14 July 2007

The Mortar and Pestle in Southeast Asian Cuisine


Friends who've visiting my home know what an absolute sucker I am for kitchen tools and gadgets. My latest kitchen accessory is actually something I just bought a few hours ago from Pantry Magic (Chip Bee Gardens) - Salt and Pepper Grinder. I have been lusting after it since I first lay eyes on it, and that to me is a sign that our souls belong together.

You know how sometimes you're tempted to buy something but do not know if it is really worth your every dollar? Yet when you walk away from it you find yourself haunted by its image, its smooth curves and gorgeous colour? That's when you know you just have to get it or you'd never be able to have a good night's rest. And that's how it was for me and my bright red salt and pepper grinders.

But I digress.

The thing is, I have almost everything I really need to make things from pasta and bread to ice cream and waffles. But there are certain things that never crossed my mind to add to my collection of tools. One of them is a mortar and pestle set, and for many reasons. It is incredibly heavy, bulky, chunky, and requires much work. Compared to my snazzy looking brushed-steel food processor-with-20-horse-power-engine, the grey and rough mortar and pestle just looks dismal.

Yet, I felt like I had to give the mortar and pestle a chance. There has to be a reason why even after the invention of the food processor, many great chefs are still pounding their herbs and spices. And so when the National Museum's Life and Living - Food and Culture series came about, I readily went for the Mortar and Pestle class held by Christopher Tan (food writer and proficient pounder among others).

Frankly, if not for this workshop, I would never have stepped into the National Museum. A short tour of the Food section in the National Museum has effectively gotten me hooked. I never knew how funky and edgy the National Museum had become and fully intend to head back one day to walk through the exhibits at my own leisurely pace.

If not for this workshop, I would never have learnt the effectiveness of a mortar and pestle - how best to pound your food, and in what order. How different types of mortar and pestles suit different types of pastes and why. We learnt how to make a 2 sauces from scratch and learnt the 'science' behind the mortar and pestle.

Ideally, this is how cooking classes should be. They shouldn't just teach you what to do, but why we should do it that way. We should be learning things along the way, or I might as well just stay at home watching cooking shows.

The Food and Culture series has only just begun and I'm already thinking about which other part to go to.

8 comments:

lawrence said...

Daphne, i think paul is also into this pestle and mortar thing. well at least i hope so since he makes lots of spices (and we bought him a p and m for his birthday haha)

Anonymous said...

Oh is he? Maybe I should demand that he make something from Africa AND using a pestle and mortar. Oh but he's working, so it'd be unfair. Want to take up the challenge? =)

jy said...

Geez you went for the food series workshop at National Museum! I'm quite curious to know what they are gonna teach at the chocolate course :P

Anyhoos on the topic of kitchen gadgets (from our conversation in the backdated post), I guess I haven't reached the phase of investing in such equipment! My dad and I have given up on finding a small panini maker (not the huge iron commercial types) which costs less than $200, don't think we're ever gonna find one.

However thanks for offering your help ;) I know who I can look for when I buy new stuff for my kitchen!

ss said...

Hi jy
I read that the Mario Batali panini press costs S$249. Sounds like a great gadget. Check out Chubby Hubby's review here:
http://chubbyhubby.net/blog/holiday-gift-guide-2006/

Hi daffy
I feel likewise about the pestle & mortar. Guess to some extent, I may have an inner desire to think I am an accomplished Peranankan cook! Am trying hard to stay away from Pantry Magic after Chris says that it is available there.

Anonymous said...

jy> Yeah, you should check out the workshop. Let me know which one you're going, because my girlfriends and I are thinking of attending a few more.

I am actually playing with something right now, that in a way mimics a panini press. I'll let you know if that goes well! Or you could take up SS's recommendation on Mario Batali's panini press (cast iron, good stuff) which doubles up as a grill.

I'm no kitchen gadget expert for sure, but I can share my personal experiences with you!

SS> I gave in to temptation and am undecided on the pestle and mortar they have there! There's a more polished looking one, but with quite rough ridges inside. Not very sure whether it is to be expected! =)

jy said...

Thanks daph and SS for your referral to CH's post!

I called Razorsharp today to ask about that panini press... They told me it's not a panini PRESS, but simply a pan on which you put your panini, and the pan is to be heated up in the oven?!

What purpose does this panini maker serve? I've never come across this before...

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Anonymous said...

jy> that's right. Imagine a cast-iron grill that you can pre-heat in the oven. It has a 'lid' that is smaller than the circumference of the pan and can be used to press onto the panini when you're toasting it. So it's a manual sort of panini-press that doubles up as a grill too! I guess if there's really no better alternative, that would be your best bet. It's 2 in 1! =)