficult family and she would often trail into her “long before your time…” stories not unlike “Under One Roof”, telling us of the times she and her brothers had to chase after the chicken once a year during Eidulfitri so the family could only enjoy meat and poultry after the fasting month of Ramadhan. Or perhaps it is because of my sailor father who came back from his travels to Japan cooking us cold soba noodles and somewhat force feeding us raw eggs.
Whatever the reason was, I grew up learning to love food. More importantly though, I learnt to love making food.
Cooking, to me, is a survival skill. It is not a talent one possesses. Cooking for yourself and your family would mean you would be able to save hundreds of dollars every month. Cooking at home would also mean you know exactly what goes into your food and body. Cooking for yourself allows you to explore cuisines that you miss from your travels. Cooking for yourself also means you know exactly how halal the food is for your consumption.
Back in 2013 when Jums and Dee first approached me with their idea of setting up Halalfoodhunt, I was apprehensive. I was the cynical third member of their team who did not know if changing the mindset of our local community would be possible. On top of that, I was not sold on the idea of a recipe pack just because no one else was doing it. How were we to educate and teach people how to cook when my two partners themselves did not even know how to cook?!
The reality is that as our society gets more advanced and educated, we are missing out on survival skills that our parents grew up with. Schools may be teaching Food and Nutrition up till O levels but we do not have the chance to put things into practice. Singaporeans rarely move out of their family homes until they get married so the reliance of providing food for the family still lies on the mother.
The sudden epiphany came when I saw for myself how Dee and Jums were trying their best to make dinner for their husbands. They did not have three sisters to teach them the ropes in the kitchen. They had to read recipes, ask questions and YouTube techniques and recipes that were simple enough for them to attempt. An hour in the kitchen was like a chemistry practical exam for the O Levels. They put in so much effort in learning to cook so they too could put food on the table as a sign of love for their better halves.
I may not have a significant other just yet, but I know for a fact that if food was made with so much love and effort, it’s food worth gaining ten kilos for.
That’s why when we started filming our recipe videos, Jums insisted showing the raw details. Every accident, spill or act of clumsiness in the kitchen had to be shown. Not because we did not know how to edit – we wanted girls to feel at ease watching us cook. We wanted none of that “Yeah they’re professional cooks that’s why it’s easy” comments. We wanted girls just like Jums and Dee to watch our videos, buy our recipe packs and say “Hey, I could actually cook that!”
The Halalfoodhunt team would like to think that we’re creating some sort of a revolution in our tiny little island here. A revolution that would inspire everyone of all ages to start cooking for their families rather than eat out. As much as we love our cafe-hopping adventures, we want to create a new family tradition of immortalizing family recipes. Jums will kill me for saying this, but hey, learn to make love to the food you create.