My microwave and I.
We talk. I start to worry if she’s alright if we stretch beyond our 6-minute
dialogues. The dumplings squatting inside her, frozen at first, grow pregnant
with meat juices and superheated air. Her quiet humming swells with frustration
and buzzes like an very violent bee. Not good.
I’ve been having these mercurial talks with her since I moved into my student
accommodations last year. She’s probably the only constant in my life at this
point. Since moving from Singapore to London, the awkwardness of swapping
kitchens have been calmed by the presence of a mere microwave. This way, I
could procrastinate the use of an induction stove, of gas ovens and skip right to
my droning shrine of instant gratification and future fodder.
Not sure if anyone else feels similarly, but I have a quiet distrust of households
without the magic box for whatever disputable reason, health or otherwise. The
vacuum of which conjures up a radiophobic ménage, armed with 3 kids and
falsely happy parents with the income power to croon “ We stand by slow-living
and we prioritise the health of our family” whilst their beady eyed children smile
and live their lives dilly-dallying in double digits.
The myths of microwave radiation have been breezily dispelled in numerous
scientific studies. These include – it could mangle your DNA (the non-ionising
radiation it utilises are of longer wavelengths that are unable to break chemical
bonds), it kills the nutrients in your food (so can grilling, boiling and
oven-cooking, if heated excessively), and my personal favourite, that the waves
are literally leaking out and cooking you alive (those doors are designed to keep
those in, and the mesh surface ensures that long microwaves are bouncing
happily within the chamber).
Understandably, these fallacies are born out of a very human distrust of the
unknown, and the near instantaneous transformation of cold food into hot food
does nothing but aid the sorcery of these ‘science ovens’.
Moreover, to ‘zap’ leftovers seems way more aggressive and ethereal than to fry
or bake. According to Timothy Jorgensen, an associate professor of radiation
medicine at Georgetown University, “it’s largely because you can’t see it. You
can’t smell it. You know it’s there. You see it before your eyes what it’s doing to
As a result, the television box of various rotating edibles is a curious crossroads
between progress and pessimism.
Fears aside, we should celebrate microwaves are an absolute accessory of a
stylish and future-forward household, the culinary highlight of a high-flyer, the
loud declaration of I-Have-Better-Things-To-Do-Than-Actually-Make-A-Real-Paella-What-Are-You-C
Imagine having the ability to store frozen fish in your nifty refrigerator, which
you then chuck in a rectangular box of galvanized steel in order to propel it to
temperatures hot enough to scald the tip of your tongue. Now with a slew of
functions like convection baking, speed-heating and steaming, microwaves are a
Meet-the-Robinsons-esque invention that belong in the technicolor hall of fame
of Future Optimism. Why not? It fits aptly in our hedonistic heaven of self-driving
cars, late-night food deliveries, laser discotheques and refrigerators with the ice
cube makers built in.The roaring 20’s 2.0.
I am especially affectionate towards the older rickety models. My Panasonic
NN-5453 microwave 800 watt back home is yellowed and confusing, with
defunct stickers stating ‘frozen menu’, ‘chicken’ or ‘fish’ that appear to be buttons
but are simply ornamental, sort of like its very ownmascara and pearls. No, the
conductor of the microwave is not a button pusher extraordinaire but a wizard of
time, The Doctor of home chefs, except you travel forwards only and end up with
hot soup instead of an T.A.R.D.I.S bound apocalypse. These older models are also
measurably temperamental, requiring the domestic user to experience a
trial-by-fire (hopefully not literally) to grasp the hang of its inner mechanisms.
To me, microwaving is definitely an instinctive art. Ironically, it is also anything
but a hands-free medium of cooking. Cup of joe’s gone cold? 12 seconds in the
microwave should do it, or the length of 2 whole breaths. Need to heat up some
fridge cold rice? Twist the little knob yay bit left, touching but not quite touching
the 3 minute mark, but remember to halt when the glass plate begins to tremble.
In a way, she’s almost organic, as if our moods vacillate in tandem. I am calm
when she is fickle with her angry beeping and buzzing. She speaks to me when I
am belligerent for a wildly belated dinner. When I chuck frozen bricks of meat or
instant foods abusively in her speckled innards to gobble like some lava monster,
she hums an encouraging murmur. Like the most genteel of dining companions,
she reminds me of the warm comfort that is to come and pays no heed to my
appalling lack of table manners alone in the room. We talk.–
Words, Winnie Lee
Image, still from Tan Pin Pin’s short film, Microwave