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Passport & Plate - "Tante (Aunt) Siemke's Recipe"

Netherlands | Friday, 14 March 2014 | 2 photos

-500 grams of chicken breast, sliced in small pieces
-2 large onions
-70 grams (a very small can) of tomato puree
-4 tablespoons peanut butter
-3 teaspoons ketjap manis (An Indonesian sweet soy sauce, this is available in the international section of most major grocery stores)
-2 teaspoons sambal
-1-litre of canned peaches


How to prepare this recipe
1. Fry chicken and onions in a wok or large saucepan.
2. Add tomato puree, peanut butter, sambal, and ketjap manis.
3. Add peaches, pouring in the extra peach juice from the can to taste. Normally half of the can or the full can of juice gives a good amount of sweetness.
4. Let everything simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over a bed of rice.


The story behind this recipe
It was known as "Tante (Aunt) Siemke's Recipe." Nothing more, nothing less. As far back as I remember, this recipe of Indonesian and Dutch influence has floated around my family, which in itself spreads across continents. Growing up in an ethnically-homogeneous Canadian town, I was notorious for eating only "white food" as a child -- pasta, bread, and rice. No colour, no spice, no flavour.

When my mother cooked this dish at home, I always refused to try it.
"You don't know what you're missing out on, my family would say.

It was when I was ten and first visited Europe that I learned the truth in their words. There I was in my great-aunt's Dutch kitchen, finally matching a face to Tante Siemke as she cooked the recipe that I had long associated with her. This time, I knew I had to try it.

"Delicious! Our favourite!" my parents exclaimed as she placed the dish in front of us, her face beaming. The recipe wasn't her own invention; years earlier, she had ripped it from a magazine, but to us it didn't matter. So while she hovered over me in a land which seemed very foreign and yet familiar, I truly tasted Tante Siemke's Recipe for the first time.

I would be lying to say that I liked it that day. What I now consider a rich blend of sweet and savoury, exotic and comforting, was at the time overwhelming. But tasting that dish in that small-town Dutch kitchen made me realize one thing: the world can be as tiny or as large as we make it, and one certainty that can connect us across the distance is a shared love of food.

Since then, I've abandoned my dull, white-food diet for a diverse palate. Whether it's sampling guinea pig in Colombia, eating tapas in Spain, or gorging on crocodile in Zimbabwe, I've learnt not only to open my eyes to new cultures, but also my mouth. Today, I live in the Netherlands myself and the recipe that once taught me to appreciate foreign food is now something I serve on my own table.

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