A friend from high society once joked (or rather, jeered):
“Lyn, you are a restaurateur, but you seem to have not visited many Michelin stars restaurants! ha ha ha! How can you even define good food?”
Ha ha ha, indeed. When I was much younger, my dad used to take me to a roadside stall in a dodgy part of Kuala Lumpur to buy these crispy wontons from an elderly man who fries them from a beat up gas stove by the street, come rain come shine. 20 years later to today, the elderly man, if not more elderly, still fries the same wontons amidst the rising shadows of a metropolis.
Dad said, “These are the last surviving wontons”.
As humble as they look, they may arguably be the best wontons in the world.
We may never replicate the full recipe. And perhaps, they may be worthy of a Michelin star dish. Same goes to the millions of hawker stalls in the world and the billions of home cooks. And your grandma’s recipes may be worthy of a Michelin.
My first Michelin dining experience was Alain Ducasse in Paris when I was 18. I remembered that though the dishes were intricate, it was unbearingly long winded and so overwhelmingly posh that I was unable to gulp water for fear of turning heads. It was so prosecuting that I thought if I had dropped a fork I would be kicked out.
Naturally, I am not the posh sort.
2 hours later, I wolfed down 20 bbq chicken drumlets from Quick. I was very happy!
Growing up I pretty much ate at home, The Ship, hawker stores and Chinese restaurants. I consumed mostly trash, instant noodles and frozen foods from Sainsbury’s in my rebellious teens. My 20s comprises of mostly alcohol and salads as I fought my weight gain. Fine dining leaked into my early 30s given that I had acquired some spending power. As I moved into the restaurant business, I widened my horizons to eat almost everything to remain in competition: street food, Haggis, wet market sushi, milkshakes from a cow, Joel Robuchon you name it.
Two weeks ago, I visited Ultraviolet by Paul Pairret in Shanghai. Using multi sensory technology on a ten seater table – we were served 20 meticulous courses fit for an emperor. I enjoyed every second of its complexity. Out of the plethora of tastes, I identified tinges of the hawker store wonton which is barely 1 euro out of this 600 euro Michelin star meal.
Just like fine wine, vintages grow in complexity. Whatever we eat, taste incubates into a greater prism of our consumption psychology as we grow older and sideways. If you had grown up purely on fine dining, you may never identify with nor appreciate the basic culinary building blocks of cooking. That molecular dish you had just raved on? It stemmed from a chef’s grandmother’s simple recipe.
No matter what you eat, be it in a Michelin star restaurant or at home – taste nostalgia should evoke priceless, happy memories.
Food is meant to be enjoyed. And the more you eat, the more you discover.
Taste is subjective, and good taste is often, acquired.
Based in Kuala Lumpur and having previously lived and worked across 8 countries, Lyn Siew is the owner of an award winning Contemporary Chinese Hybrid Restaurant, Ruyi & Lyn, and a Western eatery Monte’s by the Red Herring. She is currently incubating a local startup project for culinary students, and building an online platform for the global food community. Relationship status? Married to food and champagne.
Follow her daily eating and drinking adventures on Instagram!