So did you know that in Singapore and Hong Kong a lot of the apartments are built without kitchens? When I was told that I was too busy scraping my woppy jaw off the floor to make rational inquiries like whether or not the classic Parisian “coin-cuisine” counted as a kitchen or not in terms of my interlocutor’s standards. Because if they don’t (and really, as far as I’m concerned, they don’t; the only person I’ve ever met who made a coin-cuisine work was Portuguese, and we all know they’re the MacGyvers of Europe) then half of urban Europe doesn’t have a kitchen either.
But then I went to Singapore and traveled elsewhere in Asia where space is expensive and labor is cheap, and understood that a life where you ate and drank everything except ramen noodles out of a shop could still potentially be a life. Not my life, mind you. There have been periods of – let’s call it “violent self-actualization” - when, if I hadn’t been cooking, I probably would have somehow left this life either literally or figuratively. When I imagine a me who doesn't cook, I just get this vertiginous vision of bobbing off into the ether like an untethered balloon. As tedious as something like, say, clementine marmalade is to make, there’s a special significance in that tedium for someone like me, who does too much living in her nerves. I hesitate to use “earthy” words because my clementine marmalade is out of this world, but there is something grounding about coaxing some raw ingredients into a marvelous symphony of deliciousness over a period of several hours or several days. You wouldn't believe what I can do with tapioca now, of all things.
But not having a kitchen could be a life – but only if you had enough Asians around. For some it’s THE life, and not only in Asia. There is a Cantonese branch to my family tree, the older members of which have a lovely big house with a lovely big kitchen in a lovely Toronto neighborhood, where they don’t cook a damn thing. Instead – and since they have the disposable income to manage it, let me make it clear this is a choice I whole-heartedly applaud – instead they eat at this place. Even better, they bring me with them. Lai Wah Heen is the first place I had lobster dim sum, and the first place I had Peking Duck. It’s the first place outside of China that I had sea cucumber. And it’s the first place I’ve been to that made darling little dim sums that looked like piggies. Their dim sum chef is specially qualified in making life-like dim sum. This restaurant is so awesome; I’m not a frightfully materially conscious human being and as stated probably wouldn’t have much of a life without cooking in it, but I think Lai Wah Heen and the possibility of eating there all the time is probably quite a good reason, in my books, for seeking to be stinking rich.
Anyhoo. If you're ever stuck in downtown Toronto with an expense account, now you know where to go.