by Samina Malik and Sidrah Ahmad
Imagine you are in the kitchen, and your mum is talking to you in Urdu/Hindi; giving you step-by-step instructions on how to cook a dish she wants you to prepare for the dinner party later that same night, and all you can say is “What is that masala called in English, mum, I don’t understand!” Now, you’ll either immediately sense the cold, hard stare she is giving you through the phone, or you will get the chappal threat … both equally disturbing.
At this point, you either bang your head against the wall, or, wish your mum was speaking Tagalog instead of Urdu/Hindi.
What – why Tagalog?! Well, because there’s a really nice new English-Tagalog cookbook on the shelves which we think you should be checking out, and we have some pretty darn good reasons for it, too.
For one – if you have a helper from the Philippines, this cookbook is BOUND to make her fall in love with you. And we ALL know how important it is for your helper to be in love with you, and the way it can result in a home being a little garden of happiness, complete with birds chirping and flowers blooming.
Rowena explains that it removes the need to demonstrate and explain techniques and recipes (even the ingredients are carefully categorized at the back of the book so that even shopping becomes a breeze). The more-than-80 very achievable triple-tested recipes aren’t simply translated, they are explained in Tagalog, which helps whether your helper is a kitchen novice or a seasoned cook. As Rowena says, “Let’s face it, it’s always easier to follow a recipe written in your mother tongue.”
Secondly, the recipes themselves are worth a home-cook’s while. I put them to the test and made the first thing my stomach wanted me to: a prawn linguine, a dish I often ordered after a hard day of work in London. Aaaahh, the days at Covent Garden, sitting in the outdoors, eating Italian with friends.
Oh sorry, back to Singapore, and the prawn linguine recipe. Following the book closely, I was very happy with the end result – a little different from how I would have made it, but refreshingly light, and slightly tangy. In my mind, prawn linguine has a creamy base to it; but this recipe had a light calamansi, garlic and olive oil base, which gave a pleasant surprise to my palate, unexpected, but definitely in a good way! After this recipe was a success, I couldn’t wait to try more, and moved on to the banana bread, which turned out divine, with a lovely crisp crust and moist sponge. I completely agree with Wong Kien Keong, gourmet and food connoisseur when he says it is “a cookbook for those who really know how to eat.”
The book is broken up into so many categories, anyone can take their pick: Breakfasts, Light Lunches, Simple Suppers, Starters and Dips, Dinners, Singapore Flavors, Sides, All Things Sweet, Kids, Sauces and Dressings.
(You would agree that there is a justification for a reason 2.5: towards the end of the book, Rowena has even included kitchen essentials, ingredients with pictures, and a Tagalog recipe index!)
Third, and a slightly soulful reason, if you enjoy soulful reasons, is that the concept leading to its birth is steeped in simplicity. Like many of us, Rowena started off in the kitchen helping her mother, stuck with the mundane tasks. One day while Rowena struggled with the terminology in her favourite French cookbook, it occurred to her how hard it must be for all the non-English-speaking helpers/cooks to have to follow English recipes. And so, Rowena decided to write Singapore’s first English-Tagalog cookbook.
The nice hardback cover with simple and understated design, the wide array of cuisines ranging from British favourites to Thai curries and the colorful pictures just give you more excuse to flip it open and get your kitchen a-roaring.
Cookbook author and newspaper columnist Sylvia Tan calls it “an engaging and delightful collection of family recipes which any household would use.”
So, you’ve heard from us, and you’ve heard from some connoisseurs, what are you waiting for? Get moving, buy one, and let us know what you thought.