"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje, Asian cooking, cooking, Curried Spring Roll Filling, curry, food, Hong Kong International School, third culture kid
I remember the walk through Causeway Bay, well seasoned woks over a gas range, tupperware full of good food to bring home each afternoon, and a myriad of cooks from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Hong Kong – all sharing recipes and cooking tips to a random assortment of teenagers from Hong Kong International School. It was all part of ‘A Cook’s Tour Through Asia,’ the interim I attended my sophmore year of high school and it is where I first learned the recipe I am sharing today.
Once you become an expatriate the places and people you encounter become an indelible part of who you are. You also find out just how small the world really is. When a new family moved into the flats just down from ours with a son in the same grade as mine, did I ever imagine that one day our daughters would play together across the world in a state in which I never dreamed I’d live? When a scrawny cross-country kid in the class below mine professed a crush on me and I rebuffed him, did I ever dream that 14 years later I would marry him? Did I have any inkling when I met you at 11 years old that one day my daughters would call you “auntie?”
Never mind that I haven’t lived overseas since I was 18, many of the memories are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. I alternatively experience a desire for roots with a home near family and an urgency to find a way to move overseas again in order to give my girls the world (literally).
Today’s nostalgic episode is brought to you by Michael Ondaatje’s book ‘The Cat’s Table’ (Vintage International). Incidentally, it was recommended to me by a former classmate of mine from HKIS. A few of the lines from his book awoke old memories and, with them, a vicious craving for this old favorite recipe. I’ll admit I only turn these into spring rolls about 1/3 of the time I make them. It’s the filling I love and I’m perfectly happy to eat it by the bowlful and skip the more labor intensive step of wrapping and frying it up. How you choose to eat it is up to you but I hope you will give it a try.
This is modified slightly….I like more garlic and ginger than the original called for. I also replace ketchup with tomato paste and use a little extra. It’s a very forgiving recipe. If you don’t have the exact ratios it calls for, don’t sweat it. At the end, adjust the seasonings however they taste best to you. 🙂
Curried Spring Roll Filling
- 8 oz ground beef or turkey
- 8 oz onion, finely minced
- 8 oz potatoes, boiled and chopped
- 8 oz tomatoes, chopped
- 1 heaping Tbsp garlic, minced (about 3-4 cloves)
- 1 heaping Tbsp minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder
- 1 Tbsp Madras curry powder, hot (My dad brings the good stuff back from Hong Kong for me. Thanks dad!)
- 2-3 generous Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil
1. Drizzle 1-2 Tbsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add tomato, garlic, ginger, chilli powder, and curry. Cook and stir for a couple of minutes. Alternatively, you could neglect to read the recipe, like I did this time, and mix all the spices with in with the tomato paste (instead of adding with the fresh tomatoes), and stir it all together with the meat. Either way it will be delicious!
2. Add tomato paste, salt, sugar, and pepper to the ground meat (loosened with a fork first), then add the meat to the onions and tomatoes.
3. When the meat is broken up and brown, reduce the heat and simmer on low for about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, mix well and cook for a few minutes until heated through.
At this point you can dish up and dig in OR you can cool the mixture slightly and then use it as a filling for spring rolls and fry them up. We chose option #1 today:
Having made this for our lunch, I was curious how ‘The Littles,’ would respond. Trinity asked for seconds. Lilly responded in the following way:
Lilly: I’m NOT going to eat that. It has potatoes in it. Potatoes are NOT my favorite.
Me: It doesn’t have to be your favorite food. We don’t always like every food we try but you DO need to try new things. You need to eat three bites. Then you may have a peanut butter sandwich.
After eating her three bites Lilly considered for a moment before asking, “Can I have one more bite?” After she finished that bite she asked “Can I have a bowl of this for my lunch since I like it so much?”
Parental victory is sweet but I knew better than to gloat in front of her. Instead, I gave Andy a wink and let her pick out her bowl.
I’ll leave you with a few thoughts from the book. Perhaps if you are a 3rd culture kid you can relate:
“I’ve met many who remain haunted by the persistent ghost of an earlier place.”
“All these places [we]…had entered as teenagers and come out of as adults. But what did we really know, even of one another? We never thought of a future. Our small solar system – what was it heading towards? And how long would each of us mean something to the others?”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to continue reading 😀
Meghan Heidmann said:
I love every single thing about this post!
I will be trying this recipe very soon!! Thanks for sharing!!!
Thanks Meghan! 😀
Alexandra Payne said:
This post just sang to me! Thank you for sharing what’s on your heart. And I love the idea of just having this in a bowl, sans frying in a spring roll wrapper. What an easy lunch idea, too! Yum!
Thanks! I imagine you and Meghan can both relate to the sentiments. Do you have any foods that bring back vivid memories?