Food scares

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Beware of wildly inaccurate instructions, warns father-of-three Nury Vittachi.

Food, Muesli
Picture credit to Trang Doan

Watch out. A host of exciting delicacies are now being imported to Asia, exciting our palates and destroying our kitchens. Perhaps the most remarkable of these is the apple puff, a pastry item which recently appeared in the frozen section of my supermarket. Actually, the air conditioning is so high, the entire store is now the frozen section. This is a trick to make us buy more. Unless you spend each visit sprinting along the aisles pushing 70kg of groceries, death by hypothermia is inevitable.

The week before writing this, I arrived home and thawed myself out to discover that I had snatched up a pack of 12 “mini apple puffs” from Australia. The instructions said: “Using high energy setting on microwave, heat frozen pastries for five minutes.” I slipped a couple into the machine, and while waiting for them to warm, I recalled the previous non-Asian delicacy I had tried: a Scottish dish called porridge.

“Place oats in hot water and heat for three to five minutes,” the package said. I did that. Five minutes later, I ended up gazing excitedly at a pile of oats at the bottom of a pan of hot water. I phoned a European friend. “What is porridge supposed to look like?” I asked. She said: “Like a human brain on a dish.” I lied: “That sounds yummy.” She came over to investigate and told me my oats were still raw. She halved the water and quadrupled the cooking time and soon produced a mucus-y thing that looked like it had come out of the nose of the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk. It didn’t taste as bad as it looked. It tasted much, much worse. “Are you sure one is supposed to eat this?” I asked, my heart sinking. “It’s not a type of glue?”

She gave me a long explanation about how it was supposed to be disgusting, because it was eaten by Scotland’s earliest inhabitants, a tough tribe known as “Scotchmen”, or, to be politically correct, “the Inuit”. (I may have that backwards.)

And why are instructions always wrong? Why are there not more lawsuits? Remember that health magazine about five years ago which said henbane is great in salads, forgetting that the stuff is a deadly poison? One of the most famous Victorian murderers, Dr Crippen, is believed to have used it to kill his wife. His great-great-grandsons can simply kill their wives with the same thing and blame the nearest health magazine.

In one Russian cookbook, every reference to a “pinch of nutmeg” was translated into English as “a handful of nutmeg”. This must have made some very interesting eggnog, because large doses of nutmeg causes delirious behaviour, such as telling your children that a fat man is coming down the chimney with a sack of toys.

These reveries were interrupted by the realisation that the newly purchased apple puffs were also turning into an interesting experiment. After one minute they had started throbbing. At two minutes they collapsed. At three minutes they turned brown. At four minutes they turned black. At four and half minutes they burst into flame.

I phoned my Western friend and asked: “What do apple puffs look like when they’re cooked?” She said: “Golden and crispy.” I said: “Not black? And what about the flames?” I realised that I had once more been hit by the curse of wildly inaccurate instructions.

Now if I lived in North America, I could sue the vendor of both these items, the ParknShop supermarket chain, for almost burning down my kitchen, and could probably add an extra claim against Australia and Scotland for gross humiliation. But this is Asia, where the silly lawsuit, a sign of a sophisticated modern society, does not yet exist. Thank God for small mercies.

I had rice for dinner.

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