As the kid of Chinese-Indonesians, watching last night’s episode of MasterChef was a really, really heartening experience for me. I don’t mean to get all sappy on you on a Friday, but I am absolutely about to get all sappy on you on a Friday.
Last night’s immunity challenge was split into two rounds. In the first, Poh, Simon, Reece, and Jess were tasked with pimping up packet noodles. This is probably the only challenge I could ever compete in and maybe, sort of, come second last. I would simply lather my noodles in sweet soy sauce and crispy fried shallots and be done with it. And to hell with what Daddy Jock said, it’s two packets at once or nothing. One is simply not enough.
From the moment that beautiful trolley rolled out, I was bloody chuffed. I’m 23, but seeing genuine Asian representation on TV still makes me weepy. It’s still a novelty for me is what I’m trying to say here. Now on one hand I felt like an idiot for losing it over packet noodle, but it was packet noodle on prime time television. Prime time. And this challenge wasn’t part of an explicit yet vague Asian Week. People had things to say about the lack of mi goreng on the trolley, but I enjoyed its absence. It gave the MasterChef kitchen a chance to showcase a range of other brands – that trolley looked like an aisle deep in an Asian grocery. And, once again, it was on prime time telly. And not on SBS or the ABC.
Oof, as the kid of a Chinese-Malaysian mum … seeing instant ramen elevated to holiness … seeing two SE Asian Australian women slaying it with those dishes … that was one of the most satisfying episodes of Australian TV for me, I might need a moment. #MasterchefAu
— Benjamin Law 羅旭能 (@mrbenjaminlaw) May 21, 2020
This is a win for the asian australians <333 #masterchefau— channy (@flowerzens) May 21, 2020
I would’ve been happy enough if the episode came to an end after the noodle challenge, but then came round two. Poh and Jess impressed the judges the most with their pimped up noodles and so their next challenge was to create their favourite comfort foods. Jess, an Indonesian Australian, made Thai red duck curry inspired by her dad. The family used to own a Thai / Malay / Indo restaurant back in the day. Poh, a Malay Australian, decided on otak-otak (fish custard) and nasi lemak (Malay goodness on a plate) with some sambal on the side.
Malay and Indo food are very similar, so this episode was pretty much tailor-made for me. Hearing Poh speak proudly about otak-otak and how it reminds her of her mum was lovely. Watching Jess, a family friend, smash the challenge and win immunity for the second time this season was lovely. Watching Melissa explain thoroughly to Jock and Andy what each dish meant and how it was supposed to be eaten was lovely. Hearing her normalise rice for breakfast, instead of cereal, was brilliant. All of this, every little bit of it, made my heart swell in a way the previous seasons of MasterChef never did. Sure, the cast has always been quite diverse, but the judges weren’t. Can you imagine if Mel wasn’t there last night? If it was another white judge? Jock and Andy, bless them, remind me of the two types of white boys you hesitantly bring home to meet your Asian parents. Andy: the over-enthusiastic one that’ll shove a whole chilli down his food chute to impress your parents and prove he can handle the spice. And Jock: the polite one who won’t ask for seconds.
Kinda loving the Asian women schooling the two white boys about Nasi Lemak. #masterchefau— Luke Lum (@LukeLum) May 21, 2020
I think my favourite part of the episode was having my very Asian mum heavily critique Poh’s nasi lemak because she didn’t serve it with a proper hard-boiled egg. It was her way of showing pride though – Asian parents are infamously allergic to showing emotion. And dad, well, dad kept affectionately laughing at Andy for pronouncing sam-bal, sam-bol.
I’m not going to finish this off by saying “it’s about time” or some generic line about diversity. I just think it’s really nice to see someone that looks like you on TV every night, cooking food you never dreamed of seeing on the mainstream. One day it will be the norm, I hope. And these sorts of yarns won’t be a thing anymore. But until then, in the words of Benjamin Law, “shout out to my fellow yellows”.
Also, ONYA JESS.