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Robert Zhao Renhui’s Instant Noodles in the Studio

Not all artists are master chefs. And they shouldn’t have to be. When the muse visits you in the studio and you’re in the zone, you don’t want to be distracted from your creative endeavours to fuss with slicing and dicing, sauteing and braising. So what’s an artist to do when he/she feels peckish in the studio in the wee hours of the morning with no food readily on hand? If you’re Singapore artist Robert Zhao Renhui, the answer is “Instant Noodles in the Studio”.

Robert Zhao Renhui’s recipe for Instant Noodles in the Studio

We all know how to make instant noodles, it’s not exactly rocket science. But, in the interests of providing a true and accurate review and assessment of the artist’s recipe, I decided to follow it to the letter – or at least as closely as I could!

I make my instant noodles by boiling it in water over the stove but yes, I guess most artists’ studios wouldn’t have much by way of a kitchen, so boiling water in an electric kettle and then immersing the dry noodles in a bowl makes perfect sense. Zhao’s method calls for the use of a very specific bowl though – a “Daiso Bowl for Dry Preparation”, with “Drainage Holes” that he helpfully labels in his drawing above!

Here in Singapore, everyone knows Daiso but for the benefit of our readers from elsewhere, Daiso is an amazing Japanese megastore that sells everything-you-never-thought-you-needed-but-realise-you-do-when-you-see-it, for a flat price of $2! There are 14 Daiso outlets in Singapore so off I went to one of them, in search of Robert Zhao’s Daiso bowl.

Mission accomplished!

Next, the noodles. Zhao recommends “Koka MSG-free Instant Noodles, Singapore Flavour”.

Koka instant noodles display
The One! Or as close to it as I could find

Then, it was simply a matter of immersing the noodles in boiling water and tossing it in the oil and seasoning provided.

Instant noodle making kit: check!
Oil and seasoning
Ta-Da! Dig in, folks!

Many people add all kinds of stuff to their instant noodles, including the ever-popular fried luncheon meat (a.k.a spam), a fried egg or even blanched vegetables (though the latter sort of misses the point of the dish, IMHO) but in Zhao’s version, it’s instant noodles in its pure, unvarnished form, whether because he prefers it that way or because, especially in the studio, he’s just not all that fussed about what he eats.

It’s interesting that Zhao’s chosen dish is a manufactured, highly processed and “artificial” food, as opposed to one that is made from fresh, natural ingredients. This is because Zhao’s artistic practice, primarily photographic, is based on his research into the natural world and the construction of layers and narratives that interweave the real with the fictional or artificial. One of the projects instituted by his Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ), called the Phyllidae Study Group, actually had some members of the scientific community fooled into thinking that a new hybrid species of leaf insect had been created!

Here is an image from the recent Children’s Biennale at the National Gallery Singapore that will give you an idea of the nature of Zhao’s artistic investigations. If you aren’t already familiar with Robert Zhao Renhui, maybe this article will pique your interest and want to find out more.

[Note: The recipe in this article can be found in the book, Artists’ Recipes: Contemporary Artists and Their Favourite Recipes, which you can purchase online or in stores.]


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