6 ways Singaporeans can improve their non-existent cooking skills

You can go cold turkey on buying Chanel bags, cancel your gym membership and refuse to take taxis unless your life depends on it. But unless your office pantry is stocked with lots and lots of cup noodles, you're not going to able to cut out spending on food altogether.

Unfortunately, for a country with so many self-professed foodies, we've pretty dismal cooking skills - 65 per cent of Singaporeans consider their cooking skills "limited" or, less flatteringly, "disastrous", despite the fact that 80 per cent actually would prefer to eat at home, if they wouldn't be risking indigestion in doing so.

That's too bad, as cooking is one of the best ways to not only have control over your diet but also to save money. If the fire alarm automatically goes off the minute you step into the kitchen, here are a few affordable ways you can build up acceptable cooking skills.

Call a friend

Pinkie swear, learning to cook is about zillion times easier when you've got a real live person in front of you than when you're trying to figure out what that instructional book or website is trying to say.

You'll learn a lot faster if you've got someone in the kitchen to watch, which is why those kids who grew up helping their parents or grandparents in the kitchen can usually cook so much better than those who were fed by domestic helpers. I grew up eating instant noodles and artificially-flavoured fried rice for lunch, so believe me, I know how hard it can be without the requisite "common knowledge".

If you have a friend who's a good home cook and can throw together simple recipes quickly, invite yourself over for dinner, watch and learn in exchange for bringing the ingredients and a bottle of wine.

Attend cooking classes at community centres

If you're hoping to attend cooking classes packed with expat tai tais, you're not only going to have to pay a hefty amount in course fees, you'll also be expected to know the difference between sauteing and frying.

Cooking classes at community clubs, on the other hand, take place in a non-threatening environment, are usually one-session only and therefore low commitment, and are filled with friendly aunties. Dishes tend to be very local, and you sign up for the class that's demonstrating a dish you want to make.

Fees range from about $15 to $30 a session. On the downside, many of these courses are demonstration-only. Hit up the PA website and run a search to find a complete list of ongoing classes.

Use your SkillsFuture credit to take cooking classes

Even Singaporean aged 25 and above has received $500 worth of SkillsFuture credit that they can spend on skills upgrading courses. Well, nobody said cooking at home wasn't a valuable skill, right? If the thought of voluntarily sitting through seminars on financial accounting or IT security makes you yawn, use your credit to learn how to feed yourself.

There's a whole bunch of cooking courses you can pay for with SkillsFuture, from short restaurant cooking courses at community clubs to a full-blown certificate in culinary arts for people who actually want to work in F&B. Use the search bar on the SkillsFuture page to find out more.

Use free online resources

It's definitely possible to learn how to cook online-the only problem is knowing which resources to consult. Don't blindly google "how to cook" and expect someone to spoonfeed you with a step-by-step guide to cooking for idiots.

If you're a complete idiot in the kitchen, the most efficient way forward is to pick some easy dishes (try something simple like salmon fillet or spaghetti carbonara) you want to try, and then google multiple recipes and watch a few YouTube videos for each one before attempting to make it. Finding out how to make the recipe from multiple sources reduces the chances of your misunderstanding something.

Finally, stay away from anything Martha Stewart-ish and add "easy" after every search term. There are lots of ridiculously time-consuming and complicated recipes online masquerading as being possible to finish in 15 minutes. The skills and ingredients you need to produce good home cooking are quite different from what a culinary school graduate would advise.

Borrow cookbooks from the library

Once you've built up some basic cooking skills, head on down to your nearest National Library branch and browse the cooking section. Virtually every branch has a fairly generous selection of cookbooks.

Obviously, you don't want to overestimate your abilities and borrow books filled with recipes that require you to import your ingredients from Kenya or purchase strange electrical appliances. So start with something like Cooking Basics for Dummies (there's no shame in admitting it!).

Change your mentality and experiment

Singaporeans are petrified of failure, and perhaps that's why people here generally can't cook. We procure one recipe from a Jamie Oliver cook book, buy every single ingredient on the list and follow the recipe to a tee, then we beat ourselves up when we end up with something that doesn't quite resemble the picture.

Learning how to cook involves a whole lot of trial and error and screw-ups at the start. In fact, in order to make something that people say actually tastes good, you usually have to try that very recipe multiple times. Don't expect to just follow the recipe to a tee, either-you need to use your eyes to observe what's happening, and analyse your failures so you don't repeat the same mistake next time.

Learning how to cook isn't like taking the PSLE. You're not going to get caned by your parents if you screw up, so relax and enjoy the process.

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