Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cheesy eating habit

I have a somewhat strange culinary preference involving cheese. I'm mildly embarrassed by it actually. I can cook up a mean Chinese noodle soup (湯麵) or have a very typical home-style meal of rice porridge (稀飯) with leftover stir fry. Both dishes are tasty on their own. Yet, I love putting cheese into those dishes. And not even good cheese. Cheap American cheese is my preferred cheese choice, though these days it's mostly soy cheese that I'm using.

It's not really fusion cuisine. Or if it is, it's not particularly good fusion cuisine. I don't know what to call it other than comfort food. I believe this odd habit comes from my childhood. You see, my dad couldn't cook worth squat when I was a kid. He once tried to get me to eat steamed white rice with jarred pasta sauce, and I quite emphatically refused to eat it. I'm still traumatized by that foul creation to this day. The only thing he could make that I actually liked was rice porridge or noodle soup with a slice of American cheese melted into it and some peanuts sprinkled on top. To this day, I still love eating both rice porridge and noodle soup with a slice of cheese and peanuts. The cheese melts into the broth, adding a creamy texture and pleasant flavor undertones to the dish. For me, it brings back happy childhood memories... and quite possibly blots out the other horrible food creations my dad may have tried to get me to eat.

Perhaps I should have listened to my dad about the starving kids in Ethiopia when faced with the rice and pasta sauce dinner. Maybe I could have appreciated his tales of food hardship and lectures on not wasting food. I think I may have guiltily picked up the spoon, but I just could bear to put the food in my mouth. Unfortunately for poor dad, I had already experienced real cooking and was stubborn enough to hungrily wait a few hours for mom to come home and cook real food.

Thankfully, I didn't inherit my dad's culinary sensibilities. I have my mom and the experience of growing up in a restaurant to thank for my ability to cook. In spite of his culinary ineptitude, he did leave me with one bit of cooking wisdom: cheese in brothy Chinese food is pretty tasty. Next time you whip up a bowl of noodle soup or rice porridge, try melting a slice of cheese into it. You may be surprised at just how good it is.

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