This is so hilariously like my Chinese mother-in-law, get angry recreating her receipt at my house because why would anyone not using her "standard" sized cups (giveaways at the mall). She is not the only one, so is my grandma and mom.
He had a pretty snuggly relationship with his advisor, and from time to time would bring his food to the lab to share. He told me one day, the advisor decided to ask him how to make the food. Like any biologist, she came to his house with a notebook, fully expected to be able to take notes. She expected him to show her the recipes like what you do in the DNA extraction. Instead, what he told her was... put a reasonable amount of this herb and that herb into the pot, then cook until done. She got frustrated and threw the notebook away and gave up the dream of cooking Nepali food.
I am Vietnamese and there's that special Vietnamese dipping sauce recipe that I wanted to make to treat my Chinese friend at the time I stayed at her place. I got really frustrated when I was following a recipe to make it and couldn't get it right and wasted 3/4 of what I bought. My friend was like... so... let me try. And she just mixed shit randomly, tasted it, and tried adding more shit by her instinct, and it worked!
I do enjoy cooking by the book from time to time. At the same time, there is a lot of Asian food that is made by instinct. It is part of what made the food interesting. It made the food part of an envolving species instead of being fixated.
BTW, learning from mistakes, my biologist friend now has a website with real recipes you can sorta follow, please like and subscribe™ if you want to make Nepali food: https://avikarn.com/foodblog/
Maybe I'm a biologist at heart, but this is what really annoys me in the cooking scene. "Reasonable", "a pinch", "add to taste". It's like with the famous owl drawing tutorial - "1. Draw some circles; 2. Draw the rest of the fucking owl". You have to already be an experienced cook to be able to use such recipes.
My moment of enlightenment came when I realized that many of the fundamental units of cooking are wildly variable. A recipe for baked potatoes that says "Add 1.3582 grams of salt" can have as many significant digits of precision as you want, but it won't fix the problem. One potato might be 50% bigger than another. Even potatoes of the same size may vary in water content, starch, etc. Even different kinds of salt vary in how salty they taste.
When a recipe says "Add 1-2 tsp salt" or "adjust to taste", it's not that the recipe is vague, it's that it's parametric. What it's really saying is that the ingredients you already have going will influence how much of this new ingredient you need so that's where you need to make some choices. The vagueness itself, compared to other ingredients which have precise quantities, is a useful signal for you to know which parameters need tuning and which don't.
It is a problem that it means you can't guarantee a new recipe will come out great the first time you make it, especially if you are a new cook. You're basically turning a knob blindly to see what happens. But for most recipes, there isn't really an easier solution. Imagine a recipe like, "Weigh the potato and then immerse in water to measure its density. Add a quantity of salt based on the following formula..." Would that work? Maybe. Would it be less work than just trying it a few times and getting a feel for it? Probably not.
I cook all of my family's meals, and when I started out years ago, I tried to write down recipes exactly, weigh everything (how much is a cup of flour when density varies?), but then I realized, all the damn ingredients aren't the same twice.
Carrots can go from bitter to sweet, potatoes can range from starchy to gooey, herbs can be really subtle, or really strong, it depends on the weather. Even in my own garden, the herbs are completely variable. The only thing that seems consistent is meats and inorganic things like salt. Corn fed beef is different from grass fed beef, for example, but within each category, pretty consistent.
So, frustrating as it is, it's near impossible to write a perfectly reproducible recipe.
Not all knowledge is explicit (spoken/written). Some needs to be done to be learnt. This puts a fundamental limit to the amount of intergenerational knowledge and skill transfer, BTW.
and there's only one way to acquire cooking experience: namely cooking. A "fake it until you make it" attitude is helpful; at worse you'll make some nasty food.
Once you understand which are the main steps giving most flavour, you can play with the rest to adapt it to your taste. Precise amount are not needed, except on the first time you make an unknown dish.
For example I tried to do chocolate mousse several times, but always failed at the chocolate heating phase and incorporation to the egg mousse, even though i followed the recipe to the letter. I kept failing until someone told me that the main steps is to have the chocolate liquid while cool (she used coffee for this), and that incorporation need to be done gently. Since then i never failed at it, and replaced chocolate with fruits, without following a recipe.
There's nothing unique about "Asian" food in this regard. You can codify anything culinary, and you will get a stable result (more or less. Some produce is better seasonally, old meat doesn't taste as good, etc but that's all cuisines). You can also cook "from the hip" and make things that fit your personal tastes.
It is nice when someone can replicate you dish without your input.
This is much easier than weighing 0.2g at a time.
Asian tofu by Andrea Nguyen
The book of tofu by William shurtleff and akiko aoyagi
The first is a bit more basic but covers a range of Asian tofu and is easier to get into.
The second is very dense with information and is more specifically about Japanese tofu but after getting started with the first book I much prefer referring to this one.
Very good tofu requires a lot of knowledge and skill, but I'll agree that making something better than what you can get in the supermarket is about as hard as falling off a log.
Edit: Just looked it up. Glucono delta lactone is used for making "silken" tofu, which is a fairly recent invention (in Japanese "kinu" tofu).
voila now you have Douhua (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douhua), which often seen in China as a breakfast dish
to get tofu, just drain the water out, to do so put the douhua in some container with holes at bottom and then add weight.
Whether or not you can actually make great tofu at home without a lot of practice is debatable, but at the very least the average person can make something that is worlds apart from the lifeless, bitter chunks of woe that the supermarket calls tofu. If you get a chance to go to a real tofu restaurant in Japan or China, you should leap at the chance. It's just like your first trip to a boulangerie in Paris -- mind blowing.
By the way, I just bought a homemade kurogoma dofu today from the little shop in my neighborhood here in Kyoto. It’s not “real” tofu, but it’s mind-meltingly great!
Just like there are places (Asian groceries, etc) to get good tofu in North America, I'm sure there are places to get good baguette in Japan. But the average person would think of what they can get in their local supermarket, which is decidedly not-good.
Tofu, of which there are many types, is usually part of dishes and I doubt Chinese want to restrict themselves to tofu in a restaurant...
For example Mapo Tofu is a very famous tofu dish and is a Sichuan dish. So although you may be able to order it in most restaurants these days because it is so famous people would probably suggest you go to a good Sichuan restaurant if you were keen to taste a good version.
Conversely, in you find yourselves in a random restaurant the tofu dishes will probably depend on what cuisine that restaurant mostly serves.
Edit: as in, despite the name, tofu not really being the focus in terms of texture or flavour. The GP expressed skepticism as "tofu is usually part of dishes and I doubt Chinese want to restrict themselves to tofu in a restaurant"; I don't think mapo tofu is really an exception.
Tofu is the main texture and main ingredient in Mapo Tofu. The flavour comes from the oil and chilli like in many Sichuan dishes.
To be honest, this is one of the easiest dishes I ever tried, and also one hour work is on the short side
This is the best recipe I've found, but I haven't made it yet, still trying to track down a good deal on soybeans.
Since I don't need to/intend to use the solid mass of the beans (that would require cooking it), this recipe worked. I blended the beans, strained the liquid and boiled that and I've got two blocks of tofu in the fridge. It's extremely gratifying to have my tofu making simplified like this.
For example, tapioca only contains Cassava root, but here is how that is made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4qTxKdjagg
Maybe provide more substantive comments in the future if you don't want down-votes?
Plus, the shop is selling tofu bricks for 2 bucks. I would call this a great example of the opposite of gentrification - bringing something back to its humble roots while allowing for sustainability in the modern economy.
In France where I live, it is really becoming hard to know if they really prepare the baguettes completely by themselves (flour + yeast + cooking) or if they buy ready made mixtures, and only cook them.