Yet another quick post! I just came back from a hearty discussion with two friends at Starbucks over homemade kueh sarlat and their matcha frappucino on heritage cuisine and some exciting projects that will be happening soon on this blog. All that talk of food made me very very hungry naturally. Just wanna eat some comfort food, something which would bring me back to the days of my childhood, something easy and fast yet full of flavour. There is only one dish I can think of, my mum’s 高丽菜饭 Kor Leh Chye Png Chinese Cabbage Rice.
We love pizzas and often frequent one of the popular pizza delis in town whenever we need a good fix. We enjoy the regular margherita or pepperoni and cheese of course, but one of our favorite pizzas to order is the Peking Duck. We thought it to be really interesting, as I really love the Hoisin sauce as the base, a good variation from the usual pomodoro based sauces, and it is somewhat sweet and savory as well, not forgetting the umami flavours within. But now with the new Samsung Smart Oven, making pizzas at home has become a breeze.
I love pasta dishes because they are so simple to prepare yet pasta is like a clean canvas that allows endless streams of ideas to be piped in, churning out a vast number of combinations possible. In my recent trip to Bangkok, I’d tried a pasta dish at Vanilla Cafeteria in EmQuartier which I thought tasted really interesting. It didn’t take long for me to re-create the dish at home, while I still remember the flavour profile of the dish…
Pastas are my absolute “to-go-tos” whenever I need a quick lunch. I think that is the same for many of us. I love doing Asian fusion pastas, incorporating elements of the traditional Asian cooking into the traditional Italian dish. But once in a while, I like to go back to the neopolitan classics and whip up simple recipes of cabonara, alfredo, ragu etc. The simplest of them all must surely be the Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. So fast to prepare and accompanied with fresh seafood which takes just seconds to cook, it makes probably the most gratifying meal cooked in less than 15 minutes!
2015 has really been a trying year for us. My dad had undergone a major surgery just last weekend and is now recuperating in hospital. Thankfully, everything went on smoothly as for now, and he is recovering slowly, but surely. The sheer ordeal of going through the last couple of months of chemo and radiotherapy with him was really challenging to say the least. My family had just “bukak tua har” as well, coming out of the three year mourning period since the demise of my beloved mother 4 years back and we are trying to cope with our lives without her, revisiting the usual traditional practices, like “golek kueh ee” during tang chek at the end of last year, and semayang tee kong during the Chinese New Year period, albeit keeping things simpler and less elaborated. It is afterall the thought that counts… I
think hope. Tomorrow is 端午节 duanwu festival aka dragon boat festival or what is known as “bulan lima lima ari” to the Peranakans. I had planned to “ikat kueh chang” nearer the date for more than a month, something which I had not done for quite a few years already, since there is a patang against doing so when one is mourning. Alas my dad’s operation came right before the preparation period and that basically threw everything off course. But as my dad’s condition stabilised and is getting better, I pushed on ahead with my plans to ikat kueh chang nonetheless, grabbing ingredients and materials on a very last minute basis and slogged the night before preparing the ingredients and frying the filling, to be used the next day for making the dumplings. So here is a quick photo log of the making of my kueh chang babi this year. Having not done it for quite a few years now, my skills are really rusty. They look kinda out of shape yes, the wrapping job looks shoddy and the tying shitty yes, and the shade of bunga telang blue isn’t even close to what I had intended. But I’m glad I’d gone through and am now done with it. For me, to be able to celebrate these traditional festivals stretches far more than just being ritualistic or observing old customs plainly and passively. It rekindles memories of wonderful moments I’d enjoyed when I was young, with my loved ones who are no longer with me now, and more importantly, it likens to be able to embrace and celebrate life itself!
There are some dishes which I cook over and over again for my daily meals. Some of these are purely out of simplicity, allowing the laziness in me to take over, so that I don’t have to think to much or fuss over what to have for a weekday lunch. But some of these dishes are revisited over and over again because of the memories they carry. Many of these are comfort foods, dishes which I’d been eating all these years since young when my mother was still around. And now that she is gone, these dishes invoke a profound sense of nostalgia，reminiscent of the times we’d spent together cooking, the sights and sounds, not forgetting smells from our small kitchen. Thankfully over the years of cooking together, I’d learnt from her and consolidated a small but decent repertoire of dishes which we’d prepared together and enjoyed tremendously, dishes which I cook over and over again, archiving the flavours and fueling memories…
The blog’s moving really slowly these days. In fact, I’d not blogged about anything for almost 2 weeks. Been kinda busy lately with quite a couple of things. First is of course to help Vonne and her family with their major move from Singapore to UK. That spanned over quite a number of days and it has been massive on many accounts. First is the number of things we’d needed to pack, which took us quite a while. Wouldn’t have been possible without the help of her good friends Linda and Cecilia. It is really through times when we are in need, that we see true friends indeed. Couldn’t have said it better. Then there is of course the emotional dimension of it. The initial stages were overwhelming with stress and anxiety if we could finish packing in time before the movers came and if there was enough cargo space to fit everything. And when everything’s finally loaded up onto the trucks, the feeling of the inevitable parting begins to hit hard. As the day draws nearer to the eventual departure, the sense of loss sets in. In fact, she and her family are leaving for UK today. I won’t be sending them off, for the sadness would have been too overwhelming. I’m not good at holding back emotions, and emotions it would seem too painful to bear. Its better off that way. But I’m going to miss Vonne and her family so much. Her lovely children Emily, Jasmine, James, Anabel and of course cute and chubby little Daniel. I pray that she and DQ would be blessed with a fresh start in UK. It would indeed be challenging for both of them. But there is also a promise of new opportunities and possibly new adventures for both of them and their family. It is not goodbye forever of course as we would definitely still be in touch. We’ll see her when we see her.
Ikan Pari Kuah Lada is a typical dish for everyday meals in a Peranakan household in Melaka and Singapore. It is essentially stingray cooked in a peppery sauce. The piquant flavours carried through the liberal use of white peppercorns and tamarind (asam jawa) makes the sauce (kuah) an excellent drizzling onto some piping hot steamed rice. Being spicy and tart at the same time makes it really moreish for more helpings of rice!
If every country has their own “national dish”, Kimchi must surely be Korea’s. This spicy pickled Napa cabbage is so immensely popular, it is almost synonymously linked to Korean food culture. Its versatility deems it not only good to be eaten on its own, but also cooked in a large variety of ways from soups like kimchi jijae or kimchiguk, to kimchi fried rice (kimchi bokkeumbap) as well as flavouring the base of hotpots like dubu kimchi jeongol. Its versatility also means that it is eaten is in practically every Korean meal, be it casual street food on the go where one would find kimchi pancakes (kimchijeon), to very formal royal meals like the Susarang. Even if it is not eaten on its own, the paste for making kimchi is used as a dipping sauce, from hotpots to live octopuses!
In Korea, kimchi comes in a large variety of forms. From the spicy version which evokes the liberal use of chilli pepper powder to the non-spicy and thus milder versions like the “water kimchi“. A large variety of ingredients are also used for pickling from white radish to cucumber but by far, the most popular and thus most common form of kimchi is made from Napa cabbage which the Koreans call baechu, giving rise 배추김치 Baechu-kimchi, that is Korean Cabbage Kimchi.
For many of us, 大長今 Daejanggeum was an important starting point and stepping stone into the world of Korean cuisine. It created a wave of sensation all over Asia and subsequently the whole world. Together with the rich cultural and historical context it provides, Daejanggeum brought Korean cuisine onto the international platform, allowing folks all over to get to know more about Korean food like kimchi and bimbimbap. It also brought the world into Korean cuisine, getting people curious and inquisitive to try “Hansik” (Korean food) for the very first time. Despite being highly dramatised, it was quite an eye-opener even for those who claim to already know “Hansik“. It was most certainly so for me. Several things intrigue me even till today, like the use of honey with dried fruits and nuts in cuisine, something relatively unheard of in the south. Until Daejanggeum came along that is.
The show also popularised the Korean cuisine all over the world, with Korean restaurants springing up in Singapore in quick successions following the show. Now we even have a “Korean food street” in Singapore, in the Tanjong Pagar area which is dotted with many Korean restaurants. Korean supermarkets also became in increasingly common sight with various chains operating in Singapore making it really convenient for those wanna try preparing Korean cuisine at home.
For me, Korean cuisine presents a world of extremes. It could be something as plain as a bowl of clear soup with beansprouts and tofu， yet at the same time, it could be something with far more “wow!” factor like swallowing live octopuses dipped in kimchi sauce or feasting on the unthinkably bizarre and exotic. This seeming clash dietary habits bewilder many but is perpetual not only in the culinary cultures in Korea and many others around the world.
I love oxtail for several reasons. The flavours from any meat off the bone is amazing, robust and rich. And what more with oxtail, it comes with lots of collagen! Oxtail is also a perfect cut for stewing, allowing the flavours to develop over prolonged periods of cooking, teasing out that essence of all the ingredients added. When I knew that there is an Indonesian oxtail soup called “Sup Buntut“, I knew I have to make it! And I’m glad I did… it was simply delish!
One of my earliest experience with Thai food is probably Pad Thai, together with the other quintessential “must-orders” for anyone venturing into Thai cuisine, like Tom Yum Goong and Pineapple Fried Rice. Every street hawker does Pad Thai a bit differently from the other. Slight nuances in the ingredients used, the proportion of condiments, even down to the sequence of adding the ingredients, e.g. when to crack the egg etc. could alter the taste and texture of the dish completely. But they are all quite delicious. Well, most of them are at least. To date, this popular street food which brings together three important ingredients commonly used in Thai cooking, i.e. palm sugar, tamarind pulp and fish sauce, remains one of my favorites, being sweet, sour and savory all at the same time.
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!
Comfort food is often what one truely yearns for when one gets home after a long day, It could be after laborious ploughing through streams of data and figures, in an almost hypnotic trance-like fashion in front of the computer hours at ends, and dinners made frugal. Or it can be after endless evenings of socialising, over martinis and cocktails amidst cosmetic conversations and superficial banter, and real food made little. When one finally gets home, and all that pomp and makeup shed off like a second skin, one can finally be oneself. That is when the cravings set in. It can be as simple as a classic Croque Monsieur with freshly toasted bread over old cheese and good ham, or a bowl of cereal with creamy full fat milk and crunchy homemade granola. Satisfying the insatiable, as one becomes overwhelmed by routine and the mundane, comfort food despite its simplicity, transcends and becomes a luxury.
For me, nothing can be more comforting than a bowl of freshly cooked noodles. Those who know my blog well would know that I feature noodle recipes to a great extent and often to great detail as well. From 炸酱面 to Mentaiko Pasta, from Spaghetti alla Bolognese quite long ago to Spaghetti alla Laksa Pesto most recently… in short, I’m a sucker for noodles in all forms, and quite literally so. For me, the sheer act of slurping strands of noodles, be it ramen, pasta, beehoon or kway teow is profoundly therapeutic. Slurping unleashes an avalanche of flavours into the mouth, setting forth a plenitude of palate profiles and aromas that stimulate one’s senses all at once. Slurping is considered part of good table etiquette in the Asian context, and most rightfully so. Surely it is one of the most resounding ways, and the least one can do as a display of appreciation for a good noodle experience.
I’m usually not a big fan of fusion food. Call me archaic but I prefer to keep the flavours of the dishes I prepare “clean” and true to their roots and origins. French is kept as French as possible while Chinese remains distinctively Chinese. Save for a few exceptions in pastry making, crossovers ain’t exactly my thing. That said, the devil’s advocate in me would sprout the occasional what ifs, curious what the dish would be like when it is totally taken out of context or juxtapose with another cooking genre. And of late, these previously occasional episodes of what ifs are beginning to haunt me more frequently.
Yet another lazy man’s pasta recipe to share and if I may say, a rather ad hoc one. That’s one thing I love about having pasta for meals. It really depends on what is available and what is good in my fridge. Linguiça is basically Portuguese spicy pork sausages. Heat comes from paprika used in its curing process and that I love. In some ways, it likens the Italian pepperoni but yet the flavours are quite distinctively different.
We used to have an eathern stove at home when I was young, fueled by charcoal that could be kept warm for hours, as the hardened chunks of ebony slowly wasted away to become a crumbly ivory, until all that’s left was a disintegrated heap of cinder and ash. But using it could be quite a hassle to use, especially to kickstart the burning. But me ain’t no boy scout, so it was usually my father who “did the honours” to get the fire started. Once started, it served for a myriad of purposes, i.e. toasting belachan (fermentted shrimp paste) to make sambal, maintaining a large pot of broth for steamboat refills, or simply transferring out the charcoal pieces from that stove into a longish rectangular metal trough which was used to prepare kueh belandah (nyonya egg rolls) for chinese new year . In fact, steamboats in the past where fueled by charcoal which were “preheated” using the earthern stove as well! While some of the uses of an earthen stove were somewhat ritualistic, others remained very practical, and for me, the most practical and personal favorite “use” of the earthern stove has to be cooking 煲仔鸡饭 Cantonese Claypot Chicken Rice!
Yet another rainy day… a macaron failure day. With eggs separated, some macaron action was in planning but had to be shelved. Previous experience tells me that macaron shells are more prone to failure on rainy days. Excess humidity in the air hinders the drying of the mac shells which would invariably cause them to erupt into small biscuit volcanoes during baking. Of course one can always dry the shells in an aircon room or in the oven itself, but me aint taking chances. Turned to making pasta instead, for a simple 一个人的午餐 on a rainy friday afternoon.
I love pasta! Incredibly easy as a one-meal dish and but yet, immensely gratifying!