Apom Berkuah is one of my favorite kuehs and I try to make it whenever time avails. Despite being a Peranakan signature “cuchi mulot“, I believe that it has its roots in Indonesian cuisine where it is known by another name Kue Serabi, and variations likening surabi or srabi. Even amongst Peranakan communities in Singapore, Malacca and Penang, the pronunciation also differ slightly from Apom Berkuah, to Apom Bokwa and Apom Bengkua. To the Malays from Kedah, Malacca and Sabah, it is called “Kuih Serabai“，with a slightly phonological shift in the terminal syllable, where it transits to become a diphthong in place of the short monophthongal vowel, a linguistic nuance we commonly observe across many Bahasa Melayu to Baba Patois lexicographical pairs. The word “Apom” which was derived from “appam“, a south Indian pancake popular in Kerala and Tamilnadu, is sometimes spelt as “apong” instead. Despite the numerous names, one thing remains the same for this kueh, and that is how delicious they are! So let’s see how we make them!
Peranakan cooking is often thought to be complicated, elaborated, time-consuming and difficult to learn. Well, this is what many people think and some, expound or expect others to think. Yes there are indeed dishes in straits chinese cooking that have long ingredient lists and/or require more time to prepare and cook than others. But that is also true for most other cuisines which I know of. So the concept of the cuisine being “complex” and troublesome is to me much of a fallacy, perhaps used to instill some sense of apprehension or anxiety to newbies and the unwary, those who are approaching it for the first time. But this is often what I hear others describe Peranakan cooking to be. Sadly so, because in order to lead one to better appreciate the cuisine and hence the colourful culture underlying it, the last thing one wishes to hear is how intimidating and unapproachable it is. How should one embrace something which is so unachievable and intangible? So that the preparation of Peranakan dishes be left only to the exclusive who have inherited their ways of making from the grandmothers and bibiks of the faded past? It is a perpetuated thought by some that only through so, would the dishes remain “authentic”? Well， I choose to think otherwise…
There are a lot of simple dishes in Peranakan cooking, many which require much less time and effort to prepare than what had been described as being atrociously difficult. These would include dishes like kangkong masak lemak, ikan tempra, pong tauhu, udang masak nenas etc. Many of these simple dishes are cooked on a daily basis, and not just for the much-revered Tok Panjang. Afterall, how often does one hosts or attend a Tok Panjang at home? But surely one’s gotta eat everyday yeah? In fact, the ability to cook with ease, a table of dishes what may impress upon others to be difficult and painstakingly prepared, is what many would hope for. Minimal efforts to reap maximal sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Now that, is a true blue bibik’s secret if you ask me…
For anyone who is studying or familiar with the modern history of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman is a man who needs no introduction. Born into the royal family of the Kedah Sultanate, he became Malaysia’s first Prime Minister on 31st August 1957, when Malaya gained independence from the British colonial rule. The words “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” still resonate and resound in the hearts of many older Malaysians who witnessed that historical moment, on the same day as today 56 years ago,
An interesting but lesser known trait of Tunku Abdul Rahman, is his passion for food. A true blue foodie of his time, Bapa Malaysia (Father of Malaysia) as he is fondly known as loved cooking as much as he loved eating. Tunku Abdul Rahman’s repertoire of signature dishes which he loves to eat and whip up for his dinner guests is far more extensive than what one would have imagined for a man of his time. Apart from traditional Northern Malaysian cuisine from Kedah where he was born and raised, he is equally at ease Thai dishes, possibly prepared and taught to him by his Thai mother. His studies at Cambridge University, UK in his younger days also exposed him to traditional British cooking where he learnt his “famous Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding”, a weekly staple on the dinner table at home . He is said to have particular fondness for Cantonese dishes as well! So here on Malaysia’s Hari Merdeka (Independence Day). I share with all of you one of the dishes featured in a cookbook compiled and collated by his niece, “Favourite Dishes From The Tunku’s Kitchen“. One of the more interesting recipes I’d read in this cookbook has to be his favorite Otak Otak.
The last installment of Malaysia Food Fest (MFF) brings us to Perak and it is just in time for Eid al-Fitr. After a long month of Ramadan, it is time for our Muslim friends to break fast and celebrate during what is more commonly known as “Hari Raya Puasa” over here in Malaysia and Singapore. One of the absolute must-haves for Hari Raya celebration is a spicy beef stew which originated from Indonesia called “Rendang“. I’d cooked Rendang Daging Rembau earlier this year for Negeri Sembilan but rendang cooking has a long withstanding tradition in Malaysia and has since evolved and developed so many varieties, with almost every state having their own unique variation. So it comes as no surprise that Perak too has its own “special” rendang and rightfully so as it is very famous, enjoyed by not only the Perakians but also visitors to the state. “Rendang Tok” as it is known, with “Tok” to mean royalty, this delicious rendang is literally food befitting the kings!
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.
One of the highlights of Straits Chinese cuisine is the wide selection of little bite-size steamed sweetcakes known as “kueh“, and like many other signature dishes in peranakan cooking, many of these kuehs are heavily “borrowed” from the culinary heritage of other ethnicities within the region, nyonya kueh is no exception. While Kueh Angku is uniquely chinese, others like rempah udang, pulut inti and seri muka have distinct roots in Malay and Indonesian cuisine. Some of them, like pineapple tarts have become fully adapted and so immensely popular as a nyonya delight that one would have easily forgotten their true origins.
Apom balik is a popular snack in many Asian cultures. And it comes in so many forms, shapes and sizes. Malays make a crispy and paperthin version no more than 6 inches wide, filled with shredded coconut cooked in gula merah, or chopped peanuts with granulated sugar. Chinese folks call them 面浆粿 ban chiang kueh or min chiang kueh depending on the dialectal origins, and make them lebih besar, using pans sometimes as wide as 2 feet in diameter! The folded pancake can be filled with a paste with chunky peanut butter-like consistency, or another chinese favorite, red bean paste. In recent years, we also see a version containing cheese! Whichever the version might be, I enjoy them all, especially for breakfast, to go with a warm glass of soya bean milk or teh tarik! But the version that remains close to my heart is nyonya apom balik, something which I’d enjoyed very infrequently as a childhood treat. It is the one traditional kueh which was most neglected, but not entirely forgotten as I still crave for them til today.
The warm drafts of heat that overwhelms one has reached a point of becoming unbearable. Its almost impossible to be outdoors without breaking out in sweat, which at times can escalate levels of discomfort that makes surviving each dawn til dusk under such a turmoil a daily miracle. On a lighter and more positive note, not all about the heat is bad. Summer is the time for sunshine, blue clear waters, sandy beaches and bikini babes. But my mind is set on a different “catch”. The scorching months of late May to September bring with them a plethora of fruits, i.e. mangoes in all sorts of varieties, stone fruits of every thinkable species, but most importantly, it is the durian season again!