I don’t usually celebrate Thanksgiving. Was chatting with a good friend, Catherine on Tuesday about pineapples (yes, not the kinda thing you taught to your good friends about I know) and we went on talking about Thanksgiving two days later (which is today by the way!). Wanting to feel a bit more festive, I decide to deck out some of my Le Creuset dutch ovens for a simple Asian-themed Thanksgiving lunch!
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…
Mention squid ink infused food and Mediterranean dishes like the Venetian Pasta al Nero di Seppia from Italy or the Catalan-Valencian Arròs negre from Spain immediate comes to mind for many of us. Lesser known to most is Sotong Masak Hitam, a classic dish from Malay cuisine which also celebrates the use of squid ink which lends the dish its dramatic appeal and subtle flavours of the sea. This dish is also a favorite amongst many Peranakans who spell it as “Sotong Masak Itam” instead, though like Rendang, remains a peripheral and never really properly assimilated into Baba-Nyonya cuisine proper. Not by definition of Straits Chinese cooking for most at least. It is nonetheless enjoyed by many, Malays, Peranakans and even Chinese alike, for its piquant flavours make this dish all the more moreish.
My dad bought home another loaf of roti peranchis aka “jiam tao lor dee” thinking that there would still be leftovers of the delicious kari ayam cooked from Madam Goh Kim Gek’s wonderful recipe. Well, there was probably like 2-3 pieces of potato, a few morsels of chicken and barely half a bowl of kuah left. Yes most of it has been savoured and devoured over the first loaf, not to mention the bee hoon puteh goreng which he cooked himself for dinner the night before to enjoy together with the curry chicken. If only I’d cooked a bigger pot. I promised him I’ll do so next time as he enjoyed the kari ayam tremendously. What to do with the leftover roti peranchis then? Good to make some Roti John with it!
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.
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.
When we were in Tokyo for the first time back in 2009, everything was literally a culture shock for us, despite having prepped up for it a couple of months before that with internet research and guidebook reading. Although both being very built-up Asian cities with a strong urban infrastructure, Singapore and Tokyo are vastly different. So almost everything was interesting, intriguing, puzzling to the point of being bewildering. This perpetuated through every aspect of our brief glimpse into the lives of the Tokyo people. It starts with the morning mad rush at JR Shinjuku station, where everyone moved with such fast pace in a concerted clock-work fashion, yet with immensely high levels of artistry and rapport no one knocks into each other. Yet the peak hour trains are so jam packed, the train companies need to call upon a special “task force” employed specifically to nudge and push passengers onto the trains to make sure that everyone gets to work on time. This is when being squished and squashed, jostled and pushed is inevitable! There are times when the trains are so congested it seems like in comparison, sardines in a can could breathe better! A world of ironies…
Yet at night Shinjuku transforms into a totally different world, a complete paradigm shift and reveals its Mr Hyde. Along the streets of Kabukicho, Ni-chome and San-chome lie every thinkable ounce of carnal pleasure and worldly decadence. Sex shops, pornography parlours, izakayas, nightclubs, gay bars, sleazy saunas… bearing strong and powerful juxtaposition to the buddhist temples and shinto shrines we’d visited in the daytime.
The food culture in Tokyo was also quite intriguing. We are accustomed to buying canned drinks and occasionally packets of snacks or snicker bars from vending machines over here. Yet in Japan, practically everything, from a fresh organically grown apple, to a hentai soiled panty could be peddled in vending machines! More commonly, vending machines in Tokyo serve a greater purpose. One could order a meal through vending machines placed outside an F&B establishment, and customise everything in accordance to one’s preference from adding of toppings on a ramen, ordering an additional side dish, to upgrading a miso jiru to a ton jiru that goes with the 牛丼 Gyudon. This saves the hassle of the already busy shop staff who could now concentrate on handling the food and not the money!
This month’s MFF brings us to Sabah, the Land Below the Wind. Admittedly, I do not know anything about Sabah nor its culinary heritage. So I guess its going to be a month of “copycating” around. While searching for over the internet for interesting Sabahan dishes to prepare, I came across Hinava, a raw fish salad made with few other items, and mostly readily available at hand. It seems that simplicity in ingredients and technique is an ideology perpetuated in Sabahan cuisine. While some may dub it as being primitive and unsophisticated, I choose to think that the minimalistic approach actually maximises the experience of the true flavours of each ingredient. Less is more.
A very no-frills meal to prepare at home when I run out of ideas to cook. The preparation + cooking time is about 30 min!
Ingredients are very simple too!
(1) Pasta elbows aka “macaroni” in this part of the world we live in. The amount can be varied according to the size of the baking dish, one’s dietary needs and most importantly, one’s appetite!