I grew up in an Asian family. My parents are Indonesian Chinese, and when I was 12 years old my family moved to Canada. I didn’t realize my background had such a profound impact on my palate until later on. Living in a mixed background family in a immigrant country definitely opens you up for many flavours.
The older I get the more I appreciated the taste of Umami. If I really had to choose one of the favorite flavours, it would be Umami.
Umami is often and widely recognized as the fifth taste. It’s everywhere and it is found in different forms.
What so special about Umami ?
Its just addictive to your taste buds – it’s the nature of Umami, it’s so salivating that it makes you want more. On the other hand, from a cook’s perspective, its synergistic effect is so fascinating. The hearty, rich, round and altogether pleasant sensation is exactly what I want to achieve in my cooking. Therefore, I like to cook with umami, it’s always the core of my dish.
Umami can come in different forms and layers, it is present in natural ingredients, it can be created by fermentation, and it can be enhanced by preserving, curing, dry aging or combining different umami-imparting substances together. In Umami, 1+1 is not equal to 2, if you put the right ingredients together, 1+1 = 10 or even 100. Its so fascinating and so additive!
Some people think that Umami belongs to the Asian cuisine, it doesn’t. Its universal. If you think cheese, ketchup, Vegemite or anchovies taste great, in fact what you are choosing is the taste of Umami.
The dish on the photo is MUME seasonal salad dish. It may not look like a dish that is about Umami, but it is. It is based on Taiwanese seasonal vegetables, but the core of this dish, its seasoning, is all about Umami.
I took a very traditional Taiwanese condiment – Fermented Black beans, a common ingredient in Chinese cooking, and dehydrated it to concentrate the flavour and texture. After that I chopped it up into the size of coarse salt, and dressed the whole salad with it.
Try to imagine something like pops of soy sauce in a solid form, and continuously giving the umami sensation, without overpowering the natural taste of the vegetables. That is something what I wanted to create – an umami salad.
Often people associate a mixed salad with acidity, because in most cases salad is dressed with some acidity based condiment (either fresh citrus juice or vinaigrette, etc ). So for me, to take something that is normally associated with with a dominant flavour and change the perception of the whole dish is very interesting, and what I wanted people to enjoy.
Richie Lin, MUME (Taipei, Taiwan)