What is a Recipe?
A recipe is a translation of a dish into language. A recipe is always waiting to be translated back, though it can never go back there, exactly.
The source text of a recipe never survives: where are those plums?
The durational quality of the ingredients used to retranslate a dish, ‘products of nature’, as Claudia Roden has it, means that no reproduction may ever be accurate: they vary. An orange may be orange but it may taste yellow, this time. Give up the search, you cannot go back. You will never have the same materials again. This is good for you: it reminds you of the importance of your participation in the genesis of a dish. You can make it different, better, and your body is different now to how it was then. Your body is the measure of your dish and your mark is still present in every one.
All we can ever have for leftovers is its translation into words. A recipe is a trace of a dish, left behind so that others may try to redraw its lines.
The assessment of whether a recipe is syntactically functional – and makes a good sentence – depends entirely on its embodiment in its source medium, re-translated at a later point in time, the dish.
Does the dish make sense? Is it a sentence?
If the recipe cannot instruct the performance of the required physical and sensual gestures to translate the recipe into its embodied source medium – the dish – it is not a successful translation.
For the dish to make sense, it must also be translated into the body. A dish is a sentence that can only be read by the embodied subject.
Does the subject speak the language of the dish? Is the subject able to translate the dish?
The whole body translates a dish into itself: a dish is always waiting to be translated.
The boundaries of the senses, the memory and emotion break down in the utterly overwhelming experience of eating.
Eating is the originary contact with the other and proof of the futility of xenophobia.
The human subject depends on taking the other into itself to keep on living. Food touches every part of the human subject: penetrating cells, building them making them multiply; lodging its sensual shape into memory; translating itself back into words that become culture that become what you think defines you.
COMFORT FOOD, food that keeps you seated, is the other that you know, the other that keeps coming to you until it has become familiar, family: the other that you take for yourself. STRANGE FOOD is the other that you don’t know, the other that is other, the other that is waiting to become family. A RECIPE always finds itself in a strange kitchen read by strange eyes translated with the hands and the tongue and the materials and means of a different place and time.
RICE PUDDING is a dish that is at home and abroad in many countries. In my state funded primary school when I hated milk, I was repulsed by the milky sweetness of the rice pudding and mistrusted the fruit-less red jam that came with it. I mistrusted more or less all food that my mother did not make. I barely ever ate lunch. I first had German Milchreis in a small town on the Polish border of north east Germany called Ueckermunde. I was 17. It came out of the freezer in a bright package and was cooked in the microwave by the German girl I was staying with. It was plain and sweet and came with cherries in syrup. I was shocked that such sweet food was served for lunch as a main course. It felt strange and disobedient and at the wrong time: sweet food in England always comes after. If you grew up in England: try to imagine eating sweet rice pudding as your main course, without guilt. I can’t. Then, in Istanbul in 2013 when I was 27 my friend Ayca served me cold Sütlaç flavoured with gum mastic and topped with powdered cinnamon for dessert. It had an unfamiliar smoky flavour. I had never heard of gum mastic before, and I loved it. Ayça was a trustworthy mediator of rice pudding and I had become more excited about tastes I did not know.
I designed a rice pudding for an imagined a German man, curious about the Other, that I read about in Anna Weidenholzer’s short story, Chairs and Sentences.I imagine the uncanny sensation he would feel tasting rice pudding that is at first the most familiar and comforting dish but contains within it the other, the strange, the unfamiliar. Through enveloping gum mastic in sweet milk, and its familiar Germanic presentation with cherries, the rice pudding produces the sensation of being home and abroad at the same time, as he feels in his own language: at once seated and unseated, experiencing the exquisite pleasure and pain of difference.
1 litre of creamy milk 500ml of water 100g short grain pudding rice 200g caster sugar 2 teaspoons of rosewater 1 teaspoon of gum mastic, pounded in a pestle and mortar 2 tablespoons of corn our mixed with 4 tablespoons of milk a pinch of salt 2 tablespoons of chopped pistachios 1 jar of wild cherries in syrup
HOW TO MAKE
Warm the milk in a pan and whisk in the sugar until it had dissolved. Set aside.
In another large pan, put the rice and the water in a pan with a pinch of salt. When it is boiling turn it down to low. Leave for 10 minutes or so until cooked and the water is absorbed. Stir towards the end.
Then, pour the milk and sugar into the rice pan and stir gently but constantly on a low heat for 10 minutes. Do not allow it to simmer or boil – if it does, remove from the heat for a moment. Be careful that it does not stick to the bottom or it will burn.
Then, stir in the corn our-milk mixture for 2 minutes, until it starts to thicken, stir in the gum mastic and the rosewater.
Place into a large serving bowl or individual bowls and allow to cool. Place in the fridge.
Serve with chopped pistachios and wild cherries.