There are many dishes which one can immediately draw parallelism to Peranakan culture, signature dishes which form the core of what is understood by many as “Straits Chinese cuisine” today. Babi Pongteh, Sambal Jantong Pisang, Ikan Gerang Asam, Kuah Hee Pio or even simple day to day dishes like Telor Tempra and Pong Tauhu just to name a few. But the one true dish which is quintessentially Peranakan must surely be Ayam Buah Keluak. It is THE one dish which many have heard of, being curious about, tried before and perhaps can even relate to. I’d wrote about it twice on this blog, here and here, and also a masterclass I’d attended before out of curiosity, not to mention talk about it on countless occasions, so here is it again, a refresher discussion on this “ambassador dish” that bridges and opens the gateway for anyone who seeks a more in-depth understanding into the culture.
Sambal Jantong Pisang is an interesting dish, and one which is uniquely Peranakan. I love it for its kerabu-like freshness and crunchy textures, intermingled with the richness and spiciness of the coconut milk dressing. It used to be commonly served as a dish on the Tok Panjang banquet on traditional weddings, for its tedious making process seems most befitting of the grandeur and scale of this solemn once-in-a-lifetime event. More importantly as I was told by an old Baba, the dish is particularly meaningful for the occasion as bananas are symbolic for one to be bountiful blessed with many children, the wish for the newly weds to bear so, hopefully as many as the elongated flowers one would find in each unopened banana bud, layer after layer, generation after generation.
Ikan Gerang Asam is one of the first Peranakan dishes, or what is known to the babas and nyonyas as “laok embok” I’d “learnt” to cook when I was young, after getting to know the tricks to frying sunny sideups with runny yolks and crispy edges for telor tempra and braising tauyew bak until the collagen-packed babi sam cham become wobbly soft that is. “Cooking lessons” were never formal or formative, save for the times when I was taught how to use a “pisoh chye toh” , a Chinese cleaver that is, to do a wondrous list of things with it, to potong, to iris, to bukak, to persiang, to kupair a wide variety of ingredients. Otherwise it was always learning through observing how my mum and grandma worked around the kitchen while helping out with the tasks along the way and of course tasting the yummy dishes they’d prepared. And it was the same with “learning” to cook Ikan Gerang Asam”…
This is one of my favorite dishes to cook. The sauce is so flavourful, one would probably find it too salty to be eaten on its own. But I can down two plates of rice just with it and nothing else. It is usually cooked with regular tamarind, but when the belimbing trees are fruiting wildly in my estate, we turn to these sourish morsels instead for the job, for a salivating-worthy plate of Babi Asam Belimbing.
Don’t let your eyes deceive you. This is not the much coveted rempah udang, a Peranakan cuchi mulot which is a favorite amongst non-Peranakans as well. These are fashioned to look like rempah udang, the glutinous rice is coloured and cooked just like that in rempah udang, the wrapping is done exactly as how one would make rempah udang. So what is it that sets what you see in the photo apart from the real McCoy? Some of you would have guessed it by now, it is the filling…instead of using an “inti rempah udang“, I’d used a portion of the sambal lengkong I made just before Chinese New Year. It tastes vastly different from the inti used in rempah udang, but I assure you that it is no less delicious!
I bought a roast chicken from the takeaway food counter at one of our local supermarkets on last Saturday and conveniently forgotten about it until yesterday. It’s not the first time and I’m sure it wouldn’t be the last either. Many ingredients are left only to be rediscovered later. Some have been tugged away in some dark corner for so long that awaits excavation! After sitting in the fridge for 3 days, the roast chicken had already gone passed its prime. Thankfully it was very well sealed in a bag all this while and the chicken stayed still rather succulent. The best way to use it? Tonnes of ways to go about that… eat with Chinese egg noodles alongside a home concocted sauce, shredding the meat and enjoy it with Chinese porridge any style be it Teochew or Cantonese, or simply chunk and toss into a salad. I happen to have a bag of tortillas which I bought with some friends when we went to Mustafa last Friday. Roast Chicken in a Tortilla Wrap sounds real good, especially when it comes with a homemade Mango Salsa!
We love Italian food, pizzas, pastas, salatas etc… Compared to French cuisine, I have described Italian food to be more down-to-earth and homely. Pizzas have always been one of our favorite things to look out for whenever we dine out. But it boils down to the usual few joints. One of our favorites is a pizza deli located along East Coast Road. What caught our attention initially was how they had named their pizzas after donnabellas, lady names like Arabella, Rebecca, Juliana, Vittoria etc. Our frequent order is Isabella, a simple Pizza con Prosciutto en Rucola, i.e. Parma Ham & Rocket Pizza. And this was precisely what I had for lunch today. Only this time, it is entirely homemade!