Fried food is part and parcel of an Asian cuisine. Red or white meat, fish – finding a dish that is oil-fried on the table is no surprise by any means. In my country, lard, a type of oil coming from pork, is vehemently adored. Oh boy, the moment our neighbor starts frying dried salted fish deep in lard, I wonder if he’s going to wake up the dead. Dried salted fish, or bulad (boo-lad), even in its raw state, smells terribly unspeakable. What more if you fry and combine it with the reek of burning lard! For foreign nostrils, it sure is out of this world. While it spells heaven for almost all Filipinos, it is extreme hell for those not immune to the aroma.
Never a rose without the prick, indeed. A single frying event, when I was living in the Netherlands, had gotten me into thinking of the possibilities of being killed by flatmates for no other reason but dried salted fish. In a flat with nine others – six Dutch, two lady Russians and one Pakistani – stupid me, I should have known that frying was a big no-no. But for a tongue that had been deprived of the taste of the “Philippines Best” for quite some time, a quick visit to the Asian store for a pack of bulad and boiling oil in a pan were all the necessities to satisfy the urge. Holy smoke! My flatmates might have possessed the most sensitive chemical sensing system; it only took few seconds of bulad hall domination for their olfactory cells to stimulate in perfect unison. Eight of them (where is the Pakistani?) rushed to the kitchen to reprimand a poor, hungry Filipino, plus the Russian girl said without batting an eyelid “Are you trying to poison us?” That was the awakening slap. Adios, dried salted fish. ‘Til we meet again in the Philippines.’
I promised to spare myself of the same fate here in Brookings and to avoid every enticement of buying the salted fish. Each time I passed that section of the Oriental store in Sioux Falls where it is displayed like it is calling my name, I think of my four male housemates: the tall Ukrainian, the fierce-looking Ethiopian and the chubby Bolivian and the likelihood of me turned into bits and pieces by them. So far, the evasion strategy is working flawlessly.
The smell caused by frying and using native spices in food can be viewed from two contrasting perspectives. From the familiar side (our side), the smell is the product of love and devotion to cuisines we grew up eating and smelling. From the unfamiliar side (not among us), it is smoke from a belching car, or worse, the putrid odor of a cow’s dung.
Those living alone in isolated houses, lucky you. Nobody ever cares what you cook. Those in the Family Student Housing are fortunate lifeforms too as they can always contain the smell of their food to the periphery of their apartments alone. There is one advice, however, that I would like all international students, whose passions revolve in frying and using strong spices, to know. Keep your clothes away from where you are cooking. Store them somewhere that is tightly sealed. The smell of food could easily get stuck on clothes if you are not careful enough. The only way to know whether your clothes smell bad or not is to ask someone not from your household. You will only realize that you are a walking advertisement of a “cow’s dung” when people around you start covering their noses or begin frowning at the mere smell of you.
This is reality. We, Asians, or foreign students in general, have to come to grips that no matter how we worship the smell of our fried food or spices, there are “others” whose nostrils are trained only to smell sandwiches, pastries and green leafy vegetables. Respect their smell. My clothes smell good. Start smelling yours.