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青木定治のフレジエ – Sadaharu Aoki’s Fraisier

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Springtime in Japan when everything is so beautiful. The weather is just starting to warm up a bit, when one can begin to embrace the earliest rays of the year while at the same time enjoy the cool from the remnants of the melting snow… The gardens are most lovely at this time of the year, as the ground awakens to the calls from the changing seasons and begins yet another year’s cycle. While we usher in the hanami season when cherry blossoms display their full regalia leaving all in their presence in awe, transfixed by their quiet beauty, the alluring fragrance from the plum blossoms still lingers in the air in some places and draws deep from within our soul, as we smile and sigh in the same breath, catching their final fleeting moments as the flowers dwindle and fade away to feed the sprouting soil…

Springtime is also a particularly important season for the Japanese. This is largely due to the availability of many fresh produce, bearing sharp contrast to much of the pickled foods which they would have eaten through the bitter winter months. The Japanese cuisine is one which is in harmony with the elements, changing with the seasons, tapping in the most opportunistic manner of what is the best to be eaten at what time of the year, depends entirely on what is available. While the cherry blossoms are most symbolic in Japan as the emblem of Spring, strawberries are also iconic and synonymous to this beautiful season in many ways. During springtime when strawberries are at their prime, most, if not all patisseries in Japan too roll out pastries themed after this much-loved fruit. Many of them do not take on fanciful and tongue twisting terms, but instead just a simple name like フレジエ Fraisier.

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Bika Ambon aka Bingka Ambon or Kueh Ambon

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Bika Ambon is a very popular “kue” from Indonesia, the name seeming to suggest its origins from Kota Ambon in Maluku, or better known as the Maloccas Islands in the past. However, its popularity stems not from Ambon but in Medan, several thousand miles away in Northern Sumatra, where very good kek lapis can also be found incidentally. It was postulated by some that the confection was brought by Ambonese traders to Medan where it became viral, so much so that there is now a whole stretch along a street in the heart of the city, Jalan Mojopahit with no less than 30 stores dedicated to the sale of Bika Ambon amongst other popular delectables. Others explained that the name of the kue takes after a local bakery located at an intersection of Jalan Ambon and Jalan Sei Kera, located about two miles away from Jalan Mojopahit, where the first Bika Ambon was supposed to have been made, sold and popularised. We are not food historians so we ain’t gonna dwell too much over its beginnings, since it doesn’t add much to its flavours anyway, but what we do know is that despite its origins in Indonesia, its popularity has since overwhelmed its borders and traveled all over the world. It is known in Malaysia as Bingka Ambon or Kueh Ambon while some folks in the Peranakan community resonate to the name “Kueh Bengkah Sarang”. Whichever way it is being called, Binka Ambon by any other name would taste as good, just as a rose would smell as sweet. (more…)


On the Trail of the Phoenix – Telor Tempra

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Those who know me well will know that I am an advocate of Peranakan home-cooking being approachable and simple, unlike what is typically heard and said about Straits Chinese cooking being laborious and tedious. While there are indeed dishes in the Baba Nyonya cuisine which are more painstaking to prepare, there is a repertoire of Peranakan dishes which require little time to cook and even less time to enjoy as they are so delicious, they are gobbled down in no time!

When I run out of ideas for what to prepare for a simple dinner, the ” tempra” sauce is my to-go-to style of Peranakan cooking which could be used with a wide variety of ingredients, all delicious and simple to prepare. No rempah to pound, no long hours of stewing, it usually manifest as “ikan tempra” or “ayam tempra” in our household but when I want something really fast and furiously done, “telor tempra” is most definitely the dish I would whip up as it requires just a bare few minutes from the chopping board to the dining table.

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吳寶春麥方店 Wu Pao Chun Bakery @ Taipei

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I began noticing master boulanger 吳寶春 Wu Pao Chun when he first appeared in one of my favorite Taiwanese forum talk shows 新闻哇哇挖 upon returning to Taiwan, after winning the prestigious Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie aka Bakery World Cup in Paris five years ago. Since then, he has been hailed as a 台湾之光 “Glory of Taiwan” alongside acclaimed director, Lee Ang, an honour accredited by the local Taiwanese press to their fellow countrymen who had achieved worldwide recognition and acclaim of sorts. This does not come easily for anyone from Taiwan, a country which has yet to be formally acknowledged by UN, and whose existence is constantly under pressure and threat across the straits from Mainland China. Since returning to Taiwan, Wu set up his first artisan bread bakery in Kaohsiung before opening another in Taipei the next year. Our previous trips to Taiwan had always been filled with pastries and cakes more than anything else, so for our most recent trip, we finally decided to make our way to Wu’s bakery located at Eslite Spectrum Song Yan Store.

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On the Trail of the Phoenix – Apom Balek Nyonya

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A short post to document an experiment as I was trying out a recipe for the Peranakan version of “apom balek“. Unlike the crispy and thin “apam balik” we typically see at the Malay food stalls in pasar malams, or the thick Chinese version called “min chiang kueh” we eat for breakfast, this version favoured by the Peranakans in Malacca and Singapore are much smaller and more dainty. Despite using the same mould, I don’t make apom balek as often as I do for apom berkuah, simply because I very much prefer the latter, especially with the irresistible kuah pengat pisang to go along.  Nonetheless, I feel I do need to practice making this kueh which is important in many aspects of the Peranakan culture. So on goes with the experiment!
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金鱼汤圆: 初版 – Goldfish Tang Yuan: 1st Attempt

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As I’d mentioned in the recent Tang Chek 2014 post, there had been quite a number of cutesy looking 汤圆 tang yuan versions popping up over the internet of late. Several designs caught my eye actually and had wanted to try making this holidays. There is the panda face, rilakkuma face, chubby sealions  etc. There are so many to do and so little time! I tried the panda face ones yesterday and it turned out quite well. So I decided to try my hands on some goldfish looking glutinous rice dumplings, something which I’d always wanted to do!
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Kueh Ee and Tang Chek 2014

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Yes it is that time of the year again to golek some kueh ee. A year went by just like this and we have all become a year older, and hopefully wiser. As the holiday season arrives, mood relaxes as one winds down for a period of festivities and celebrations, as it is just a couple more days to Christmas and shortly after, the New Year. Like what was mentioned during last year’s Tang Chek, the coming of Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the spring cleaning and preparatory work that leads up to the Lunar New Year. So its time to get busy as well!
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