“Food isn’t food anymore if we eat it just for survival.” These are the words of Miss Aziza Ali, a famous cook renowned for introducing Malay fine dining to Singapore. Food has transformed in many ways over the years; from a means of survival in the stone age, to the art form that it has been elevated to today. Nonetheless, the importance of food remains unchanged, as an integral part of our lives and culture.
Despite how essential food is to us, it is a well-documented fact that the vast majority of millennials are rather handicapped when it comes to cooking. The two of us, who belong to this culinary-challenged demographic, were no exception. This posed a problem to us, because we wanted to surprise our friend with a home-cooked meal for her birthday—without sending her screaming for medical attention once she finished eating. With our friend’s well-being in mind, we decided to attend a traditional Malay cuisine workshop, hoping to amaze her with our very own home-cooked morsels.
The workshop in question, the Heritage Food Talk & Cooking Demonstration, was held on 6th August at the National Library, in tandem with an exhibition titled "From the Stacks", to promote the diverse heritage of Singapore. This workshop was conducted by distinguished guest Miss Aziza Ali, a famous chef who brought Malay fine dining to international levels of fame and success.
Miss Aziza Ali holding onto her Rojak from the cooking demonstration.
Love, effort and patience Although our time with Miss Aziza was short, we took away many valuable lessons; the most important being the connection between food and love. To Miss Aziza, cooking is simple. There are no lengthy formulas to memorise or mystical spells to chant— the key to creating delicious food lies in three simple things: love, effort and patience.
These three qualities were the defining principles of Miss Aziza’s career. The first restaurant she opened in Singapore was a labour of love, stemming from her desire to share the joy of good food with Singaporeans. As time went by, her restaurant became successful; even then, she was not content: she continued to tirelessly push the boundaries of her cuisine, experimenting with different types of food and recipes to bring more variety to her customers. She patiently persevered over the years until she tasted the fruits of her labour. Miss Aziza believes that the key to success lies in having passion for what you do, putting in effort, trying new things, and being patient enough to reap the benefits of your work.
During the cooking demonstration, when asked if certain ingredients could be swapped or skipped, Ms Aziza would say “You are the pilot of the plane, you decide.” Miss Aziza mentioned that there is no use fretting about nitty-gritty details—what matters is that the end result tastes good. This perspective on cooking reminds me a little of what my grandma once told me, “There is no one that cannot cook well, it’s just whether you are willing to try.” After all, if you don’t try, how would you know if you can really cook or not?
The culinary world is massive, and there can be many variations of the same dish. (The example Aziza gave was Rendung. Variations not exclusively these are: Rendang Manis Puyuh, Rendang Kuning Paru, Rendang Berempah Rusa, Rendang Kupang Pedas, etc.) As such, there is no single perfect taste in cooking. There is only what tastes good and what doesn’t. Cooking is the freedom to experiment and following your instincts.
Much like life itself, cooking good food does not have a strict process or recipe that needs to be followed to a T. And if we can tailor food to suit different tastes, we can all learn to live and be successful in our own unique ways as well. All that’s needed is love, effort, patience, and experimentation—and maybe a pinch of salt.