Disclaimer: This is not a food blog. I am in no way fit to offer cooking advice, nor should you accept any if offered.
Contender: Cream of Mushroom soup from an instant “just add water” packet
Level of Difficulty: Infantile.
In an effort to learn how to cook Chinese food, I’ve decided to try a recipe every so often from a cookbook given to me by a friend for my birthday. Even though the cookbook is completely in Chinese, I’ve decided to forge ahead anyway and of course, share my damage reports along the way. This time, though, it’s a Korean soup given to me by my neighbor.
Step One: Materials I was on my way out of my apartment to meet a friend. As per usual, I remembered that I’d forgotten something right as I’d locked the door, and so had to unlock it once again. While I was fumbling with my key, my next-door Korean neighbor shuffled out of her apartment with a packet of something and a shy smile.
“It’s for you,” she said, handing me the packet. “In case you…no want to prepare too much, or…it’s good for health.”
I looked at the parcel she’d delivered: a packet of Cream of Mushroom soup. The easy variety—just add water, heat it up, and voila!
“Thank you!” I said. I tried to think if there were any treats I could give her, but only came up with gummy bears that I preferred not to admit were my recent dinner companions. We went our separate ways—I to drop off the gift before running amuck, her to probably get a decent night’s rest.
Step Two: Preparation When I decided to try and make the soup, I allotted precisely 5 minutes to make the meal. I had my pot, my sink to get water, and my electric burner to heat it all up. Boom. Dinner.
Step Three: The Cooking This time, the instructions were not all in Chinese. Instead, they were all in Korean. I figured it wasn’t a big deal, considering that it was a powder that would be mixed with water. I put the powder into the pot first, added the water from the sink, turned on the electric stove top, and put on the lid. I turned down the heat to let it simmer and walked away for perhaps two minutes.
“What’s that burning smell?” I thought. “It can’t be the soup. Seriously, that was two minutes.”
I guess two minutes was all it took. I lifted the lid and smelled—yes, burnt Cream of Mushroom soup. I turned off the stove top, poured in just enough soup for my lunch the following day and dumped the rest.
Why save that bit for lunch? Penance. This was supposed to be idiot proof.
Step Four: Collateral Damage The following day at lunch, I grimaced my way through the soup, even though I tried to make it better by adding rice. It really was pretty awful.
It wasn’t until I was about halfway through the soup that I thought to wonder: wait, did the water actually boil before I turned off the electric stove last night?
Now, if I was back in Minnesota, this wouldn’t matter. But in China, if you drink the tap water, you will get sick. I have been careful about this (to a certain extent; I mean I wash my dishes, fruit, vegetables and all that without problems), but considering how much soup I had just eaten…
I had class in 1 ½ hours. If the water had not boiled, I would definitely know by then. After all, it takes about 1-2 hours to get violently ill from water-borne diseases. (The things we internalize as foreigners…) Until then, I just had to play the waiting game.
Step Five: Clean-up Lucky for me, it had boiled. The rest was a fairly painless washing of Tupperware containers and then gathering things for class. So I’d done my penance by eating the soup, but didn’t go for broke. My cooking skills got their revenge on me. That’s enough, right?
Result: Embarrassing Failure.
The Winner: The Korean Soup. Revenge certainly is a dish best served cold.