Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Monday, 3 December 2007

Air Tangan

There is an old malay folks saying that has the basic meaning that a mother’s air tangan or hand’s water in its literal translation is the reason why home cooking always taste the best. What is this air tangan actually and why if truth be told, that even within the family somehow an auntie’s cooking or air tangan is much better than your own mother’s, even though assumedly they both learned the way to cook dish from the same teacher, their mother. Well have you ever wondered why is it in old style cooking in any culture, there is actually no measured recipe and it is always a pinch of this and a pinch that, and learning to cook is a case of learning and assimilating the method from a master chef. I dare say that great cooks are made from such students, and air tangan plays such a big role in developing the kitchen artiste’s flair in cooking up great meals.

Okay let’s get down to peeling away what is air tangan. Firstly to me this is the love of cooking, since if you have no great interest in making a great dish and treat cooking as a chore, you may be able to make an edible meal but not something memorable. Love here does not really necessarily means the love of the cooking process itself, but the passion of cooking something to make it a memorable meal for the family, thus making the food a notch above palatable. The love that comes through the taste of the dish is what makes it delicious beyond compare. Thus even a busy mom who takes time to prepare a simple meal well will be complimented on her cooking, as compared with a lazy maid forced to ensure a certain of dishes is prepared for the family dining table, no matter how epicurean the dishes may be.

Secondly, this love of cooking the tastiest of meals will make the cook want to ensure that the flavour of the cooking showcases their zeal. Remember that the old way of cooking is a bit of this and a bit of that? Well that encourages you to fine-tune your cooking instead of cooking by rote, as a robotic style of cooking just generates industrial meals, with taste to boot. It is a lucky chef that can taste something good and recreates the taste from memory, as that shows his inventive side needs no set measurements to fence in his appetizing creativity. Thus he is able to bring about his skills to carry his cooking up a notch, with recipes just as a reference point for him to play around with. The base will still be there to assist the familiarity, but fine tuning it will create the masterpiece. Why is it that different establishments that offer the same thing will always have champions amongst them, that to me is not due to any particular “secret ingredient”, but more so with their preparation. I recently read of a master cook being asked in an age where his competitors are using thermostats to ensure so-called optimum cooking temperature why he does not use one, and his answer was why should he when he can judge perfectly when the temperature would be perfect to start cooking. What he does not clarify is that he cares enough to know this significant knowledge, and there are no short cuts to great cooking. The hand of the cook translates his passion that in the end may well be more important than the pedigree of the ingredients.

Thus please do not equate gourmet food solely to be the end result of air tangan. The care and enthusiasm in loving cooking can elevate the simplest of dishes to a really memorable meal. As people with “green thumbs” can grow ferns in a desert, people with great air tangan can turn a bunch of ingredients into masterpieces while the rest of us mortals struggle to get it right. Sadly in this time and age, barely palatable dishes presented in a trendy presentation can pass for a gourmet meal, plating as it is called in the industry, and an honest to goodness label for a really good food seems to be a forgotten adage. Congratulate yourself if you can find a cook whose air tangan shines true, be it outside or at home, and I pray that you at least find it at home.

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