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In Perpignan: being my own chef

Melodie Miu studied abroad in a multimedia journalism program called The Perpignan Project during the summer of ’10. As part of the requirement, her and fellow journalists wrote about their experience in the south of France for the website in forms of blog posts, or Postcards.

This is one such post.

Originally published on

Curry rice with beef ravioli, mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, and a sunny side up egg. (Melodie Miu)

For the last two weeks, I’ve been pursuing a feat I’ve never thought possible-–cooking. Until recently, my experience with food preparation reached only to frying sunny side-ups and boiling water –- and even then, the eggs still had bits of shell and the distinctive smell of burned kettle often accompanied my instant noodles. I resorted to microwaving and eating meals not prepared by my own butterfingers.

I didn’t bother to learn how to cook even in preparation for my trip for fear Citéa (the aparthotel where I’m staying) would go up in flames. As I made it clear to every particle on earth, the stove and its minions of pots and pans were my mortal enemies.

But of course, as time went on with my stay in Perpignan, I became tired of baguettes, kebabs and ham sandwiches. I woke up one morning with a growling stomach and came to a realization that normal French people don’t go to restaurants and cafes every day.

I hightailed to the supermarket Monoprix and bought so much food that my arms ached from carrying half a dozen heavy pink plastic bags up the flight of stairs. In the tiny hotel kitchenette, I started easy. I sliced up –- as in whacked apart with a dull knife -– vine tomatoes and champignons (mushrooms) on the cutting board, threw them into the frying pan, and hastily scrambled an omelet.

It was a miracle. Despite being a little gooey, it was actually pretty good. I gobbled it up, feeling oddly confident. Later on, I went on to heating up pre-cooked curry rice, beef ravioli and spaghetti sauce on the electric stove. I bought a bottle of vinegar dressing for salads and fried potato cubes with sea salt until crispy.

I did, however, make the mistake of cooking asparagus without peeling the skin off and buying a weird French version of hash browns. They didn’t look anything like the image on the box and came in round frozen hockey pucks. It wasn’t until I let the hash browns steep in oil until they melted andI broke them apart with a spatula that they tasted anything close to normal.

In a double dog dare with myself, I moved on to meat. Looking for chicken drumsticks or salmon dumbfounded me and I was stuck in the viande section for what felt like forever, poking at Saran-wrapped meats. For most of my problems, I turned to Google to search up easy recipes and Youtube for simple cooking lessons, utilizing everything I had in hand that I couldn’t turn to my family back home for help with.

I was so scared to look anywhere else but the stove, so afraid that everything would burn the moment I turned my back. But the longer I stayed and watched, taste-testing everything from small successes to failures, the more I was relieved. I’m slowly succeeding in being my own chef.

Read her other posts here:

Feeling foreign and far away from home
An act of charity
Enough romance: Paris as a reality check
VIDEO: This woman’s place is in the kitchen