Monday, 9 November 2009

An oven of one’s own*

*With apologies to Virginia Woolf.

So, two months in, I decided to have a housewarming party. Why, you may ask? Well, why not? Of course, it did require some careful planning. As my flat is pretty damn small, and really can’t fit that many people, I decided that while I wanted to invite all my friends here, I was worried that if they all turned up, I’d have to get some of them to hang outside my windows cause there simply isn’t enough floor space. So I came up with two solutions. 1. Have the party on a week night. 2. Send out the invite only a few days beforehand so most people will be booked up already. And it worked a treat!

Of course, limiting the number of guests turned it from a housewarming party into more of a haphazard dinner party. I decided to make some food so that we would have something to soak up the booze. So thought to myself, what can I make that’s easy, feeds a lot of people, and can be cooked in one pot (I only have a one-ring electric hob). Ahh yes – the vegetarian Moroccan cous cous dish.

Well let me tell you now – that’s only easy in Europe. Sourcing the ingredients here was a nightmare. No one sells cous cous, the relevant spices were pricey and a pain in the ass to get hold of, chickpeas aren’t available in all supermarkets and are imported from the States (and called Garbanzo beans – who knew?!), and I couldn’t find courgettes anywhere. So I ventured to my local wet market to have a look at what vegetables they had in stock. Saw some things that looked like courgettes. Held one up to the lady on the stall, and asked “courgette?” She nodded and added something in Cantonese. Hmm. Was she agreeing with me or giving me a price? I picked out another green vegetable that may or may not have been a courgette and repeated my question. And got the same response. Hmm. This technique wasn’t going to work. I had already asked a friend what the Cantonese word was for courgette and she didn’t know. (So she asked her mum…who also didn’t know. Sigh…)

Suddenly I had the solution. I whipped out my camera and started photographing a number of green vegetables that quite frankly all could have been courgettes and then went home and emailed them to the gang, two of whom were able to correctly identify them, and lo, I was able to complete my shopping for the meal. (They’re much paler and larger than the ones you get in Europe, just in case you were wondering after all this hoohah, although perhaps you may have paused for a nap by now).

Managed to make the food successfully (although a ton of it splattered onto the floor – my cooking area is small and the pot I was using was even smaller. Fear not, I didn’t scoop it up and back into the pot…I think…) and everyone turned up – one to two hours late – but I was drinking red wine by this point and wasn’t too bothered.

So as it was now turning into more of a dinner party than a let’s stand around and get drunk party, I decided to dish up the food. In paper bowls. With plastic forks. Ah, the art of fine dining Chez Howe. And once we had all sat down to eat (an amazing accomplishment in itself given that I only have four seats and no one sat on the floor), we decided to indulge in some classic dinner party conversation. Thankfully it wasn’t as boring as some of the ones I have engaged in in London (talking about property and house prices is officially boring, people), although at one point it did slip into the dull Hong Kong Island vs Kowloon debate – see my previous post.

But the highlight of the evening’s conversation was…kitchen ovens. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. Only one guest had an oven. And damn, but the rest of us were jealous. There was even a moment of silence while each of us indulged in our individual fantasies of what we would do if we had an oven of our own – roasting vegetables, cooking a turkey, baking a cake – the possibilities seemed endless…

Maybe I’ll have to write a nice letter to Santa.

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