Creolised cuisines are a permanent marker of Asia’s otherwise disappearing “crossover” societies. From the 16th century onwards, successive waves of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British and French arrivals – along with their latter-day American successors – all left their mark wherever they settled across Asia. Over time, the most popular recipes from these communities, gradually altered by successive generations of their hybrid descendants, have become keynote dishes served at community reunions anywhere diasporic emigrant groups have appeared. Traditional foods form the centrepiece of various nostalgic, heritage-themed recipe books, which have proliferated over the past couple of decades as older family members, with direct personal connections to original homelands from India and Indonesia to Macau and the Philippines, inexorably pass away and take their own living memories with them. The best of these volumes artfully combine period photographs – often grainy due to poor interior lighting – with ephemera such as original kitchen equipment and recipe books, leavened with tantalising glimpses of otherwise hard-to-learn elements of social history. Food preparation, after all, is among the most basic of human connections, long shared with members of one’s own group, and offered to others. Throughout these creolised societies, a certain dietary commonality developed; underlying similarities between basic recipes emphasised regional differences. Along with minced-meat dishes, steamed custards, fruit cakes and other celebration puddings, another cross-cultural staple universally stands out – the humble, delicious, endlessly varied cutlet. Hong Kong’s 11 best Lunar New Year poon chois for every palate Across colonial Asia, every emergent subculture, from the Anglo-Indians, Ceylon Burghers, Dutch Indos, to Filipino Mestizos, Eurasians and Macanese – all had their own variant. In India, cutlets afforded as much variety as the subcontinent itself. Inevitably, vegetarian versions evolved, which usually involved potato as a base; known as “aloo chop”, variations incorporate pulses of some kind, from dal to green peas, to add extra protein. Bound together with egg, they are also rolled in flour or breadcrumbs and fried in oil or ghee. From Hong Kong’s mid-19th century urban beginnings onwards, cutlets were a regular local dinner-table staple among the more budget-conscious; they made then-expensive meat go that little bit further. Cutlets also enabled the gristlier, chewier, more “meaty” parts of the animal (also the tastiest and cheapest, as any old-style Cantonese amah knew) to be cooked efficiently and quickly – an additional saving on fuel. In most kitchens, cutlets were prepared by finely chopping the meat into a coarse mince, and then forming the resultant paste, further fortified with flour, beaten egg and various seasonings, into an oval shape, to be coated in breadcrumbs before frying. Cutlets were usually served with potatoes and other vegetables in a “Western” style meal setting, and – less usually – could form part of a rice-based meal. Cutlet moulds were an essential item in any household with pretences to refinement; possession and regular use of such an object delineated the critical social distinction between the kind of people who ate rissoles (and even knew what such things were) and more discerning, but nevertheless thrifty, individuals for whom cutlets were a regular dish. Hotpot: born in Mongolia, loved across China – which is your favourite? These can still be found in more traditional kitchenware shops – if one knows where to look – even though old-fashioned cutlets are, sadly, a thing of the past in most homes. In some places, a variety of cutlet was also known as a “chop” – though distinctly different in form from any found in European butcher’s shop. As well as the more obvious pork or mutton chops, chicken chops were always popular; particularly widespread in Singapore and Malaya, they are also a cafe perennial in Hong Kong, often served with rice. Typically created from the fowl’s deboned and flattened thigh section, chicken chops usually come with the skin retained, to add fat and prevent dryness during cooking.