煮炒 “tze char“ is a very common culinary concept in this part of Asia. Analogous to the makeshift stir fry and noodle stalls in Bangkok and 大排档 Dai Pai Tung in Hong Kong, the term “tze char” is a kind of street food culture unique to Singapore and Malaysia. In Singapore, the popularity of “tze char” rose gradually after the post-war years and thrived all the way up to the 1980s when these pushcart stalls could be seen in practically most living quarters as well as areas known for night entertainment like amusement parks and cinemas. With the popularising of “HDBs”, these makeshift “tze char” stall owners abandoned their practice to deck out foldable formica-plastered tables and wooden chairs for al fresco dining every evening, and of course the need to brave through bad weather, pit their wits and avoid harassment from the “teh gu” 地牛, a colloquial term for government officers in charge of raiding illegal street hawkers, not to mention the collection of “protection money” from triads who were “in charged” of the “turfs” the stalls were located in. They made their way into the heartlands, and became “anchor tenants” of kopitiams while some of their names grew so big, like 肥仔荣 Fatty Weng and 香港珍记 Hong Kong Chun Kee that they were able to own the entire coffeeshops for themselves, while others went on to open their own restaurants. Depending on the culinary background of the 总铺 chong po or head cooks, one could order a wide range of dishes representative of different dialectal communities from these “tze char” stalls, from the more standard dishes like pai guat wong 排骨王, frog legs with ginger and scallion stir-fry 姜葱田鸡腿, braised fish head 红烧鱼头 for communal family dinner eat-outs, or opt for takeaways of one-dish meals like mui fun 烩饭, yuet kwong hor 月光河, fried rice vermicelli “Singapore style” 新州炒米, and of course my favorite 煮炒福建面 Tze Char Hokkien Mee.
Pastas are my absolute “to-go-tos” whenever I need a quick lunch. I think that is the same for many of us. I love doing Asian fusion pastas, incorporating elements of the traditional Asian cooking into the traditional Italian dish. But once in a while, I like to go back to the neopolitan classics and whip up simple recipes of cabonara, alfredo, ragu etc. The simplest of them all must surely be the Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. So fast to prepare and accompanied with fresh seafood which takes just seconds to cook, it makes probably the most gratifying meal cooked in less than 15 minutes!
Mention Singapore hawker fare and many familiar dishes come to mind. Char Kway Teow, Chye Tow Kueh, Laksa, Bak Chor Mee are just some of the familiar favorites which any true blue Singaporean would be more than glad to indulge in whenever the opportunity avails. A dish which I truly love and enjoy immensely is Char Hae Mee, which is also known as Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodles. And here is my humble attempt to recreate this much-loved noodle dish at home.
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.
July comes almost to end and with that the MFF Selangor Food Fest as well. This month, I’d managed to recreate 3 dishes from Selangor, the most I’d done to date for any MFF month I think, save for the inauguration of this monthly online “cook-along” event with Melaka last August. Klang Bak Kut Teh was a personal challenge I’d set for myself while Sekinchan Shark Porridge was through the initiation by Wendy, and Hakka Pan Mee was simply because it is so immensely popular that every other food blogger taking part this month seems to have cooked it and it is almost sacrilegious not to follow suit! With just 2 days left, I’d managed to squeeze some time to whip up another simple but splendidly delicious dish from the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, Fried Hokkien Mee which is incidentally also a dish that reminds me much of my childhood.
The Taiwanese know their Japanese food really well. Yes you heard me right. Apart from Tokyo or Osaka, most if not all of my best Japanese meals were in Taipei. The Taiwanese are such “nipponophiles” (if there is ever such a word) that they have achieved a certain of specialisation, be it the traditional art of mochi, sushi or oden making, to replicating the concept of Japanese bakeries and boulangeries in their entirety.
But the Taiwanese are far from being mere copycats. The island nation being subjected to Japanese colonial rule for the longest time outside Japan itself, allowed an almost complete inheritance of not merely the superficial but in-depth transposition of cultural practices. Needless to say, this bore an ingrained effect on their culinary and dietary profile as well. During our last trip to Taipei, we’d visited 肥前屋 Unadon Speciality Shop. It is a small restaurant, complete with wooden sliding doors for that authentic rustic feel, most known for their unadon, also known as unagi don, which is short for “unagi kabayaki donburi”. The best unadons we’d seen were probably in Kyoto. But the rendition served up in this little deli in the heart of Taipei is pretty wicked as well, but only for a fraction of the price.
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.
Sushi Supper from Sushi Deli @ Cold Storage Centrepoint.
Promotion after 8 pm! Couldn’t resist a late night snack at the risk of getting a tummyache from lacking-in-freshness sushi!
Pardon the fudgly looking towel backdrop! Just wanna get the photos over and done with,and dig in!