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…)
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 have access to a couple of buah belimbing trees in my vicinity and they fruit in abundance all year round. When I was discussing with Wendy on what to cook for Malaysia Food Fest Pahang, I requested her to find me a dish which makes use of these little wonderfully sour torpedoes. My first dish for MFF Pahang, is a recipe I knew I would like. When Wendy was telling me about it after she prepared the dish, way before this month’s event commenced, I knew I would love to try it. Not only because the recipe is incredibly simple to follow, but more importantly, the flavours are exactly what I crave for! Spicy, sour and savoury!
As far as I remembered, vegetables have always been part of our staples over the dinner table for almost every meal. My mother made it a point to incorporate vegetables whenever she can in our meals since young, very simple dishes like garlic stir-fry of sawi greens, or a spinach with ikan bilis soup, and of course cabbage in our all-time favorite, 高丽菜饭 gor leh cai png, i.e. one-pot cabbage rice. The spread of vegetables were usually our local fanfare of 菜心 choy sum, 苋菜 bayam and 小白菜 bak choy. Carrots were expensive then, far and few between and broccoli was virtually unheard of until I was much older. Despite being one of her favorites, my mum avoided cooking 空心菜 kangkong as it was deemed too “cooling” for our young constitutions, much like how she would enjoy braised chicken feet in 凤爪面 Fung Zao Meen on her own but sternly forbade us from eating itas it is believed that children who ate chicken feet would develop jerky and wobbly limbs, resulting in ugly handwriting! But I’m glad that years later, I’d inherited her love for local fanfare which we enjoyed together, kangkong and braised chicken feet amongst other things.
Cangkok Manis is a vegetable which appeared infrequently in our meals.It usually manifests as an egg drop soup, with minced pork balls and ikan bilis, finished off with an off-flame swirling of a beaten egg. Truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy it when I was a boy, despite being told how dark green vegetables are beneficial to us. Its taste cannot be more different from what its name depicts, leaving a slightly bitter aftertaste in the mouth. I much preferred the version with bayam! So with much discouragement and negative feedback from us, the appearance of this soup from our dining table grew infrequent and disappeared altogether as we grew older. Now that my mother is no longer with us, how I wish I could taste her version of this soup again…