THE table has been the focus of some recent mouthwatering book releases.
Tables are great for bringing people together, for discussions, a quick drink or an elaborate meal.
It’s also the ideal spot for storytelling. And chefs and cooks have lots of stories to tell.
Mostly, they tell their stories through their creations — smashing salads, glorious gravies, mouthwatering morsels of marinated meat, delectable deserts — that reflect the individual’s taste, character, heritage and personal preferences.
Adding more flavour to that are the stories they recall and narrate to infuse their dishes with that delicious ingredient of awareness that leads to a greater appreciation of what some of these special dishes mean to their creators.
Over time, each chef amasses a wealth of recipes, tricks, tips and favourites that have to be shared.
Dhershini Govin Winodan launched her third solo cookbook, My Long Table: Recipes & Memories to mark her 70th birthday. The former chef-owner of Chat Masala has wanderlust in her genes, and they’ve travelled into her cooking, adding to her already amazing arsenal of recipes.
Her book is packed with recipes and stories behind some of the wonderful dishes that have graced her table, and which I have been fortunate to have been party to. She has a wooden table that takes pride of place, having accompanied her on her journey through various homes for decades. But, frankly, where Dhershini is, that’s the table, because there’s guaranteed to be food served sooner rather than later.
A Really Long Table
I was among the fortunate ones to score an invitation to an elaborate spread at a really long table.
The recent Tok Panjang feast held at Allspice Institute, gathered 60 vivacious food aficionados — many of them Peranakan — to celebrate recipes from the Chitty Melaka Kitchen. Heritage Food Of The Peranakan Indians, produced by the Peranakan Indian (Chitty Melaka) Association Singapore, is a large hardcover book containing around 100 recipes that documents the Indian influence in Peranakan food.
Some of the dishes were brought to life at the Tok Panjang feast, bringing together recipes from different chefs and a delightful array of dishes that through diets off course, and made being picky impossible.
Appetisers included Rojak Pertis and Geragok Goreng with a Chilli Cuka Dip: Contrasting flavours and textures that set the tone for what was to follow.
Accompanied by nasi minyak (fluffy ghee rice), the main courses presented a sensory journey from the delicious blending of spices in the lemongrass-infused Lauk Pindang, Ikan Tenggiri, to the more robust Kola Urundai (dhal and mutton meatballs curry) and the Chettinad Chicken Curry with a gravy that would probably accompany any staple of your choice.
This prompted one guest to comment she would like to pack some back…just the gravy, please!
The dessert platter included kueh bongkong in a banana leaf pouch, stripy kueh genggang, and pengat pisang, a small bowl of bananas cooked in a creamy sauce.
Along with the oohs and aahs and sounds of smacking lips and impromptu rave reviews, the chatter and chirpiness of the occasion was maintained at a consistently high level.
“I’m going to pay for this later,” a lady commented when the mains were served. The good doctor had a plan; pop some antacid when she got home.
Food — Still The Common Denominator
With food as a draw, the flavours and richness of any occasion are enhanced, especially with banter and bonhomie, and of course smartphones to capture the moments to be shared with future generations.
These days you may have the Internet on your smartphone, but that lacks soul and is a solitary journey, even if you share a good post.
The social long table allows the community to gather and share food, news and trade on what’s happening for real, across cultures, languages and generations. And with the added presence of delicious flavours and divine aromas, that makes for a tastier tale to tell.