“What is a chuchi mulot?” , a common question I get from friends who see me use the phrase over and over again on Facebook, especially recently with all the desserts like “Sago Gula Malacca“, “Pengat Pisang” and “Bika Ambon” I’d been making. “Chuchi mulot” is the way “cuci mulut” is written in Baba Malay，with the latter term to literally mean “mouthwash” in standard Bahasa Melayu. This is probably the equivalent of the western concept of a “palate cleanser” in haute cuisine, though chuchi mulots are customarily served at the end of a meal, or as a tea-time snack on their own.
What constitutes a good chuchi mulot then? For me, it has to have several things. Firstly, it must bear contrast to the dishes served earlier in the meal, both in texture and flavour, often the now-sweetness against the then-savory, or the cooling to soothe and tame the earlier spice and heat. Secondly, the components in a chuchi mulot, ideally should also show distinctive variance amongst one another, being multi-dimensional, flavours layered, each building upon the other. Yet despite the seeming differentiation, the chuchi mulot should remain concerted as a harmonious conglomeration, bringing the meal to a resounding finale. Seemingly difficult to achieve, there are many a chuchi mulots within the vast repertoire of Peranakan desserts and kuehs that do precisely as I’d described, when carefully executed and finely made that is. Kueh Sarlat is one such fine example. And as if it is not exciting and enriching enough as it is, Kueh Sarlat Durian, with the twist of the much-loved tropical fruit incorporated, takes it up a notch and brings the chuchi mulot to the next level.
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 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.
Ondeh Ondeh is a traditional “kueh” which many of us grew up snacking. I remember first having it in primary school during recess time at the school canteen which we called “tuckshop” then. The “makan melayu” food stall, operated by an old Malay couple sold mainly local Malay delights like nasi lemak and lotong. But my eyes are always glued to the assortment of homemade”kuih muih” in psychedelic colours, almost a dozen of varieties that rotated down the week, with 2-3 types available daily. Most of my classmates and friends love to buy their kueh lapis beras, and for obvious reasons. They would peel and eat them by the layer, just like what we would do at home with my mum and sister. While I love to eat their kuehs, it was more of an indulgence rather than a necessity, given the limited amount of pocket money we had. But I’d always looked forward to the day when mee rebus was on the “Special of the Day” menu, because I know that one of my favorite kuehs would also be available, and that is of course, ondeh ondeh.
八宝粥, literally to mean “Eight Treasures Porridge” is a traditional congee concoction enjoyed on 腊月初八 the 8th day of the 12th month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, hence giving rise to its other name, 腊八粥. Having it roots in Buddhism, the history of this dish can be traced back more than 2200 years back to the Han dynasty when it was generally used as part of prayer offerings and not consumed. Interestingly during the Song dynasty more than 800 years ago , the folks then began enjoying this porridge for themselves, causing it to evolve and change to reflect the culinary characteristics of each period in history, as well as in accordance to personal taste and liking.
Nasi Dagang, i.e. Trader’s Rice is a very common breakfast fanfare enjoyed by the masses along the eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula, especially in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu. It uses a mixture of white rice (beras wangi) which is first soaked and subsequently steamed with glutinous rice (pulut) with coconut milk added for its wonderful aroma and flavour. This likens another popular breakfast dish, Nasi Lemak over here in Singapore. However, instead of pandan leaves, sliced shallots (bawang merah) and fenugreek (halba) are added. This concoction seems to be the preferred combination for many dishes, as we’d seen in Pulut Lepa and Ketupat Sotong. As we have seen in several dishes from Terengganu, fish is a staple amongst the folks from this region, and Nasi Dagang is no exception. It is eaten with Gulai Ikan Tongkol, a spicy fish red curry cooked with tuna and a hoard of spices as well as buah belimbing, one of my favorite ingredients I love to use in Straits cooking. And this month’s Malaysian Food Fest seem like a timely affair to visit and pay tribute to this time-honoured dish.
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.