Teochew Kana Chye Pasta
I stayed in hostel during some years of my Uni and NIE PGDE years in NUS and then NTU. Those were the fun and crazy years, away from home with lots of me time. Perched on the Kent Ridge hilltop, staying in KEVII Hall isn’t the most convenient of all places to be. Yes the canteen provided meals of course but as we all know, hostel food sucks so sometimes we would eat out, either NUH canteen just down that treacherous and scary flight of steps down the hill, taking a bus to Clementi central or finding our way the other side of the campus where Fong Seng Nasi Lemak is. Nowhere remotely near to being the best nasi lemak around but that would have to do. But some days ended really late, with lab sessions that stretched all the way past sunset or rehearsals and sessional practices. It helped to stock up some “supplies”, usually canned food of course since we
are not allowed had to pay more rent to keep a mini bar fridge in our rooms. Campbells was my best friend then, good with instant noodles as a “cheat meal” for “creamy pasta”. Then there are the familiar Asian flavours of course, pickled chye sim stems in soya sauce, fermented beancurd cubes, and of course a good old bottle of kana chye to go with Teochew porridge cooked in the common pantry, when the cylinder gas hadn’t been completed exhausted by my PRC hostel mates that is! So simple yet so so gratifying. On some days, when I decided to get experimental, weird concoctions and adventurous sounding dishes were derived, usually out of hungry desperation truth be told, usually when some ingredients ran out, thus the need to put whatever’s available together. In retrospect, the creations then which folks now cleverly call “fusion dishes” looked more like a case of “confusion”. But it was fun nonetheless and Teochew Kana Chye Pasta was probably “invented” under such circumstances…
My take of Teochew Kana Chye Pasta is incredibly simple to make and takes barely a few minutes to put together. It uses only a small handful of ingredients, most of which I love and could relate to, familiar flavours from home…
Teochew Kana Chye Pasta is “almost” a vegetarian dish in the non-religious sense of the word. In essence, it is a “spaghetti aglio e olio recipe” because it uses garlic and chilies to infuse flavours into a good amount of oil, which is in turn used to flavour the pasta. Tis just that in this “fusion” rendition, we take it up a notch with kana chye and shallots as well as chye poh and lastly coriander stem. These are all decidedly very Asian, more notably ingredients used in Teochew dishes. Kana chye is much-loved by those who enjoy 潮州糜 “Teochew muay“. Not the exorbitant and sometimes overpriced fanfare we eat outside but more of the simple version within the comforts of our homes. It is also good for steaming fish and minced meat etc. Likewise chye poh is used to make omelettes 菜脯蛋 which is excellent with porridge while Chinese coriander is a must have for steaming fish, soups etc. The sweet version of chye poh is used in this dish which is less salty but still packed with lots of umami flavours. Many folks just use the leaves of the Chinese coriander but I love the stems because they have so much flavour in them, not forgetting the little bursts of crunchy textures as one bites into them. Incorporating all these ingredients into this simple pasta dish provides a complexity of the aromatics that helped to heighten the flavours built into this simple yet robust-tasting dish.
Teochew Kana Chye Pasta
2 portions of San Remo Brown Rice Spaghetti, or any pasta of your choice
2-3 tbsp(橄榄菜) kana chye, i.e. Teochew pickled olive leaves
3-4 cloves(蒜头)garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 bulbs(干葱头)shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp sweet chye poh (甜菜脯碎), diced sweet pickled radish
1(红辣椒)red chili or 2 (指天椒) chili padi for more heat, deseeded and chopped
1 tbsp (芫荽）chinese coriander stalk, finely minced
A dash of (潮州鱼露) Teochew fish sauce or (酱青) light soya sauce (optional)
2 tbsp cooking oil
Water as needed for cooking pasta
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add the pasta into pot. Stir a bit and cover. Cook the pasta for the amount of time as stated on the packaging until the pasta is al dente.
To a heated pan, add oil and sliced shallots. Pan fry over medium low heat until light golden brown. Drain and set aside for later use but leave the shallot oil in the pan.
To the same pan, add garlic slices and chopped chilies and panfry over medium low heat until the garlic turns slightly brown and the oil becomes thoroughly infused with the flavours from the garlic and chilies, and of course the shallots prior.
When the pasta in the pot of water is just about cooked, i.e. 1 min away from being al dente, toss the kana chye and sweet chye poh into the pan with the oils and saute briefly until fragrant. It helps to elevate and homogenise the aromas from the various components into one. Finally toss in the chopped coriander stalk and briefly saute to release the flavours into the oils. Do not over do it to prevent the coriander from browning too much and becoming bitter.
Remove the pasta from the cooking water with tongs and immediately add into the pan. Toss the pasta with the ingredients until the strands are well coated with the oils. Flavour with light soya sauce or Teochew fish sauce if necessary. Add 1-2 tbsp of pasta cooking water to help reconstitute if the noodles are too dry.
Plate and garnish with fried garlic, shallots, more chopped chilies and coriander leaves.