Cook residency: New residents Ana Gonalves and Zijun Meng were brought together by cook Nuno Mendes and a shared love of rice. The grain is now the basis for all their cooking, served here with two raw fish dishes
Bread or potatoes? I have sometimes been asked, in reference to which carb I would keep for the rest of my life and which I would lose. For many in my adopted home of the UK, this is a painfully difficult question, but I would choose neither. For me, its rice always rice.
My partner Ana and I share a love of rice. I am Chinese, she is from Portugal; rice is ingrained in our cultures, so it is something of a staple for us both, much how others see bread or potatoes. In northern China, where I grew up, rice is served plain and is very much a ship for other dishes. Usually medium or short-grained, it is offered at the end of a dinner, when youd typically expect dessert.
Anas first rice memory is of eating her mothers arroz de cabidela( chicken and blood rice ), with its addictive, velvety sauce and topped with plenty of fresh coriander and vinegar. This is a Portuguese classic, and their own families ate it whenever her grandparents, who lived in a little village called Azere near the former capital of Coimbra, killed a chicken. When she moved to London, Ana was well-versed in Portuguese rice assortments, like carolino used for the wet, loose and saucy rice dishes typical in Portuguese cuisine and agulha, a well structured grain akin to basmati used for oven-baked dishes but Asian rice was a new world to her, something different altogether. In China, rice is steamed with just enough water, which eventually all evaporates, while the Portuguese route is to simmer it in generous quantities of liquid. We often exchange narratives, memories and, of course, recipes; and although rice remains a common thread, the types of rice and styles we grew up eating it in Portugal and China are vastly different, as youd expect.
We met in 2009 at Nuno Mendess The Loft Project, where people could experience fine dining in a home setting likely the first initiative of its kind. Cooking was never the plan for either of us: Ana was a graphic designer with the cooking glitch and Id been studying fine art at Falmouth. It was only when working on a final project that I fell upon Ferran Adrias Food For Thought: Thought For Food, which wholly changed my trajectory. Cooking called us both. Seven years into our friendship, we got together.
Our love of rice runnings so deep that we decided to build our first project, Tata Eatery, around it, showcasing innovative cook served over bowls of it. Our food doesnt belong to any one cuisine , nor is it a Chinese-Portuguese fusion. Id say it is based loosely on don, the Japanese way of eating bowls of short grain rice shiny after cooking, somewhat chewy, and full of perfume with different types of topping. Its a mish-mash of everything weve been exposed to in the kitchen to date, things we like to eat ourselves: aubergine and rice, rice with seafood( like the two raw fish recipes below ), or leftover rice from the night before, fried up for breakfast the following morning. We draw on many influences, but wanted to create a homeliness we feel to be emblematic of traditional Chinese dining a table full of little things to be eat over rice and a dinner that brings people together around the table.
Gro a gro enche a galinha o papo( grain by grain, the hen fills her belly) is a food proverb fondly recited by Ana; she takes this to mean that, with patience, we can induce our dreamings reality. In our example, the grain that started our dream is rice. So that seems a sensible place to begin.