I love Thai desserts. Their use of coconut milk or cream as well as pandan is pretty much like what we have here at home and is totally up my alley! In fact, many of the Thai desserts are very similar in shape and form to our own kuehs and desserts here far south and it is not difficult to imagine that all of them probably share the same origins! Khanom chan is like our kueh lapis beras or lapis sagu while lod chong is quite similar to our chendol. And of course there are other signatures like tub tim krob and mango sticky rice which are so immensely popular. So it is no wonder that we take to Thai desserts very easily. Of all the Thai desserts I have tried, I have a particular affinity for สังขยาฟักทอง Sangkhaya Fak Thong which is essentially a coconut milk custard steamed in a pumpkin. So so yummy…
I think I’d been complaining too much lately about the wretched weather but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is suffering under the heat. Desperate ends call for desperate measures and you know when you can’t beat ’em, you should jolly well join ’em! Combating the heat with more heat, well sorta! So here I am, whipping up an early week homecooked meal with some of my favorite spicy dishes. It sure feels good after a thorough sweat out eating the dishes and slurping the Tom Yum Goong! As a special treat for myself, I’d made some Hor Mok as well!
This is one of the many a times when a craving becomes too strong for one to withstand or hold back for another day. One of those I just have to “make and take a bite” moments. Saw my good friend Poh Lin’s mum Nyonya Guek made kueh bongkong just the other day and I wanted a bite of it so so badly. It is yet another kueh which I don’t make as often as I should. Then again, there are simply too many kuehs to make often to start with. It is not a difficult kueh to make, but for me, it is one which is difficult to master. Read on to find out why…
After a long hiatus from blogging, I’m finally getting my engine started again. So much has happened over just a blink of an eye. “Sekelip mata” we say in Baba patois, both good things and bad things. While I slowed down on blogging this period of time, I have not stopped cooking, baking or making kueh. In fact, I’d finally picked up the courage of taking orders and help people make kuehs and cook traditional Peranakan dishes for their friends and family to enjoy. It is a win win situation for me as well, as not only does this provide me with the opportunity to hone and sharpen my cooking and kueh making skills, it also helped to supplement the expenses of the cooking and baking hobby. Alas, I’m glad to be back on the blog again, with one of my favorite kuehs, Pulot Inti.
For many of us, food is not just something we consume merely to sate our physical needs for survival. Extending far beyond that, food is what we enjoy with our loved ones, friends and family, as a vehicle to promote solidarity, camaraderie and togetherness. Food is what invokes and invigorates our senses, establishes a communal experience which evolves irrevocably into a shared memory, or an identity that eventually gets woven into a group’s rich history and cultural heritage. In short, food provides for many of us, a glimpse of our past and acts as an intangible extension into our future. Often times, such food are likely to be signature dishes unique to a cuisine or synonymous to a community. Yet food that possess such prowess and bestowed with such a mission isn’t necessarily elaborated or complicated. It is often the simplest things that leave a lifelong impression and sometimes, even an everlasting legacy.
It seems like every Asian culture has their own popular sweet cold desserts which are synonymously known or associated with the cuisine. In Malaysia and Singapore, it has to be Ais Kacang and Cendol while in Hong Kong, it is 杨枝甘露 etc. Mention Thai desserts and one refreshing, yummy, not to mention visually stunning piece immediately comes to mind. Yes, it is Tub Tim Grob aka Red Rubies in Coconut Milk here.
I’d been revisiting some of the old recipes I’d blogged about before recently. Sometimes, its because some friends had shared with me a “discovery” or “revelation” about a dish which I knew which prompted me to relook at it. Otherwise, it is simply because I have a craving for it. Roti Jala is one of those things which you’d miss eating once in a while. I turned an ayam peksak (poached chicken) from my mum’s semayang see kee (death anniversary prayers) into a pot of kari ayam, the best excuse to make some roti jala to go along.
The heat for the past two weeks have been excruciatingly unbearable, and it most certainly doesn’t help to know that the haze is back!!! I’m down with a sore throat and some of my students are suffering from hacking coughs. Not helpful at all neighbour. Please ask your farmers to stop the burning! Mid-summer blues under the scorching weather makes one all sluggish and lethargic, not wanting to do anything except to stone in an air-con room. To make myself feel better, I’m thinking of some sugary and cooling “tong shuei” to help beat the heat. Well, I could cook a sweet 六味汤 luk mei tong or double boil some 南北杏木瓜炖雪耳 White Jelly Fungus with Papaya, or simply reprise my favorite 楊枝甘露 Mango Pomelo Sago desserts, but I’m thinking of something even simpler for instant relief. Happen to chance upon some melons at our local supermarkets just last weekend and lugged home some since they are so affordable now that they are in season. A good time to revisit one of my childhood favorites which I hadn’t eaten in eons, 蜜瓜西米露 Honeydew Melon Sago.
Gading Galoh may not be familiar to many but mention Kueh Sarlat or Seri Muka and most folks would have heard or eaten it before. Gading Galoh is the name adopted by the Malaccan Peranakans for this popular kueh. It is also known as Pulot Serikaya to some and in this case, the familiar pandan-based custard topping is replaced by one in an exuberant sunset yellow. I’d made Kueh Sarlat numerous times and blogged about it earlier. Interestingly, I’d not made the non-pandan version before. So now is a good time to experiment making pulot serikaya, creating it by adapting the tried and tested recipe for kueh sarlat, otherwise known as gading galoh. Now you all know.
For anyone who is studying or familiar with the modern history of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman is a man who needs no introduction. Born into the royal family of the Kedah Sultanate, he became Malaysia’s first Prime Minister on 31st August 1957, when Malaya gained independence from the British colonial rule. The words “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” still resonate and resound in the hearts of many older Malaysians who witnessed that historical moment, on the same day as today 56 years ago,
An interesting but lesser known trait of Tunku Abdul Rahman, is his passion for food. A true blue foodie of his time, Bapa Malaysia (Father of Malaysia) as he is fondly known as loved cooking as much as he loved eating. Tunku Abdul Rahman’s repertoire of signature dishes which he loves to eat and whip up for his dinner guests is far more extensive than what one would have imagined for a man of his time. Apart from traditional Northern Malaysian cuisine from Kedah where he was born and raised, he is equally at ease Thai dishes, possibly prepared and taught to him by his Thai mother. His studies at Cambridge University, UK in his younger days also exposed him to traditional British cooking where he learnt his “famous Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding”, a weekly staple on the dinner table at home . He is said to have particular fondness for Cantonese dishes as well! So here on Malaysia’s Hari Merdeka (Independence Day). I share with all of you one of the dishes featured in a cookbook compiled and collated by his niece, “Favourite Dishes From The Tunku’s Kitchen“. One of the more interesting recipes I’d read in this cookbook has to be his favorite Otak Otak.
“Kuih Bingka Ubi Kayu“, or better known as “Bingka Ubi” is another much-loved “kueh” of Malay-Peranakan origin which my family enjoys very much. It is sometimes spelt as “Binka Ubi” or “Bengka Ubi” depending on how it is being pronounced in the variety of colloquial tongues in this region. Coconut and cassava/tapioca go really well together, with the natural earthy sweetness from the starchy root complimenting the richness of the santan (coconut milk). And of course coconut milk and salt is an age-old combination. i.e. when there is santan, there must be salt. And the salt is perfect to bear contrast and accentuate the sweetness of the dessert snack without making it too cloying. Unlike some other kuehs, the recipe for Bengka Ubi is rather straightforward. And given how easily grated cassava is now available in local wet markets, it is literally a breeze to make it nowadays.
The last installment of Malaysia Food Fest (MFF) brings us to Perak and it is just in time for Eid al-Fitr. After a long month of Ramadan, it is time for our Muslim friends to break fast and celebrate during what is more commonly known as “Hari Raya Puasa” over here in Malaysia and Singapore. One of the absolute must-haves for Hari Raya celebration is a spicy beef stew which originated from Indonesia called “Rendang“. I’d cooked Rendang Daging Rembau earlier this year for Negeri Sembilan but rendang cooking has a long withstanding tradition in Malaysia and has since evolved and developed so many varieties, with almost every state having their own unique variation. So it comes as no surprise that Perak too has its own “special” rendang and rightfully so as it is very famous, enjoyed by not only the Perakians but also visitors to the state. “Rendang Tok” as it is known, with “Tok” to mean royalty, this delicious rendang is literally food befitting the kings!
This month’s Malaysia Food Fest brings us to Johor, the nearest Malaysian state to us. Despite being just across the Causeway and so frequently packed with Singaporeans especially over the weekends, I must admit that I know very little about the true blue Johorean fare. Well, there are some really popular local delights, like otak otak from Muah, Ogura Cake from Batu Pahat, Fishballs from Yong Peng, Railway bread from Kluang and durians from Segamat. Wait, the last one doesn’t count! LOL
I begin this month’s exploration with Ayam Masak Merah, a purportedly popular dish throughout the Peninsula (judging by the number of times this dish has actually being cooked and blogged) which has its roots from the southern state. Not quite a fan of tomato ketchup, I was rather curious about how it would taste when I saw it being featured in Wendyinkk’s blog last August. The combination of a simple rempah, together with coconut milk and a generous dousing of tomato ketchup… very curious indeed.
Due to its geographical advantage, the culinary speciality in Terengganu seems to revolve much around seafood. From Pulut Lepa, Laksam to Ketam Sumbat and Gulai Ikan Tongkol accompanying Nasi Dagang, not forgetting the ever-popular pasar malam fanfare of Ikan Bakar and Keropok Ikan Lekor, a lot of Terengganuan dishes, together with those from the eastern coast of the Peninsula tap heavily on the abundant resources of the vast South China Sea, some of which are almost exclusively found only in this region. Ketupat Sotong versi Terengganu is one such intriguing dish where squid is filled with glutinous rice before being cooked in a rich coconut milk gravy doused heavily with local spices.
Pulut Lepa aka Pulut Panggang versi Terengganu is a delicious savory snack made from glutinous rice steamed with coconut milk and an “inti serunding ikan kembong“, i.e. spiced mackerel fish floss filling, wrapped with banana leaves and finally grilled for the extra oomph of wonderful smoky flavours. This is a simple “kuih” enjoyed freshly “panggang” i.e. grilled over a charcoal flame for breakfast or tea. Being very affordable, it is a common “walk and eat along” treat for many Terengganuans, especially amongst folks on their way to work and children to school, grabbing one or two as they pass by their favorite stall in the pasar pagi, i.e. morning bazaar.
One of the highlights of Straits Chinese cuisine is the wide selection of little bite-size steamed sweetcakes known as “kueh“, and like many other signature dishes in peranakan cooking, many of these kuehs are heavily “borrowed” from the culinary heritage of other ethnicities within the region, nyonya kueh is no exception. While Kueh Angku is uniquely chinese, others like rempah udang, pulut inti and seri muka have distinct roots in Malay and Indonesian cuisine. Some of them, like pineapple tarts have become fully adapted and so immensely popular as a nyonya delight that one would have easily forgotten their true origins.
Apom balik is a popular snack in many Asian cultures. And it comes in so many forms, shapes and sizes. Malays make a crispy and paperthin version no more than 6 inches wide, filled with shredded coconut cooked in gula merah, or chopped peanuts with granulated sugar. Chinese folks call them 面浆粿 ban chiang kueh or min chiang kueh depending on the dialectal origins, and make them lebih besar, using pans sometimes as wide as 2 feet in diameter! The folded pancake can be filled with a paste with chunky peanut butter-like consistency, or another chinese favorite, red bean paste. In recent years, we also see a version containing cheese! Whichever the version might be, I enjoy them all, especially for breakfast, to go with a warm glass of soya bean milk or teh tarik! But the version that remains close to my heart is nyonya apom balik, something which I’d enjoyed very infrequently as a childhood treat. It is the one traditional kueh which was most neglected, but not entirely forgotten as I still crave for them til today.
The warm drafts of heat that overwhelms one has reached a point of becoming unbearable. Its almost impossible to be outdoors without breaking out in sweat, which at times can escalate levels of discomfort that makes surviving each dawn til dusk under such a turmoil a daily miracle. On a lighter and more positive note, not all about the heat is bad. Summer is the time for sunshine, blue clear waters, sandy beaches and bikini babes. But my mind is set on a different “catch”. The scorching months of late May to September bring with them a plethora of fruits, i.e. mangoes in all sorts of varieties, stone fruits of every thinkable species, but most importantly, it is the durian season again!
Geylang Serai is a place that reminds me much of my childhood. Apart from the Orchard Road shopping belt, the stretch around City Plaza and Tanjong Katong Shopping Centre was one of the earliest built-up shopping areas in the eastern part of Singapore, more affectionately known as “Yokoso” in the past. It is also the major stronghold for the Malay community in Singapore, likening Chinatown and Little India to the Chinese and Indians respectively. Long before Geylang Serai became the infamous weekend rendevous spot for Pinoy domestic helpers and their Bangladeshi boyfriends, this place was the hub of the Malay culture and heritage in Singapore. Apart from visits during the month-long pasar malams (night markets) during the pre-Hari Raya Ramadan (fasting) period to soak in the festivities, my mother, together with her sisters visited this place frequently throughout the year to shop and makan(feast), since Orchard Road was often deemed as being too “atas” (haute couture) and out-of-place for heartlanders like us. My cousins and I would simply tag along, usually an ice-cream or a paper cone of kachang putih at hand. So “Yokoso” became the port-of-call de facto for all our shopping needs, from fabrics for making curtains and cushion covers from Joo Chiat Complex, to clothes from “2nd Chance” at Tanjong Katong Shopping Centre and not forgetting shoes and Casio watches from shops at City Plaza. And no trip to Geylang Serai is complete without a visit to its wet market and food centre, where one can sample the essence of Malay as well as Indian Muslim culinary delights, from an assortment of kuih-muihs (sweet pastries) and light snacks, to more robust Sup Kambing and Tulang Merah. The wet market section was also fantastic, where one could find a wide variety of fresh ingredients from the usual produce of fruit, fish and meat, to the more exotic, like to garner a whole entourage of herbs for Nasi Ulam.
Truth be told, I haven’t been there for eons, despite passing by the area ever so frequently. I often wonder how the place is like now, or if my favorite Indian Rojak stall was still in business. But I’d never really felt compelled to go in. Strange I know, don’t ask me why. Alas as fate has a funny way of coming around, my ventures into Peranakan cooking has brought me back here again, to buy buah keluak, or source for the freshest petai beans still in their pods. And thus when I have a craving and was looking for ingredients to make Sambal Jantung Pisang, I knew the perfect place to start hunting.
Peranakans love cooking with fruits, spanning from the usual tropical varieties like pineapple in Sambal Nanas to durian in Apam Balik and banana in Pengat, to using more exotic varieties in lesser prepared dishes like young jackfruit in Sayur Nangka Masak Lemak, banana blossom in Kerabu Jantung Pisang and unripe papaya in Buah Paya Masak Titek. Some fruits are used almost exclusively in culinary cuisines from this region, and buah belimbing is one such fruit.