This month’s Malaysian Food Fest features the local cuisine from Negeri Sembilan, which is known for their liberal use of chili, especially bird’s eye chili aka chili padi by the locals. Like all the other MFFs of other states, I am keen on the look out for unique dishes which are representative of that region. Negeri Sembilan was no exception. Through Wendy, I came across daun puding, commonly grown for ornamental plant for their beautfiul shades which the foliage manifest in, from mauve to maroon. Spent the whole month looking for it in Singapore but to no avail. Apparently not that common in Singapore. And just as this month’s event reaches its closing, I finally found a small patch of it within walking distance from where I reside. But I was kind skeptical as plant I saw did look kinda different from the others over the internet. Not wanting to risk having sakit perut or worse, cirit-birit I abandoned the idea of cooking rendang out of it. I settled for something less exotic, but no less delicious, Rendang Daging Rembau.
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.
Ikan Gerang Asam is one of my favorite Peranakan dishes. It is also amongst the first nyonya dishes that I’d learnt to cook and experimented with. The intermingling of tang and heat often calls for additional servings of rice just to finish up any remnants of kuah (gravy) and assortment of stewed vegetables that went with it, even when the fish was long gone. Often times, more kuah than what the dish required would be prepared, so as to add more fish or other seafood, as well as vegetables and fruit for second helpings the next day. As with most stew or curry-based dishes, the flavours develop over time making it more sedap nia!!!