The Secrets Behind Asian Cooking
Once I took this class in cooking. Actually it was two classes, and it was a specific kind of cooking. Kind of a vague kind of specific cooking. The class was Asian cooking, which sounds specific, until you realize there’s just as many different Asian styles of cooking as there are Asian countries, which at last count was plenty.
The reason I took two classes was I took the first class on a whim. I got this catalogue in the mail for a local adult education center in my city. It had a list of all kinds of classes that working people might enjoy taking at night. Cooking, yoga, meditation, all kinds of hobby type classes like photography. Since I like to eat, and where I was living at the time had plenty of Asian communities, and consequently many different Asian restaurants available, I figured I’d give Asia cooking a go. It was only about twenty bucks, and met once a week for six weeks, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose.
We learned to make a lot of stuff, but for some reason the only thing I can remember is how to make kung pau chicken from scratch. They have those kung pau chicken flavored sauces you can buy at the supermarket, but we made it completely from scratch. And it came out pretty good.
Because I thoroughly enjoyed the class, when the new schedule came out, I took the class again.
But the instructor was different. Completely different, with a completely different outlook on looking. The first instructor was very, very strict. We had to prepare the ingredients in a specific way, in a specific order. And we had to wash all the utensils in between steps to ensure there was no cross contamination. I got the impression that this lady was the kind of person who’d complain if they got a plate of cake and ice cream with the ice cream touching the cake.
Never the less, the stuff she taught us was fantastic. When the class was over, we had learned six different dishes, and I wanted to learn more. Hence the second class.
The second instructor was completely different. Same as before, middle aged Asian female. But she was completely different than the other instructor. She would give us the basic instructions, but completely vague. Instead of saying something like:
“Add one quarter cup of soy sauce, stir for thirty seconds, then slowly add 1/8 teaspoon of sugar over the course of one minute, while stirring at a constant rate,” like the first instructor would say, she said something like:
“Ok, put in some soy sauce, about this much (holding the thumb and forefinger in the international sign of a “a little bit”) and stir it for a bit, and then put in some sugar, about this much (smaller measuring unit of thumb and forefinger), but don’t dump it all in at once.”
Now both of those instructors were fine instructors, and taught us some good recipes. But they both had completely different teaching styles, and I suppose there are students out there that have two completely different learning styles, at least on the continuum of the specificity of instruction.
For example, whenever I cook from a recipe, and almost never measure the ingredients exactly. I just read it over to get a general idea about the general proportion. Then if it comes out lacking a certain taste, I’ll try and remember it and adjust for next time.
And even thought the first instructor was completely specific, and made sure we followed her instructions to the “T” during the class, when I reproduced them at home, I reverted to my non-specific eyeball measuring technique.
Others that I know are completely and strictly by the book cooks. They need to follow everything to the exactly specifications to the recipe, or it just won’t work.
Which is better? Of course neither is better neither is worse. Two completely different strategies to get to the same outcome. A good bowl of kung pau chicken, or whatever you have simmering on your stove.
The take away from all this is to simply realize that everybody has different ways of doing things. If you are teaching somebody, either by being a formal teacher, or explaining something to someone, realize they will figure it out according to their own style They may follow your instructions to the letter, or not. The goal is to focus on the outcome, and think of your method that you are teaching them only one of many ways to get there. They may follow your example exactly, or they may choose their own path. The important part is that they get there, however way they choose.
Similarly, if you are learning something from somebody, don’t think you need to do it exactly the same way. Just think of it as them giving you one of many examples on how to get from point A to point B.
To make things even more confusing, I’ll throw together three different metaphors that may not even go together, just like when I add peanut butter to my nikku jaga.
1) There are many ways to skin a cat.
2) All roads lead to Rome.
3) The road is better than the Inn.
Now get out there and cook some kung pau spaghetti or something.