At the back of the hill

Warning: May contain traces of soy, wheat, lecithin and tree nuts. That you are here
strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton.
And that you might like cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Bamboo grows widely in South-East Asia in the wetter parts, and dense stands segment off parts of the landscape.  At night they creak as the temperature settles, and seem to sway even without wind.  Tall erect stalks will bend under the weight of their own leaves, especially when it has rained recently.
We associate bamboo with three kinds of food: cooked bamboo shoot, delicious in a coconut milk broth with turmeric, chilies, and lemongrass; packets of glutinous rice and fatty meat steamed for hours, which are suitable for taking on a journey because the bamboo leaves in which the food is contained inhibit bacterial flourishing; and fermented hill-rice with meat chunks stuffed inside a segment of green bamboo with coconut milk, fish-paste, and mild spices, then leaned up against a fire to cook and swell within, finally popping the leaf plug at the top.

That last food item needs to be split open to enjoy, as the plumped-up filling is wedged in tight, forming a close conjunction with the hissing warm inner surface.
There will be a mild scent of char and a subtle vegetal perfume to the food thus prepared.

So much will have been made that guests can take home surplus from the party for family members who could not travel to the feast.  In fact, they'll be encouraged to do so.  It travels well, due to the aforementioned anti-bacterial effect.

That idea of 'enoughness', exemplified by there being a surfeit which can be shared with distant friends who are thus also involved in the meal, permeates the food-culture of large parts of the Malayo-Polynesian part of South-East Asia.
This is especially so with rice and coconut milk preparations.

There is plenty so that we can all share.
And everyone should have some.

Food is ritual, food is friendship, food is social interaction.

Food is emphatically NOT a pre-fab hamburger or a deep-fried breast-meat extrudiment served in a waxed-paper sleeve.

I'm not entirely sure what those things are.

Food in modern society serves primarily as fuel. People often don't have the chance to eat together, and are too rushed to sit down for a well-considered meal.  Something is missing.

Other than hot-sauce, of course.

[A shared food culture is more than just certain substances in common - coconut milk and lemon grass, fish paste, glutinous rice, hot sauce, and braised or steamed dishes - it is also about similar ideas about sharing, social eating, proper conduct and interaction while eating, and where and when it is appropriate to eat. We are not animals, dinner is more than just a fresh carcass at the water hole.]

Rice and coconuts exemplify a cultural paradigm no less important than bamboo and its multitude of uses; without either, the societies that stretch from Martavan to the Spratleys would be impossible to imagine.  Much more so than betelnut, pigs, and swift longboats, in excess even of common tongues and shared symbolisms.

There are ideas associated with these materials that resonate even beyond their geography.
Well, fish paste too - stinky wonderful stuff - but rice and coconute sustain.


Some items are staples in a shared kitchen, that's just the way they have to be.  Rice, naturally, and coconut milk, along with dried seafoods for briny salty flavours, fish or shrimp pastes, spices, cooking sherry, dried products.....

I no longer cook rice at home.  But I have recently augmented my supply of hot sauces and sambal, shrimp paste, dried fish, and noodles.  These all come in efficient quantities far smaller than the customary fifty pound bags of rice previously bought. And they keep well.
I doubt that I could actually enjoy rice at home anymore.  Or the numerous dishes with coconut milk that I used to make.
Too much has changed.

I still enjoy rice, when I eat elsewhere. Rice is essential.
But I haven't eaten coconut milk food in a long time.
Restaurant portions are too much for one.
Randang or Gule, vegs, soup, fish.
Balance versus excess.

Primarily, I guess, I miss having someone else to cook for and share meals with.
Eating by oneself is kind of like scrounging around for opportune carrion.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.



  • At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have a lovely pair of coconuts.

  • At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You need to post the recipes for the coconut foods, please.


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