When I made Som Tam for Asia Food Fest Thailand two years back, I fell in love with how it tasted. The assemblage of piquant flavours from sugary to sour, savory and spicy came together beautifully to stimulate one’s palate. And now I turn to using green mangoes in place of papaya, for Som Tam Mamuang. Needless to say, it was equally, if not even more moreish and appetite whetting!
Kueh Pie Tee aka Kueh Pai Tee is a familiar snack to many. It is commonly eaten as finger food, not unlike hors d’oeuvres or anti-pasti from French and Italian cuisines. Think bruschetta and canapés where the familiar cracker or crostini is being replaced by delicately made cups that resemble top hats, with a savory filling that can be elegantly eaten in a single mouthful. Apart from being an amuse-bouche however, kueh pie tee has an additional dimension as a communal dish, likening Popiah with which Kueh Pie Tee shares a very similar filling, if not the same. The pie tee shells have to filled and eaten almost in situ, or risk these little “golden cups” being too soggy for a proper enjoyment of the delightful crunch from the vegetables against the light crispy textures from the deep-fried shells. As such, they are often enjoyed nowadays as part of a “Popiah Party” where everyone gathers around the table for a hands-on experience in wrapping their own popiah or filling their own pie tee shells amidst all that chitter and chatter.
When I first started learning to cook nonya dishes, I remember being immediately overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of some recipes. Tedious steps to follow, long and painstaking preparation, tiring rempah pounding, long list of ingredients to garner… are just some of the reasons which deterred many from trying to cook the dishes for themselves. Yes, peranakan cooking can be very patience-testing, obviously one of the many virtues I lack. But the results are often very rewarding, as its through these multi-step culinary “ordeals” that all those intricate nuances of flavours and textures were teased out, to which is what many of us enjoy about peranakan cooking.
Having said that, not all peranakan dishes are difficult to cook or troublesome to put together. Kerabu Belimbing Timum Nanas is one such recipe which is almost effortless to prepare and requires very little time to do so. It is served as a “palate refreshener”, marking contrast against the other robust and full-bodied flavour dishes, to make the latter lighter for the stomach, so that the whole meal would not be just about heft. Being spicy and tart at the same time, it is perfect “conditoner” to whet everyone’s appetites!
Prosciutto e melone con insalata rucola is a traditional Italian anti-pasti, i.e. an appetiser before the main course. Given the right ingredients, it just takes a matter of minutes to put together. Despite being a simple spread of only 4 to 5 items, the assembly of flavours are quite incredible. This explains why it was easily one of my favorites-to-order on the menu of any Italian restaurant that offers it. Why eat it at a restaurant when you can always make it at home? Well, read on and you would know why…
Shooting this series of photographs is a love and hate relationship. Absolutely elated to be able to come face to face with these plates of delectables but the pain sets in when you can’t taste them. These are some of the entries for the “Hot and Cold Appetiser” category for the FHA Culinary Challenge, held in conjunction with Food & Hotel Asia 2012 just last week at the Singapore EXPO. The four-day event was well-attended by members of the trade as well as chefs from all over the world. I think the standards of the Culinary Challenge is very high, with participation from chefs from all over Asia as well as representatives from the major culinary institutions from the region. Here’s a really small selection of the pieces which I felt are really outstanding in terms of presentation. I can’t comment on their taste and unami-ness but some of them really scored in their visual appeal.
And thankfully, I was sufficiently sound to note the composition of most of the pieces, in hope that some of these presentations could be replicated in our own very kitchens. Be inspired.