On the Trail of the Phoenix – Laok Ari Ari Everyday Peranakan dishes
When one thinks about Peranakan cuisine, what comes to mind immediately are probably the elaborate dishes one would see being showcased in a Tok Panjang feast. Ayam Masak Keluak , Kuah Hee Pio, Itek Sioh, Ikan Gerang Asam etc… laok ari besair as they are called in Baba Patois, to mean dishes specially cooked for special occasions like weddings and birthday celebrations. But we often forget that there are many dishes which Peranakan households enjoy on a daily basis, simpler dishes requiring less time to whip up which are by no means less delicious. So here are some of these everyday dishes, laok ari ari which you can also whip up for your everyday meals.
When one wants quick and easy meals, eggs must surely be one of those ingredients one can think of using. It can be as direct as a sunny-side up drizzled with dark soya sauce over piping hot rice, or scrambled to make an omelette (telor dadar). There are many such dishes in the laok embok embok repertoire of Peranakan dishes, such as telor cinchalok (brined shrimp omelette), telor kacang panjang (snake bean omelette), telor bawang (onion omelette) etc, some of which share common beginnings with traditional Chinese cooking of course. One of my favorite way of eating eggs in daily meals is to cook them into telor tempra. The word tempra is a borrowing from Portuguese and shares the same morphology as the Japanese “tempura“, referring to the frying technique. The sunny side ups are fried until the edges crisp up and for me, I love to keep the yolks intact and runny. The magic of this dish lies in the sauce, sweet, savory, sourish with a subtle hint of spiciness all at once. It is one of those dishes which are also very kids-friendly, one which the children learn to enjoy since young, alongside other dishes like babi manis, ikan goreng etc.
Sotong hitam is another popular dish on the dining table. It is not a classic Peranakan dish per se, one which has its origins in Malay cooking. Most Peranakans love it anyway with the sauce tasting sourish and spicy at the same time. Definitely up their alleys… I love this dish because it is rather easy to prepare at home, with only a simple rempah. The lemongrass are only sliced in halves and left largely intact, saving one the trouble of having to pound or grind it up into a fine paste, which can be a rather arduous task given how fibrous they are. Morever, squid takes barely a few seconds to cook so it is rather fast from the cutting to the eating…
Kangkong Masak Lemak is also another dish with its roots in Malay cooking. The sauce requires a rempah which can be made in bulk beforehand and used as required. The versatility of the dish allows one to change the vegetable from sayor kangkong to sayor bayam (broad leaf spinach), sayor ubi kledek (sweet potato leaves) and even kobis (Chinese cabbage). One can also use sayor nangka muda (young jackfruit) for this dish as well. For me, kangkong remains a favorite with the leaves soften from the heat, nicely soaking up the rich coconuty gravy while the stems remain crunchy and succulent.
And finally a soup to sooth one’s throat and relieve one from the heat of the sambal belacan which makes its customary appearance in every meal. Pong Tauhu is one of the classic everyday soups, alongside Kuah Babi Bok Jee, Ayam Masak Oh etc. Unlike its richer “cousin” Bakwan Kepiting which is more elaborated, Pong Tauhu is more straightforward to prepare. That said, I do like to bring it up a notch by using a prawn broth which is almost bisque-like to pack up the flavours. The fried garlic bits is a must and replacing it with fried shallots isn’t doing exactly the same thing. So if you want something as close as possible to Peranakan flavours in your dining table, stick to the recipe as much as possible. 🙂
Click on the links below for the recipes