My food philosophy, or, reaching for the Optimal Taste Experience

kaberett: I seem to be super-interested in how other people approach food, at the moment, in terms of how they conceptualise it and how they cook and what emotions if any they have to do with it.

I always like talking about food! Pictures of things I have made/eaten recently under the cut at the end of the post.

My philosophy of eating is based around the idea of the Optimal Taste Experience (OTE). The idea is that with every single bite of food, you are aiming to achieve the OTE. For me, the OTE is the perfect balance of taste and texture.

Let us talk about Chinese food, because it is a good example. You are in Hong Kong. Because you are in Hong Kong, of course you order a rice bowl with roast meat and veg. (For those who are interested, my imaginary rice bowl has char siu, siew yoke and roast duck in it. Because why not go the whole hog/duck, it is an imaginary rice bowl! The vegetable is choi sum.) There is some sauce on the rice, but there is some rice that does not have sauce on it, because that is the nature of rice bowls.

In order for me to achieve my OTE with this rice bowl, I need to get on my spoon the perfect proportions of rice, sauce, meat and veg every time. Every mouthful must have the perfect balance of every element. If there is too much rice in a mouthful, that is not ideal because there is not enough flavour. But if there is too much meat, then it is too meaty and there is no balance. You don’t want too much sauce because then it will be too salty. But you want some sauce because otherwise it is boring.

Achieving OTE requires careful attention. Of course, when you are given a rice bowl you are not given equal parts of meat, veg and rice. So you have carefully to apportion out all the elements to make sure you don’t, say, run out of meat before you’ve finished the rice.

There are also more subtle ways to miss the OTE. You might think from the above that maybe you want to mix the sauce into the rice so it is evenly spread all over the rice. No! That would be a terrible mistake, because it would make all the rice sauce-y, and then when you want some plain white rice to offset all the other tastes in your mouth, you won’t have any! You have to keep some rice in reserve. This is because your mood and what you want to taste will change during the meal. Your OTE is not static!

I had been unconsciously practising this approach all my life, and only formulated it one day over a rice bowl at a HK-style diner in Midvalley Megamall. Reaching for the OTE was so instinctive to me that I was surprised and intrigued to find out that not everyone approaches food that way. One of my cousins wants to have a different taste experience with each mouthful, so even if she has achieved the tastiest proportions with one spoonful, instead of sticking with that combo as I would, she will adjust the elements with the next spoonful to see what that tastes like.

So that is my food philosophy! There’s more subtleties to it, but you can pretty much work out the ramifications from the original principle. Like, you don’t want to overeat because when you are full it’s not as fun to eat anymore, so that’s no longer OTE. OTE also extends to the post-food experience, so you have to take care with things like Doritos or McDonald’s, because you might be having OTE at the time, but if you go overboard you can end up feeling decidedly suboptimal. The keys to OTE are moderation and balance.

Anyway, here are some pictures of food!


This is not a great picture, but it’s the one that shows most of what went into this bowl of noodles. It is my DIY version of chilli pan mee! I love chilli pan mee so much, OMG. Ingredients: minced pork, fresh shiitake mushrooms, fried shallots, blanched spinach, fried egg with gooey yolk, and crispy prawn chilli, of course. The role of the pan mee is played here by udon.



Another picture of the pan mee. Next time I will cook the minced pork in dark soy sauce. It tasted good, but it doesn’t look that nice, does it? Too pale! The drink in the distance is elderflower cyder, which is all you think it will be from the name and spelling, but is amazing. *_*



At the same meal I tried to make Sichuan-style fried green beans. The brown things are, again, shiitake mushrooms. But I’m not sure I was successful! The beans were soft rather than crunchy, maybe because I incautiously pressed a kitchen towel onto the beans when they were done frying and left it there, which meant they did some steaming. Next time I try again without the kitchen towel.



I made a not-very-successful green tea Swiss roll with whipped cream. Bits of broke into pieces :( and there wasn’t enough green tea in either the cake or the cream :( I added green tea to the whipped cream in the vague hope that it would up the general green tea quotient, but was too conservative, clearly. Anyway, I gathered up the broken bits and constructed the above dessert with whipped cream, strawberries and bits of green tea cake.



My Hainanese chicken pie! It was so good. *_____* So so good. I added cheese and frozen peas to mine — it is a most good-natured pie, and will take nearly anything you add to it. Asian versions of Western food are so yummy lor.



This was good too! Beef noodles at a Taiwanese bakery at Golders Green. Only problem is it had a lot of ajinomoto. You can tell ‘cos afterwards your tongue feels thirsty.



And a couple of things Cephas (speeding past in the background) made. Here is a frittata! Isn’t it attractive? The cherry tomatoes are so cute. The green things you can just about discern are asparagus. It is a very nice frittata. Cephas has been working his way through a vegetarian cookbook, and this is among my top five of the things he has made. (The others: homemade baked beans, surprisingly nice esp. considering I dislike normal baked beans; a creamy curry with hardboiled eggs and peas; savoury pumpkin, sage and onion pie. I can’t remember the fifth!)



This is a very attractive Austrian bread-cake Cephas baked. There was marzipan in it, and maybe currants? I don’t like marzipan so I didn’t rate that bit, but if you picked it out the rest of the bread was very nice.


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