I love watching cooking shows on TV when I was young. Apart from learning through observing my grandmother, mother and aunties cook and helping them in the kitchen, part of what I know on traditional cooking came from these wonderfully made TV programmes, especially those on Channel 12 which later became Art Central. That was way before the time of reality cooking shows like Masterchef where drama seems to take centrestage instead of the food. And it was easily 10-15 years ago as even Arts Central has now become part of history to make way for “Okto”. That was when my TV watching days were over.
Almost 10 years ago, there was a series of TV programmes featuring Peranakan culture and cuisine. Most memorable were “The Ways of the Matriarch”, “The Cook, His Food and the Dishy Nyonyas” as well as “On the Trail of the Phoenix”. It is the last after which the Peranakan dishes presented in this blog were named as It was through these TV programmes that I’d learnt much about the intricacies of Straits Chinese cuisine and its preparation. One of the most impressionable dishes being showcased was Apom Berkuah, I remembered vividly the contrasting swirls of blue from juice extracted from bunga telang against the ivory colored fluffy rice cakes. After all these years, I’d finally gotten a chance to make them myself. Truly sedap!
Kuih Kosui are little steamed rice cakes with a fudge-like texture, characterised by the wonderful aroma and flavours of gula melaka. I’d made these together with Onde Onde last weekend because they share a common final procedure, i.e. to be rolled in grated coconut before serving. Moreover, both are rather easy and require little time to prepare. And of course, both include the liberal use of gula melaka, one of my favorite ingredients in the pantry.
When we were young, my family lived in a “two-room” rented flat at Jalan Tentaram just off the PIE along Jalan Toa Payoh. It was a very small apartment, and ironic it might sound, there was only one bedroom and that meant my sister and I had to sleep on a very thin foam mattress on the living room floor every night. My parents were blue-collared workers and despite being poor, we were happy. My mother doted on us and although she wasn’t earning much, she regularly bought toys for us, even if it meant cutting back on her own expenses. One thing I particularly looked forward to when we were young, was to visit Toa Payoh Central to borrow books at the community library and a dinner out, usually at the now defunct hawker centre located in between the cinema and HDB office, where I would invariably request for the same thing from the same stall on every visit, char kway teow. On our way back home, we would stop by a confectionery for some bread for supper later into the night or breakfast next morning. As an occasional treat, my mother would indulge in kuih muih, as she had a weakness for anything made with “santan” and pandan. Lapis sagu was clearly one of her favorites.