My first walk-in dining experience for Japanese food was probably about 15 years ago. I was in national service then and there is “food court” located a stone’s throw away from my army camp. During the days when I had to stay up late in camp, my colleagues and I would drop by the food court for dinner. There was a small Japanese food deli within the food court and it was there, that I had my first donburi. Katsudon, oyakodon and gyudon are the usual culprits, and occasionally unadon when I was in the mood for something better. It was a time when sushi on conveyor belts had just landed in Singapore and the concept of Japanese food then was very new to most of us. The slurry-like half-cooked egg that robed the donburis, the melange of both sweet and savory flavours in teriyaki sauce were all very alien to me. And then I encountered agedashi tofu. Tofu we eat a lot since young but to have it deep fried and then drenched with a broth, the textures were pretty interesting to start with!
Penang Lok Bak is one of those dishes which had intrigued me for the longest time. Being in Singapore, we are more accustomed to the cuisine and cooking styles of the southern Peranakans at home and in Melaka. I practically grew up eating chap chye, kari ayam and ngoh hiang. My grandma, together with my aunts and my mother would whip up a whole table full of mouth-watering dishes whenever there is a family gathering and these three dishes would definitely make their dutiful appearance on the dining table. Sometimes one, sometimes two and if we are lucky, all three! So a large part of my growing up experience is made up of “food memories”, from eating to observing and finally to cooking.
When I first came across the term “Penang Lor Bak” a couple of years back, I had thought that it would be rather similar to the Tau Yew Bak which was frequently cooked at home as well. But prima facie, it looked no different from the ngoh hiang which I’m familiar with! Utterly confused, I took my first bite and received an even greater shock, only to realise that despite the somewhat familiar flavours, the textural profile was utterly different from ngoh hiang! And to make things “worse”, I actually liked it!