Ideas on The Rocks

For lunch today, I prepared a tuna recipe out of a British cookbook.  It required “4 cans of tuna steak”.    I have no idea how much tuna is in four British cans of tuna steak.  Sometimes, on the internet, I find American recipes with “2 sticks of butter”  or, more commonly, “3/4 cup butter”.    Until I started using the internet for recipes it had never occurred to me to measure butter in cups and I have certainly never seen a “stick” of butter to know how big it is.  Our butter, here in Australia, is sold in 250g or 500g blocks and imagining how that works in a cup is an exercise in spatial awareness.  So, in this international world,  you end up using common sense or previous experience.  And that’s fine.  But it’s just interesting to realise that even cooking directions are culturally unique.

Another example is a friend I used to work with who is Indonesian.  She told me she’d made “Kelepon” (or Ondeh ondeh, I think Malaysians call it).  Kelepon is one of my favourite Indonesian snacks – glutinous rice flour made into a dough and wrapped around a little morsel of palm sugar.  The ball is boiled and then rolled in desiccated coconut.  You have to eat the whole ball because if you bite into it, you are in danger of being sprayed by melted palm sugar!  But the texture and the flavour are right up my alley.   Anyway, as soon as I knew this Indonesian lady could make it, I begged for the recipe.  I expected her to promise to bring it in tomorrow or to send me an email.  But she just stood there and said “You just put the glutinous rice flour in a bowl, add some water and then you mix it until it’s a nice dough.  Then you roll it into balls and put the palm sugar in and put the balls in boiling water until they float to the top. ”  I was baffled.  “But how much flour?  And how much water?”  She smiled.  “How much do you want to make?”  Again I was stumped.  “But proportionally, how much water compared to flour?”  She shrugged.  “Just enough so it looks right.”

And that was her recipe.  I couldn’t extract much more detail out of her than that.  Having now made it, I can see that it works… as long as you know what the end result is supposed to look like.

I know somebody who had a similar experience in Vietnam.  At the market, she asked “What is that vegetable?”  When it was something she’d never cooked before, my friend asked “How long should I cook it for?”  The answer was “You cook it until it’s cooked.”  None of the people around her could fathom any other response.  In fact, she got the impression they thought she was loopy for asking.

This afternoon a friend (of overseas upbringing) told me her daughter wanted to know whether the week started on Sunday or Monday.  She googled it and discovered that (according to somebody) in Australia the week starts on Sunday.

I do find it amusing that Google provided an answer on what “Australians” think on such a topic. Who presumed to document that information?  I have lived in Australia for three quarters of my life and this point (on where the week starts) has never been clearly defined or absolutely resolved.  So while some official (possibly the official who directs the making of Australian calendars, according to my friend’s take) may have decided that an Australian week starts on Sunday, they have failed to communicate it to Australians at large in any mind-altering way.  And part of the problem is that not all calendars sold in Australia are made in Australia.  I have often been frustrated, from year to year, that I note things incorrectly because the layout of the calendar is different from the previous year.

I was brought up with the idea that the letter “h” is pronounced “aitch” and that “haitch” is incorrect.  I was actually very shocked to learn that other people had been taught the exact opposite and have had to accept that I can’t argue my case any more strongly than the opposition can argue theirs.  I also appear to have inherited very strong ideas about what condiments go with what kinds of foods and I am still struggling with the choices made by my husband and now our children.  I grew up believing that cars are “liabilities not assets” but have had to rearrange my thinking around that rule too.

It doesn’t matter that all these things are insignificant. Even in this incredibly accessible “international community”, in these tiny ways, we are blinded entirely by the limits of our own experience.  We are so influenced by where we live, the product choices available to us, the people around us, what we learned from our parents… that we can’t even imagine the possibility of another way of thinking.




2 thoughts on “Ideas on The Rocks

  1. It’s fascinating isn’t it how these little things that we take for granted are perceived so differently by others. Try explaining a pie floater to someone who is not from Adelaide! I had an American friend who found it bizarre that anyone would put vinegar on chips but I gag at the idea of putting gravy on them as many people seem to do.
    I have met people who knit without a pattern. I can’t do it. I need written instructions. The same goes for recipes. Another friend who used to have a cooking program on community radio explained one day that the reason that your neighbours favourite cake recipe never came out the same for you might have a lot to do with measuring. the ingredients. Even if you use standard Australian cup measures some people pour the flour into the bowl while others spoon it in. Apparently, this makes a difference somehow. She advised going by weight instead. I’m sometimes confused by old recipes too. What is a scant amount exactly?
    When I was at TAFE we had an exercise in one class where we had to write instructions on how to make toast.but we had to assume that the person we were writing them for had never used a toaster before. A stretch I know but the point is that you can’t assume that anything is obvious just because it is obvious to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, so true. Ha ha. I liked your question about scant amounts. It reminds me of Fred Dagg talking about the sport of Farnarkeling. He makes some comment about the size of the crowd which SOUNDS like it makes sense but actually is completely meaningless.
    Cooking is definitely at least 3/4 science, I think. As much as I consider the kitchen to be “my domain” (because I spend hours there every day), my husband still has many handy hints for me about the way the air behaves in heat or the reaction of such and such with so and so or the reason this way of stirring is better than that way of stirring. Where I work mainly from experience, he uses all his science knowledge in almost every aspect of his life. Sometimes I say “I’ve done this a million times and it has worked so why change?” but sometimes (not as often, it’s true) I have to admit that perhaps logic should prevail.


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