Just a quick post to share with all of you a recipe which I’d cooked for lunch today, and incidentally, a dish which I enjoy very much as a child, Chili with Taucheo Stingray. It is a very quick dish to prepare and doesn’t require complicated rempah making. Yet the flavours are so robust and refreshing, excellent to go with rice or Teochew porridge!
Many of us love spicy dishes but find it daunting to prepare the chili mix which breathes life unto these savory delectables which are part and parcel of our culinary repertoire in this region. “Rempah” as it is commonly known in Singapore and Malaysia, otherwise called “bumbu” in Indonesia is the heart and soul of Southeast Asian cuisine in this part of the world. But there are many different types of rempah in existence, “rempah titek“, “rempah gerang asam“, “rempah kuning“, “rempah cili-bawang” are just some examples, which we will explore in the course of this blog over time but is there a rempah which is most commonly used amongst many dishes? Indeed there is. I call this “generic rempah” for ease of remembering, something I’d mentioned and used in many of the dishes I’d introduced earlier like laksa lemak, kangkong masak lemak and rendang ayam. Its versatility extends beyond these dishes of course, some of which I would prepare and blog about in time to come… hopefully. A large batch can be made and it stores pretty well but just to put it into immediate use after its been freshly prepared, I’d used the generic rempah in a simple recipe for Sambal Ikan Bilis, an indispensible condiment in our favorite nasi lemak. (more…)
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!
Of all the Chinese regional cuisines, I especially love Cantonese-styled cooking. One thing which attracts me to it is the wide variety of dishes cleverly whipped up by the Cantonese chefs, be it the morning fare of 粥品 porridge, 肠粉 cheong fun, 点心 dim sum, a quick luncheon of 雲吞竹昇捞麵 shrimp dumpling noodles to the late night street hawker stir-fry，colloquially known as 大排档 dai pai dung. Some of these are very challenging and tedious to re-create at home, like a good 干炒牛河 Beef and Rice Noodles Stir Fry，without adequate 火力 ” fo lek aka fire power” in our kitchen stoves to produce the 镬气 “wohei” which characterises good Cantonese stir fry. But some are more home-kitchen friendly, like my favorite 柱侯牛腩焖萝卜 Braised Beef Brisket with Daikon in Chu Hou Sauce which I’d cooked umpteen times to the pleasure of family and friends who had tried it. Despite the simple procedure, it does take quite a bit of patience for the brisket to be cooked down to become uber soft and fork tender. Hence, when I want to cook something fairly quickly but no less gratifying, I would whip up yet another Cantonese classic, 柱候酱焖鸡 Braised Chicken with Chu Hou Sauce instead.
Mention squid ink infused food and Mediterranean dishes like the Venetian Pasta al Nero di Seppia from Italy or the Catalan-Valencian Arròs negre from Spain immediate comes to mind for many of us. Lesser known to most is Sotong Masak Hitam, a classic dish from Malay cuisine which also celebrates the use of squid ink which lends the dish its dramatic appeal and subtle flavours of the sea. This dish is also a favorite amongst many Peranakans who spell it as “Sotong Masak Itam” instead, though like Rendang, remains a peripheral and never really properly assimilated into Baba-Nyonya cuisine proper. Not by definition of Straits Chinese cooking for most at least. It is nonetheless enjoyed by many, Malays, Peranakans and even Chinese alike, for its piquant flavours make this dish all the more moreish.
Peranakan cooking is a classic example of an amalgamation of the culinary cultures from many ethnic groups who have lived closely together in this region for hundreds of years. It likens a ”Creole Cuisine“ of the East, blending together influences from Malay, Chinese, Portuguese, Indonesian and Thai cooking all into a unique genre which we know today as “Straits Chinese cuisine”. Out of these influences came a myriad of dishes which have now become signatures of Straits Chinese cooking, whose names run analogous to the cuisine now. Ayam Masak Buah Keluak, Itek Tim, Babi Pongteh and Ikan Gerang Asam are some of the more iconic ones. Like many other Peranakan dishes, he Hee Pio soup has its origins in traditional Chinese cooking, particularly those from the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. For many lovers of the cuisine, Hee Pio Soup is a simply must-have on the dining tables at family dinners, important gatherings, wedding celebrations and other joyous occasions where the “Tok Panjang” was served. While the concept of Tok Panjang has kind of waned and disappeared from the modern lifestyles of most Peranakan households, Hee Pio soup still makes its customary appearance whenever folks get together just to dine together in the company of one another.
Peranakan cooking is often thought to be complicated, elaborated, time-consuming and difficult to learn. Well, this is what many people think and some, expound or expect others to think. Yes there are indeed dishes in straits chinese cooking that have long ingredient lists and/or require more time to prepare and cook than others. But that is also true for most other cuisines which I know of. So the concept of the cuisine being “complex” and troublesome is to me much of a fallacy, perhaps used to instill some sense of apprehension or anxiety to newbies and the unwary, those who are approaching it for the first time. But this is often what I hear others describe Peranakan cooking to be. Sadly so, because in order to lead one to better appreciate the cuisine and hence the colourful culture underlying it, the last thing one wishes to hear is how intimidating and unapproachable it is. How should one embrace something which is so unachievable and intangible? So that the preparation of Peranakan dishes be left only to the exclusive who have inherited their ways of making from the grandmothers and bibiks of the faded past? It is a perpetuated thought by some that only through so, would the dishes remain “authentic”? Well， I choose to think otherwise…
There are a lot of simple dishes in Peranakan cooking, many which require much less time and effort to prepare than what had been described as being atrociously difficult. These would include dishes like kangkong masak lemak, ikan tempra, pong tauhu, udang masak nenas etc. Many of these simple dishes are cooked on a daily basis, and not just for the much-revered Tok Panjang. Afterall, how often does one hosts or attend a Tok Panjang at home? But surely one’s gotta eat everyday yeah? In fact, the ability to cook with ease, a table of dishes what may impress upon others to be difficult and painstakingly prepared, is what many would hope for. Minimal efforts to reap maximal sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Now that, is a true blue bibik’s secret if you ask me…