CSOFT International is a leader in global communications services, providing turnkey solutions for companies facing the challenges of engaging customers and markets across linguistic and cultural barriers. With dual headquarters in San Francisco and Beijing, CSOFT maintains a worldwide presence across 16 different cities around the world, offering services from content creation to localization and translation in over 200 languages across all industry sectors.
A special thank you goes to our worldwide team and linguists:
Tim Durgin, Mina Hostage, Beatriz Cirera, Marina Ilari, Andres Pacheco, Rodrigo Gaion, Mostafa Salama, Beatriz Muñoz, Bruno Lourenço, Mohamed Oughcha, Raquel Iglesias, Sameer Chiktay, Herlina Sianturi, Jerome Deforge, David Yao, Michael Mutombo, Leila Saphariny, Bianca Beier, Johnathon Sokol, George Delle, Jesica Lagarde
If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him...the people who give you their food give you their heart.
- Cesar Chavez
Over the past two decades, I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively for both work and pleasure. During these trips around the world, food has always been a highlight. Tasting the local flavors of different regions helped me learn more about the places I was visiting and appreciate the richness of the culture that stems from the cuisine. It’s the local herbs, spices, and tastes of new surroundings - the very things beyond what the eye can see - that bring together the experience. When gathered around a table to share food and stories, I feel truly connected to these areas and the people living there.
This past summer, on a family vacation to Abu Dhabi, we spent three nights in the famous Rub al-Khali Desert. A world so different from my own, this region offered a blend of hot and humid climate, yielding unique cooking styles and tasteful dishes only found in this area. However, distinct as the avors were, there was also something comfortingly familiar - that people from everywhere shared the same passion for food, making me feel connected to the locals and appreciative of our cultural differences.
For many of us, our earliest memories of food are often the strongest – a single dish can conjure up distant memories of our childhood, parents, or grandparents. Through this book, we want to share stories and memories told in the language of food, a collection of memories captured in a recipe.
Take Herlina Sianturi’s recipe for Indonesian Wajit – it’s not only a potent reminder of her childhood, but an enduring symbol of her mother’s will to support her family. Or, Mina Hostage’s mother’s Corn & Bacon Chowder, eaten piping hot next to the fire to help fight off the winter cold. Or, Marina Ilari’s memories of her grandmother selflessly scouring the local region for strawberries to make Postre de Frutillas as a special treat for her birthday each year – so that even today it tastes to her of childhood and happiness and joy.
For me, it is my memories of growing up with my grandmother. Cooking always played a huge role in our family life, especially during the holidays when we got to eat those special dishes that were never cooked at any other time of year. After all the cooking and preparation, we would gather around my grandmother’s Ba Xian Zhuo (八仙桌) - a traditional square table that seats two people on each side, for a maximum of 8 people.
One of the most memorable dishes for me is my grandmother’s Shi Xiang Cai (十香菜) or “Ten Fragrant Vegetables”, a dish that harmoniously blends the distinctive avors and colors from ten different local vegetables (pickled cabbage, bean curd strips, bean curd knots, cucumber, pickled ginger, wood ear mushroom, shiitake mushroom, daylily, bean sprouts, and carrots.) In China, the number 10 symbolizes something is complete and whole, and that is the memory I will always have when I eat this; of sitting at my grandmother’s square table, feeling complete and whole.
At CSOFT, we’ve always valued the importance of human connections, whether through food, language, or culture. We want to thank you for supporting us through all these years and we hope this book helps to bring back sweet memories of your own favorite dishes. Moreover, we wish you and your loved ones a warm holiday filled with delicious food, roaring laughter, and many happy memories to look back on.
Happy Holidays and Bon Appétit!
今年 8 月，我与家人一起去了阿布扎比，在著名的 Rubal-Khali 沙漠里住了四天。因为那里气候潮湿炎热，气温常常高达 40 多度。这片连绵不断的阿拉伯半岛上的大沙漠又被称为“ the Empty Quarter ” (无人烟的地方)，是一个与我熟悉的世界极其不同的另一个世界，可正因为不同才有了他们那里独特的烹饪方式和当地美食。在接受和欣赏这些差异的同时我却发现，他们对美食的热情和追求又是那么亲切和熟悉。不同文化背景的人因为对美食的共同追求而连结了情感和友谊，成了我们对生活永久美好的憧憬。
美食也常常是很多人对儿时的重要回忆，往往一盘菜就能瞬间唤起人们对童年、父母或祖父母的遥远的记忆。因此，我希望大家在分享这本美食菜谱的同时，也不忘分享它所承载的美好故事。比如 Herlina Sianturi 提供的印尼 Wajit 食谱——不仅让她回想起自己的童年，也成为了她的母亲昔日养家糊口所做努力的象征; Mina Hostage 的妈妈做的玉米培根浓汤，曾在冬日的火炉旁温暖了全家人; Marina Ilari 回忆起她奶奶在当地遍寻草莓制作草莓甜点，作为她每年生日的特餐，使她在今天仍能通过它品尝到童年的幸福和快乐。
重视人与人之间的情感交流，强调不同文化的相互融合共存，是 CSOFT 的重要企业文化之一，我们通过语言、文化来连结彼此，其中就包括美食。愿这本小册子带去我们对您多年来大力支持的感激之情，希望它也能唤起您对美好记忆的回忆，祝愿您与家人围坐桌 边共尝美味，度过一个充满欢笑、幸福的美好假期。
Food across the North American region is driven by the convergence of various cultures, and is a global epicenter of cuisines. Dividing into three regions– Canada, United States, and Central America – each distinct territory is inspired by its neighbors in the north, south, and across two great oceans. With every bite, you will discover that each dish contains a history rich with local ingredients, European influence, and traditional cooking styles.
The following collection of recipes is only a small window into the diverse culinary world of North America. Allow yourself a taste of the enriching stories that have come to shape the dishes for those who created them.
This isn’t just any pumpkin soup recipe. It’s the one that started them all. Through the years, CSOFT has collected recipes from our worldwide linguists and created a series of International Cookbooks featuring diverse flavors and unique dishes. In honor of our traditions rooted in food, culture, and human connections, we’ve decided to start off this book by bringing back a cherished story about a classic recipe that was featured as the front cover of our very first International Cookbook.
When CSOFT called the East Gate Plaza in Beijing’s second ring road home, there was a beautiful space in the office reserved for a library and reading corner. Although simple, it was a place of warmth and comfort. After much discussion, it was decided that a place so special needed an equally distinctive name, and so it was called MILK Café, an acronym of “Making Investments in Learning and Kulture.”
Back in those days, a passionate employee, Meg Navarra, was fascinated by the café and the possibilities it offered. The Californian native took her Italian roots and appreciation for home-style cooking and integrated them into the corporate culture. She began by organizing an international soup competition, shopping for all the ingredients included in the recipe submissions and bringing them all to....the CEO’s very own home kitchen.
The following nights were long and the kitchen hot, but in the end, the entire office was able to satisfy their taste buds with a variety of soups. Everyone voted for their favorites and the winners were featured in CSOFT’s International Winter Soup Cookbook, the first of many to come.
As CSOFT has grown, moved offices, and expanded overseas, so too has the café. With locations in Beijing’s CBD, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and San Francisco, what is now known as the MILK & Cookies Café has truly become an integral part of our culture. Each location looks a little different and has its own style, but the magic of our company values and intentions are promoted across all locations.
At CSOFT, we strongly believe that culture is not just a component of the game, but rather the game itself. MILK & Cookies Café is a place of beauty and warmth, made possible thanks to our unwavering commitment and innovative mindsets. We hope this classic recipe brightens and warms up your holiday season this year!
Corn chowder is a winter tradition in our family. Growing up, as soon as the weather started getting cold, my mother would make a huge batch of it--plenty for dinner and leftovers! My brothers and I would come home from school on a chilly November day and recognize the delectable aroma instantly.
My dad would make us a fire and we would all enjoy a bowl of mom’s soup huddled up with blankets and pajamas. Her corn and bacon chowder is the ultimate comfort food for even the pickiest of eaters. It’s easy to make and is a go-to recipe for any family to enjoy!
From the Andes to the Amazon, the vivacious nature of South America is reflected in its cuisine. Cooking and eating are woven into its social fabric; food is their way of celebrating, mourning, and reconnecting. South America is rich in local ingredients - from corn to potatoes and chili to chocolate. Nowadays, South America is rediscovering their indigenous roots and is redefining the cuisine in fresh sophisticated ways.
The recipes that follow are reminiscent of the past and present, and will surely delight every one of your taste buds. Get ready to experience traditions with a modern twist on every plate.
Dulce de leche is one of the most popular sweets in Argentina. It is a traditional caramelized variant of milk - tasting very similar to sweet confectionary caramel. It is prepared by slowly heating and stirring milk, sugar, and vanilla essence until it turns brown and its consistency gets thicker. Dulce de leche is widely used in desserts such as alfajores, muffins, pancakes, ice creams, waffles, and cakes. It also goes great with bananas, chocolate, or meringue! Depending on the brand and the country it is from, it can taste more or less sweet, and vary slightly in color and consistency.
This product receives different names in different countries, and it also has some regional variations. A number of countries - such as Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Peru - have argued being the inventor of this delicacy, although only Uruguay and Argentina call it by the name ‘dulce de leche’.
There are many different stories across several Latin American countries in regards to the origins of dulce de leche. In Argentina, for example, the most popular story suggests that it was invented by mistake. The tale suggests that it took place in 1829, in the city of Cañuelas in Argentina, during a meeting in an estate called La Caledonia between General Juan Lavalle and General Juan Manuel de Rosas. During that meeting, the maid left some milk and sugar over a stove for a long time. By the time she remembered, she went to the kitchen and found a thick, brown substance. Rosas liked its taste and shared the sweet with Lavalle while a pact was being discussed. This is how the dulce de leche was accidentally born.
One of the most famous Argentinian factories of dulce de leche is Havanna, which was founded in 1948 by Benjamín Sisterna, Demetrio Elíades, and Luis Sbaraglini in the city of Mar del Plata. It manufactures a variety of food products such as alfajores (the best of Argentina!), cakes, Havannets, cookies, coffee, puddings, and Easter eggs, even using their own dulce de leche for most of the recipes.
I remember my mother telling me that when she was little she lived in the countryside where her family used to milk their cows and prepare home-made dulce de leche - which according to my mother, tasted much better than the one you could get in the market. I did not have the pleasure of tasting it, but it must have been delicious!
Dulce de leche is a traditional Argentinian symbol, with its smooth and creamy quality that is beyond compare, especially if you make it yourself. Did you know it is very easy to prepare dulce de leche at home? I’m happy to share my recipe with you, so now you have a new topping for your breads and desserts. Enjoy!
If the dulce de leche starts to clump, you can use a mixer to smooth it out.
If there was one dish that was truly memorable for me growing up, it would have to be my grandma’s “postre de frutillas” (strawberry dessert). The simple ingredients would make you think that it ́s nothing out of the ordinary - a combination of strawberries and whipped cream - but it ́s actually the most delicious dish I have ever tasted! According to my grandma, she came up with the recipe herself, inspired by a strawberry shortcake she once tried.
My grandma ́s name is Luisa and she is an Argentine-born daughter of immigrants from Italy and Spain. She grew up in a small farm town called Alejo Ledesma, in the province of Córdoba, Argentina. Even though she grew up in a rural town, my grandma was very elegant. She enjoyed dressing up and wearing bright-colored lipstick; she was an artist at heart, and confessed to me that she wanted to be an actress and a singer when she was little. This always fascinated me because I dreamed about those things myself growing up! Luisa was very neat and her house was always pristine. Some of my fondest memories with my grandma Luisa involved the “postre de frutilla”. She knew how much I loved it, so she would always go the extra mile to have one ready in the refrigerator to surprise me.
In my hometown of Venado Tuerto, it wasn ́t always easy to find strawberries when it was out-of-season. My grandma would often struggle to find strawberries in the nearby towns, but if she did, I would get that dessert for every celebration - from birthdays to New Year’s Eve. I still remember taking the first bite and thinking, “This is the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. If I had to choose only one thing to eat for the rest of my life, it would be this!”
My grandma Luisa is almost 90 years old now and has been struggling with memory disorders. She now lives with four dogs and does not care much about the house being perfectly clean anymore. Last time I visited her, I made sure I went through her hand-written recipe book and wrote down the recipe for the famous strawberry dessert. That special dessert tastes to me like childhood, happiness, celebration, and family. I am excited to share this recipe with all the readers of this book!
I’ve known Elisa for more than 10 years, and she generously shared her flan recipe with me for this book. We’ve have had the pleasure of sharing this flan at the family table for a long time with my father Eduardo (he is Elisa’s partner) and my siblings and relatives.
Flan is a traditional dessert that goes back to Roman times. The Romans brought it to Spain, where it was very popular, and the Spanish brought it to the New World. The name “flan” comes from Old German, and it means “flat cake.” Nowadays, flan is still very popular throughout Spanish America, mainly due to its readily available ingredients, and simply because it is tasty.
Elisa grew up in the countryside, close to a town called La Violeta, in the Argentine Pampas. There, she learned this recipe from her mother. It is not your regular flan, this one has more eggs and less sugar, and thanks to the “secret tip,” it comes out smooth and tasty. You can also have this flan with dulce de leche (milk caramel) and Chantilly cream (whipped cream), but don’t forget to count the calories!
African cuisine and delicacies vary greatly depending of the region that you are in. They all tend to combine local fruits and grains with meat, hearty curd, and dairy products to produce a rich array of different flavors. In Central Africa, without easy access to the coast, the diet has traditionally been root and vegetable based, served along with grilled meats. By combining cassava roots with plantains, the dish ‘fufu’ can be created and this is still a staple dish in much of Central Africa today.
In Northern and Southern Africa, both very influenced by early trading, have a much more diverse cuisine. In the North, there is a heavy emphasis on spices, with saffron, ginger, and nutmeg being used in a lot of dishes. The South’s influence is reflected in their love for barbecuing meats and vegetables as well as the brewing of traditional beer to be drunk with evening meals.
Although I am Belgian, my father is originally from DR Congo and my mother from Benin, so I had the chance to enjoy African cuisine all my childhood. From pondu and madesu to aloko, garri and moyo, I grew up with a delicious taste of west and central African food.
Often just referred to as “African food”, the cuisines of Africa are actually hugely diverse and each region and country have very different ways of cooking. My wife is from Botswana so I am fortunate to have become familiar with a whole different African cuisine. We have a saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and having tasted Botswanan food, I can definitely say that it is true!
Actually, the first time I really tasted traditional Botswanan food was at our wedding, which was held at my wife’s family home in the village of Tutume in the northeast of the country. After the religious ceremony, the whole party of 250 people retired for a traditional wedding celebration in my wife’s family’s backyard where a huge tent was mounted, adorned with the local colors of blue and white.
Like all weddings, the food is an essential part of the celebration and, with many of my family and friends from Belgium and France in town, my in-laws insisted we all try traditional Botswanan cooking. We were not disappointed! On the menu, was Bogobe, beef stew, fried chicken, all kinds of vegetables, Samp, butternut, coleslaw salad, rice, mogodu. However, among this abundance of food, my favorite was “Seswaa”.
Seswaa is a traditional meat dish, made from beef, goat, chicken or lamb. The meat is cooked for several hours until tender with onion, pepper, and “just enough salt” – traditionally this would be in a three-legged pot over an open wood fire. The whole mix is then transferred to a kika and motshe - traditional utensils used to grind the meat and then served with “pap”, a kind soft maize porridge with vegetables. It’s so simple but tastes delicious!
European cuisine is greatly dependent on which part of Europe, and the respective climate, you are talking about. Across much of northern, central, and eastern Europe, many traditional dishes are very heavy and hearty in order to battle through cold winters. Such dishes can include stews such as goulash, a stewed meat that has been seasoned with a variety of spices and herbs or halászlé, a Hungarian fish stew. Breaded meats are also very popular in these regions, such as schnitzel in Austria and cod fritters in Portugal. In the warmer parts of Europe, such as the Mediterranean, seafood, cold dishes, and salads are prominent features.
Paella might be the most well-known Spanish dish, but for me, nothing tastes of Spain like tortilla de patatas. The English translation says it all – Spanish omelette. From the North to the South and everywhere in between, everybody loves it, every Spanish mother cooks it, and every bar worthy of serving it, serves it. Despite being one of the emblems of Spanish cuisine, it is also the cause of eternal disagreement between fellow countrymen. Should it be cooked with or without onion? Should the potatoes be sliced or cubed? Should the egg be fully set or runny? No conver- sation about tortilla has ever ended with a unanimous answer to those questions. However, when asked “Which tortilla is the best?” absolutely every Spanish person will provide the same answer – their mother’s!
Like every other Spanish person, I also believe my mum’s tortilla is the best. After years of living abroad, I have learnt to prepare it myself, but it just does not taste the same without a good dose of motherly love. Every time I return to Spain, this dish is one of the first to hit the table and every time it reminds me that even though you can get potatoes anywhere in the world, nothing tastes like home. During the years I lived in China, this dish stopped being a simple tapa that I used to enjoy with a cold beer at my neighbourhood bar, but rather a centrepiece of our Christmas Eve dinner table. For me and my Spanish friends, nothing reminded us more of home than this simple, homely dish. As I said before, nothing tastes of Spain like tortilla de patatas.
Another reason why I love this dish is because it is quick and easy to make (you only need 5 ingredients and 30 minutes), yet incredibly versatile. You can enjoy it hot right after cooking or have it cold the next day, which is actually my favourite way! Whether you eat it for dinner after a delicious bowl of hot soup, or take it for a picnic at the park or beach, it tastes delicious anytime and every time!
Portugal is the biggest consumer of codfish in the world and it has always been present at the table in Portuguese families. Around 90% of the people choose codfish to be a part of their Christmas Eve feast.
The first catches date back to the XVI century when codfish was caught by Portuguese fishermen along the coast of England and in Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Sea. After being caught, the fish were sliced, cleaned, dried, and preserved in salt. Since there were no fridges at the time, they had to be soaked in water for about two days prior to cooking in order to desalt. Nowadays, because it’s easier to ship and keeps much longer, it is still sold salted and needs to be soaked in water before cooking.
Half a century ago, more than 40% of Portugal’s population worked in agriculture, and today only about 10% do. My grandparents lived in a small village and they cultivated their own land, raised domestic animals, made their own olive oil from the farm’s olive trees, and they even had cows to produce milk and chickens to lay eggs. From the farm’s soil grew potatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, and many more, so almost all of the ingredients (except salt, pepper, and the codfish itself) used in this recipe were natural and locally produced. Nowadays they call it “organic,” but its taste then was still far better than now.
I loved visiting my grandparents’ farmhouse to be close to the animals. I remember running water and electricity became available there some years after they were married. Now, the farm does not exist anymore and new modern houses have been built in its place. Even though cell phones did not exist at the time for me to capture the memories, I still remember that place and I could even paint a beautiful picture with the fresh memories I still have of that time (if I had the skills, that is.)
These salted cod fritters to me have the taste of the farm surroundings and bring me back.
First, you should know that my girlfriend is from Hungary. This means whenever I cook, she feels an irresistible need to compare it with her homeland food, especially the way her grandfather used to prepare meals.
She spent her childhood with her grandparents as they were living under the same roof. Her parents being at work, she would eat what her grandparents did, and, as her grandpa enjoyed cooking, she came to taste a wide range of dishes at a very young age. Among them, the one she never ceased to praise is his halászlé (fisherman’s stew).
I only found out later why it is so ingrained in her memory, as she did not have any interest in cooking while her grandpa lived. One day, she was sitting next to him in the kitchen and was told to watch closely and to memorize the steps. She objected and exclaimed she would not have any need for any recipe in the future as she was not going to cook herself. Grandpa did not give up and replied, “You have to stay, anyway. You might think it as a waste of time now, but it is your only chance. Soon I’ll pass away, and then you will remain here clueless with your pride and regret.” So, she stayed and watched her grandpa cooking. He proved to be right: she wishes she would have attended more cooking sessions with him.
Last Christmas, I had the opportunity to taste this famous dish I had heard so much about. To be honest, I was quite skeptical before tasting it – considering that we are talking about the fish soup of a country with no access to the sea. But I must admit that Hungarians managed to turn freshwater fish into a delicious meal.
Halászlé is not meant to be a day-to-day meal. Hungarians traditionally eat it on Christmas Eve followed by some deep-fried fish, stuffed cabbage, and beigli, traditional sweet rolls made from walnut or poppy seed. You can also eat it during the summer, when Hungarians prepare it in a cauldron over an open fire.
Whichever version you try, one thing you should not forget is that this soup it to be eaten cautiously due to the tiny fishbone. There is a Hungarian saying that “A Hungarian (wo)man doesn’t speak while eating” (Magyar ember evés közben nem beszél) – although, truth be told, it is mainly used to make children silent around the table.
A Spanish meal typically consists of three courses: first, second, and dessert. As a first course, the cold tomato soup known as “gazpacho,” originally from the southern part of Spain, Andalucía - but currently found anywhere - is a standard summer dish because it needs no cooking, is very refreshing, low in calories, and packed with vitamins. The “watermelon gazpacho” I chose is a variation of the original gazpacho recipe, but not the only one. You can also replace the watermelon with mango or even cherries, although the basic ingredients are always tomato and olive oil.
I first tried this watermelon gazpacho at an office party. One of my colleagues brought a big bottle of it and served it in small cups at the buffet table. Everyone raved about it! I chose it because it is my favorite kind of gazpacho, but also because kids enjoy the taste more as it adds a sweet touch to the typical cold tomato soup.
The wide range of ingredients and flavors that define Asian cuisine stems from the colorful variety of cultures that make up the continent of Asia. From the Middle East in the West to Mongolia in the North, and Japan and Thailand in the East and Southeast respectively, it’s impossible to pinpoint Asian cuisine to one specific flavor, making Asian food one of the most exotic of sensory experiences when it comes to food. Ingredients and flavors in Asian cooking balance each other, often times using contrasting flavors and ingredients to do so, and in turn, taking you on a sensory adventure.
We hope these recipes not only transport you on a journey to the local destinations where they originate, but also open your eyes to the stories behind the people who made them.
My grandmother has been a part of my life since I was merely 80 days old, when my mother sent me from New Jersey, USA to a small town in Anhui Province, China to live with my grandparents for a couple years. For as long as I can remember, she has always shown her love for people through cooking. I remember going to the open air market with her every day to buy fresh ingredients, produce, and even livestock. (I’ll never forget the smell of a chicken being killed.)
When she was younger, she was a well-known Chinese opera singer in her town and loved dressing up in the elaborate costumes and makeup. However these days, living in a small town, there isn’t much to do but live a routine day-to-day life. For her, cooking lunch and dinner for her family were the highlights of her day, feeling content when everyone’s bellies were full and well-fed. Whenever I visit these days, the first thing she asks is, “What do you want to eat?”
Apparently it spread to my mother too. I used to be annoyed when I would have friends over for dinner and my mother would cook and put food directly into my friend’s bowls telling them to “eat more! Don’t forget to try this one too!” However, I’ve learned this is how Chinese mothers show their care.
A recipe of my grandmother’s that is always well-received around the table is Nanjing Salted Duck, a sister of the famous Beijing Roast Duck. Although Nanjing Salted Duck is actually from Jiangsu Province, Nanjing is only a mere 30 minutes away from my grandmother’s town, and has become a familiar dish on her dinner table. This dish is meant to be shared, so get cooking and invite your friends and family to enjoy this dish!
Nanjing Salted Duck is a dish that dates as far back as the Qing Dynasty, and has become a local staple that exceeds the sales of chickens! Although it looks plain, it is packed with flavor from the different seasonal spices that may be used.
Nanjing Cuisine is a part of Huaiyang Cuisine, one of the four major cuisines of China. In Huaiyang cooking, ingredients and techniques revolve around the natural flavors of the main ingredient, and knife skills play a major role.
India is known for its vibrant colors, food, and ethnic clothes. Loved by millions over the world from the East to the West, it’s a frequently visited destination for tourists all across the world. Let’s not forget about its biggest film industry, Bollywood, located in Mumbai. I can name only a handful of people who claim they have never watched an Indian movie. Apart from being a stop for celebrity fanatics, it has claimed the hearts of millions by having absolutely stunning architecture and mouth-watering food. To name one of many, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), is a train terminal which is absolutely stunning. Built during colonial times, it has been well-preserved. The gateway of India which has been built to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, still stands to this date attracting billions. And this very city Mumbai, is my home.
Amidst this busy city, I lived in small house with my mum. Life wasn’t as colorful in this little house. My mom did her best to make the most out of it. I wouldn’t want to say it wasn’t a comfortable life back then because I was never made to perceive life that way. But I do see and appreciate the tiny details my mom put work into to make it easy on me. Food was generally the staples; rice, Dal (lentils), and probably a pickle. But when we did end up cooking some chicken or seafood in the house, my mum would try and make it super extravagant. One of my all-time favorites would be meatball curry. Probably because of its flexibility of being able to use the same recipe to cook other meats or even shrimp balls or fish balls. Each time, it feels like a whole new recipe with a different meat. It’s something I never got sick of, even to this very day.
It may look all “fancy-shmancy”, but it is super simple to cook. I pat myself on the back for learning and successfully executing this delicious dish (of course after 13 failed attempts and almost setting the kitchen on fire). However, I do remember giving my mum a hand while making the meatballs. It was a time I deeply cherish. As you may already know, Indian food has a lot of flavor, and with all that flavor you get chance to alter it a little to make a completely differ- ent dish. For instance, this specific meatball curry recipe, you could skip the curry and skewer the minced meat to make seekh kebabs. Another fancy named dish that takes little to no effort.
However, for the majority of my life, we lived in a house with no microwave, so there was always a need to be making fresh food, and of course restaurant food was not always affordable. I can imagine the millennials reading this and being super shocked. Well little ones, microwave ovens wouldn’t have been invented if it wasn’t for our generation, would it now?
My mom isn’t actually a very good baker, but there is one sweet that she was always good at making, and it’s called Wajit. Wajit is very memorable for me, not only because it tasted so good, but also because during our childhood, my siblings and I were only permitted to eat the edge pieces. Why? It’s not because she didn’t want us to have it, but because the good cuts were meant to be sold.
My family is Bataknese and my childhood story begins in Medan, a city in North Sumatera where the Bataknese are originally from. Our family was struggling with the economy at the time and even though my father was a driver, he unfortunately loved to gamble too. To help make ends meet, my mom put aside her pride and worked hard to provide for us, even though she only graduated from grade 9. Every morning, she would wake up early to prepare food and snacks, walk to the local elementary school with her heavy basket, and sell her goods to students at the school gate. She did this every day. One of the snacks in that basket was Wajit, which explains why we were only allowed to eat the edge pieces.
As time flew, we eventually moved to Bandung, West Jawa. Our father slowly changed his gambling habits and our mom was able to stay home. However in 1997, my father passed away at the age of 47 from a heart attack and my mom found herself struggling to survive once again.
This time around, she now had 5 children to take care of, so the education fees were also higher. At the time, I was entering college and had 4 younger siblings as well. Without any money, my dream to finish college would be impossible and also the dreams of my younger siblings to have a good education would vanish.
Despite the circumstances, mom didn’t give up. She started back up the same routine she had back in Medan, waking up to prepare homemade snacks and food and walking to the nearby elementary school to sell to the students.
My siblings and I helped as much as we can. We knew that education was the only way out from poverty, so we studied hard. My mom has 3 daughters, and we all learned from her to be strong women. So only we, the daughters, pursued our academic goals. I graduated with a pharmacy degree and then became a pharmacist, but now focusing on being a translator. Daughter number 2 has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and works as an interpreter and translator traveling around Indonesia and overseas for her work. Daughter number 3, a notary and the youngest, has the highest degree of us all.
So, Wajit to me is more than just a sweet. It reminds me of precious memories of the days when we would fight to eat the edge pieces. As I grew up, I saw Wajit as proof of our mom’s strong will to take care of her family and in its own way, has helped us become strong women just like our mom.
Wajit is a traditional snack that is well-known to Indonesians. It used to always be found at traditional markets, however due to modernization, this traditional snack is becoming harder to find.
I received this recipe from a friend whose hometown, the Island of Samar located in the south of the Philippines, is known for being the best place for Kilawin. I first tried Kilawin in 1996 with some former colleagues during our first company outing in the south of Manila, at a then untouched and beautiful beach called Laiya.
Kilwin is often called a ‘pulutan’ and, due to the price of the fish, is usually eaten during parties, weddings, or at a special get together among friends in the Philippines, generally accompanied with a cheeky bottle of Brandy or cold beers.
While I am Canadian, I offer this recipe because:
When we prepare Kilawin, it is always because we are planning something nice. I have shared this recipe with extended family in Canada and France and, even though we had to use different fish, it tasted just as good and always goes down well with guests!
Lastly, another benefit of Kilawin is that it is a very healthy, fresh, nutritious dish. By sharing this recipe, I hope that wherever you prepare it you can enjoy it, and perhaps you will even consider visiting one of the many beautiful islands of this country someday.
Middle Eastern cuisine has skyrocketed in popularity in recent decades. Unsurprisingly so, as it’s known for its wholesome, healthy, and aromatic ingredients and flavors. It draws influences and flavors from multiple countries in the region. While diverse, it is also known for using consistent ingredients such as chickpeas, olives, olive oil, turmeric, and other spices. As a crossroads between Asia and Europe throughout history, the region has always been a hub for food and recipe trading, bringing together ingredients from as far as Mongolia to Africa, creating an aromatically diverse blend of flavors.
This past summer, I was fortunate enough to travel with my parents to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for a special 5-day holiday in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While nothing was short of fantastic, it wasn’t until the last day of my vacation that I felt like I really had a chance to connect to the people and the culture.
I decided it would be fun to try an Arabic cooking class, even though my only prior introduction to cooking was making scrambled eggs. Since I was the only one in the class who was still in school, the chef gave me extra support and we got to chat about food and travels. While marinating lamb shoulder for Madfoun Lahem and layering puff pastry with cinnamon and sugar for Umm Ali, the chef told me stories of his culinary adventures around the world and I also shared with him my passion for food - especially trying local flavors from different countries .
What really resonated with me was his story about how he became a chef. I learned that when he was my age, he already knew he wanted to be a chef, but both of his parents disapproved. However, he still followed his passion for cooking and just this year, received an invitation to work at a Michelin Star Restaurant in China.
Hearing his story and background and also being able to learn and taste these new dishes was an experience I will always treasure. The lamb shoulder came out juicy and tender, and the Arabic bread pudding was some of the best dessert I’ve ever had. Even though Dubai and Abu Dhabi offered amazing exotic luxuries and remarkable sights, it was meeting the chef and other locals, and learning their stories really defined and made this trip memorable.
As I left with a full belly and smile, he left me with some important advice that I will never forget – Grasp a passion, and follow it to your fullest, no matter what it is.
Put the cumin, fennel, cinnamon, coriander, peppercorns and dried chilies into a frying pan and roast over a low heat, stirring continuously, until the spices turn golden. Remove from heat, grind in a blender, and keep in an air tight container. Once the Bezar has been prepared, it can be kept in an airtight container for up to 10 months.
Also known as “The Monk’s Salad”, this healthy and refreshing dish is named after a monk who lived in one of the monasteries scattered throughout the Lebanese mountains. The story states that the monk lived a frugal life using hand-picked ingredients and herbs that his plot of land produced.