Laura Galante, March 2016
When I see an interesting dish on the Sharood notifications page, I am usually impulsive when it comes to attending a meal. Tonight was no different. I had no plans of attending a dinner, but then I saw Lieke posting something about a hotpot, which included “fish balls, thinly sliced beef, prawn balls, two kinds of mushroom, paksoi…” and the list goes on and on. Even lotus slices. Half of the things I read I did not even think were edible, so I sacrificed four cookies to click “attend”, and I should say that despite the price, I was not disappointed.
Zike was the one who was cooking the dinner all along but let Lieke post on Sharood on her behalf. Zike is originally from China, but is an exchange student from Seattle. When I came into her room, the first thing I saw was a table laden with dishes upon dishes of all the things I read on Lieke’s post, and more. At the center was a steaming pot of spicy broth, which was the main cooking source for all the ingredients that were set on the table. Axel came as well, and with great care, Zike initiated not only the dinner, but also explained a meticulous step-by-step process of how to go about this particular food.
Each of us had a small bowl, into which Zike poured a bit of sesame oil, soya sauce, spicy beans with onion, and to top it off, fresh coriander. After we waited for the broth to come to a boil, we gradually placed the raw ingredients into the pot. First and foremost was the sliced beef. After it became well cooked, we each took pieces with chopsticks, an endeavor that I must admit, I have yet to master properly, and dunked them into the dipper bowl with the concoction that we had just made. The boiling broth was already spicy on its own, but it was the dipper sauce that made it even more so, and it wasn’t long before all of us developed runny noses and flushed faces (those of us who were not used to so much spice, at least). But after the initial adaptation to the hot flavor, I came to find that the beef had quite an interesting combination of spicy and sweet, and it was easier to get used to it than I expected. I am not usually that resilient when it comes to spices, but with a little bit of water, I really came to appreciate it.
We tried different ingredients; paksoi, potatoes, lotus slices – which taste like turnips – and the pot of broth became one big soup in which we ended up fishing for interesting treasures that acquired taste with the sauce. The table became one big greasy surface, as it is quite difficult to eat this dish with decorum; eventually you just end up slurping everything for fear that it might slip out of your chopsticks. We even had a contest to see who could fish out noodles and vegetables without losing hold of them.
For many of the Sharood dinners that I am used to having, I don’t really think about the process the chef goes through to serve the final product since it is usually finished at once. For example, when I make a plate of pasta, each bite is ready to be eaten and it’s easy to pick it up with a fork (without a spoon). This time, however, getting each bite properly cooked and flavored took effort, and I ended up appreciating what went behind the things I ate. I thought of the process that happens not just before, but also during the making. This encouraged me to eat the meal slowly instead of gorging it all down in one go. Hell, I even took pride in the single fish ball that magically decided to stay put between the chopsticks.