I don't much care for satay or other Asian favourite dishes, but . . .

Dear Gourmet II,

Satay happens to be very popular in Singapore even among westerners. I remember many years ago taking a visitor from the west to the "Satay Club" where I ordered some satay, small skewers of meat marinated in a mixture of spices and toasted over a small charcoal fire. The satay is served with a mildly spicy peanut-based sauce.

When the food was served, he was delighted and without any hesitation exclaimed: "Ah, sheeshkebab, my favourite." The reaction of most of my oversea visitors were usually quite positive, but there was one time when a guest of mine did not enjoy satay and I found out why. (But really satay is not at all like the sheeshlebab he had in mind. Satay is dimunitive, tiny, but packs a punch like chilli padi.)

He was one of many people who found the spices too overpowering, especially anything with a hint of chilli in it. And the sauce was also spicy hot (to him, but not to me) and even when served cold, it could put your mouth on fire. You would wonder why people submit themselves to this dietary torture. Not everybody, obviously, enjoys the same thing.

You might also have been disappointed because some of the so-called "western dishes" your new maid is so proud of are not quite authentic. Your reaction to her "spaghetti" is understandable. That is probably how a Singaporean would react when served America's interpretation of mixed vegetables they call "chop suey" This chop suey is no where close to mixed vegetables so popular in Singapre.

But take heart, if it is true that your maid did cook for her previous employer's guests, she is worthy of being called a cook. Singapore is a cosmopolitan city and people who came to her former employer's party were probably a diverse bunch. And if they had been in Singapore for some time, their taste buds would probably have found spicy food acceptable and maybe they could even accept spaghetti with ketchup. (Just joking.)

Since your maid's previous employer is a westerner, although not Italian, she had probably adapted to more exotic Asian cuisine. But even if her previous employer is a local, do not despair. You will probably have to teach her how to prepare your meals the way you like them. Over time she will adapt and maybe you too will come to enjoy western food modified for the local palate.

And if all else fails, there are expatriate homemakers in Singapore who are great cooks willing to share their expertise with your maid for a consideration.

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