7 Habits of Highly Effective Migrants - Habit 1, Learn to Cook

Not knowing how to cook is like sitting in a sailboat with no wind.
- Anonymous

The 4 fundamentals of jungle survival revolves around finding shelter, food, water and finally, your way out. These are the same immediate issues a migrant faces when he or she moves to a strange environment. Having said that, there are 2 key differences between migrating to a new land and jungle survival. The first is that a migrant plan to stay in, and not get out of, the new environment. The second is that shelter, food and water can be exchanged with money.  Due to this fact, squatting on land, digging for water and hunting for food obviously proves counter productive.

When I first came to Australia, we rented rooms from stay-in landlords and ladies. It wasn't the most comfortable arrangement. Consider this, when my daughter was born, my mother-in-law came over to take care of my wife and baby for a month while I was working hard for money everyday. All 3 adults and a baby had to squeeze in a tiny room for a month. We kept our sheltering expenses to the lowest possible in our circumstances, spending $120 a week on rental. Those early harder days eventually rewarded us greatly later on. Granted, I am not expecting future migrants to do the same thing, since everyone has a different comfort level and limit. 

The focus of this topic is food. The choice of early accommodation holds little meaning except to determine how long one can survive. Water is a resource that comes with shelter which you have no control over the price. The way we obtain food, however, is symbolic. It represents how well we are settling down in the new country. In Singapore, getting food is as simple as taking the lift down to the street below. Despite the rising food prices, some still figure that it may be cheaper to buy food from hawkers than to cook it from scratch. Thus, there are not much monetary incentives to cook your own food. However in Australian context, there is a huge difference between eating out and cooking your own food. Our small family comprises of 2 adults and 1 toddler consumes of no more than $100 in food and groceries per week. Compare that to dining out for every lunch and dinner where average prices of meals cost between $10-$15 (take $12 as average), 2 adults will spend about $340 on food alone per week. The difference of $240 could pay 2 weeks of our early rental rates.

Money saving is an incentive but by no means the main reason why we must learn to cook. An important aspect of cooking your own food is what you can learn during the food selection process. Unlike Singapore, Australia produces a lot of food within the country. Getting to know what types of food is available throughout the 4 seasons is a good step to gain an insight into the new country. You don't want to walk up to a vineyard owner during Winter and ask how his grapes are doing, for instance.

Control is what we are after when we decided to cook our own food. Only by gaining control, you can choose to leave out the gutter oil, preservatives or enhancers. It is in our hands to decide the quality of food that we eat.

Even better yet, learning to cook is an investment in ourselves. By doing so, we are adding value to ourselves. In other words we can make ourselves worth more than another being by gaining an additional skill set. We can only get better and more productive as we practice. In time to come, whipping up a quick meal can done in the same time frame of driving out to buy a takeaway set.

For a migrant in a new country, knowing how to cook can help satisfy cravings of any types of food that may not be easily available here. Eating familiar food once in a while helps tremendously in curbing homesickness. With some cooking fundamentals, we can experiment by learning how to cook ethnic dishes of the different people we meet here. By experiencing different tastes and food culture, we broaden our horizons and this helps in our integration to the new country.

The ultimate sense of freedom gained by knowing how to cook allows us to be independent. It isn't just about personal satisfaction but also a self assurance that we can take care of ourselves by preparing healthy, nourishing meals for our loved ones. Often, I had been asked why I was crazy enough to come to Perth with a pregnant wife. The underlying secret was my ability to cook. I am still not a good cook by any standard but you see, that is already enough to give me the confidence that I will be able to take care of my family.


If you want to emigrate out of Singapore, learn to cook before you do so.


  1. A drunk won't admit he's drunk; a crazy person won't admit he's crazy.
    You are stark, raving loco, mate.
    Cook by yourself? nah.. a normal Singaporean would have just hired a maid.

    =)) =p~

    1. not inspired by the countless cooking shows on tv here?

    2. Then my whole family must be abnormal...

      only days when we tabao is becos it is a celebration or we are renovating, no kitchen for use. no matter how busy we are, we still manage to cook even when tabao downstairs is just $12 for 4 of us