Just as I did yesterday, I took control of the kitchen this afternoon to feed an exhausted Mim as she stumbled home from TAFE. It seems like this might be my Monday-Wednesday gig until I go back to work.

This time, it was chicken, with the same corn, potatoes and carrots as before. To my horror, halfway through preparation, I discovered that the chicken was as drumsticks, and not the fillets I’d hoped. Nonetheless, with the help of some rice, a can of mango slices (it comes in cans, apparently) and some 99-cent-a-carton orange juice concentrate, the raw ingredients were transformed into orange-soy chicken drumsticks with boiled rice, mango-corn coulis and curried vegetables.

Unfortunately, I ran out of soy sauce, so had to add some Chinese rice wine to the chicken marinade, and having used up the fresh ginger last night, had to use gari in my homemade curry powder instead. I like to snack on gari from time to time. I’m weird like that.

I’d hoped that the starchiness and slight sweetness from the raw corn would complement the mango, but the mango’s sweetness was overpowering—it seems that mango slices tinned in mango juice require yet more sugar in the mix. Perhaps it’s to stop the mango slices going mushy—added sugar helps vegetables and legumes keep their shape when cooked—but I really don’t think quite that much sugar is necessary. I had to use red wine vinegar and salt to try and temper the flavour a little; in the end, it came out tasting somewhat like pawpaw.

Despite all these problems, the meal actually worked fairly well.

I’m starting to notice a Chinese influence in my cooking. The phrase “Chinese cooking” is a misnomer—there’s as much difference between China’s eight basic cuisines as between any eight culinary traditions of Europe. One thing that Chinese cuisines share, however, is a love of contrasting flavour.

There are six basic flavours in cooking, matching different types of taste receptors: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami (AKA savoury) and the long-suspected but only recently discovered fatty/oily. Recent genetic and developmental research suggests that we may see a specific oxalic flavour added as a seventh, and there could well be more on the way as aspects of cuisine and neuroscience converge.

Western dishes mostly focus on the one flavour. There are exceptions, of course, such as the oily sourness of vinaigrette or the peppery sweetness of crème anglaise de poivre et lavande, but for the most part, Western cuisine is an exercise in simple tastes.

Chinese cuisines—the real Chinese foods, not the dumbed-down, fast-food versions we often see in so-called “Chinese” restaurants—are all about mixing flavours. Not just sweet and sour, but sweet and salty, salty and sour, umami and sweet…

It’s this kind of sensibility that I’m starting to explore in my own cooking. The sour sweetness of caramelised orange juice joins with the saltiness of soy and savouriness of chicken, in turn complemented by the salty sweetness of the mango-corn coulis; likewise, the relish from last night’s dinner marries the sweetness of carrot to the pickled gherkin’s sourness.

I like where this is going. (And I think Mim does, too, just quietly.)

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