Just a quick post to share with all of you a recipe which I’d cooked for lunch today, and incidentally, a dish which I enjoy very much as a child, Chili with Taucheo Stingray. It is a very quick dish to prepare and doesn’t require complicated rempah making. Yet the flavours are so robust and refreshing, excellent to go with rice or Teochew porridge!
This is one of my favorite dishes to cook. The sauce is so flavourful, one would probably find it too salty to be eaten on its own. But I can down two plates of rice just with it and nothing else. It is usually cooked with regular tamarind, but when the belimbing trees are fruiting wildly in my estate, we turn to these sourish morsels instead for the job, for a salivating-worthy plate of Babi Asam Belimbing.
Chap Chye is a quintessential dish for anyone who takes an interest in Peranakan food to learn to cook . It has its roots in Chinese cuisine of course but has since become deeply ingrained and naturalised into the Straits Chinese way of cooking. For us, Chap Chye is a dish which never fail to make its appearance on the dining table whenever we celebrate a major festival at my Grandma’s. Like I’d mentioned before, this dish together with kari ayam and ngoh hiang are hailed as the “holy trinity” which reminds me much of my grandma’s cooking even until today. It is her speciality, which she faithfully prepared the day before, in full knowing that the dish takes a good overnight rest for the flavours to develop and mature. Traditionally, chap chye is a must whenever there is ancestral prayers, alongside other dishes like pongteh but as the generations evolved, the rule for chap chye as a laok semayang has relaxed over time as it is now commonly enjoyed even over simple family dinners.
2015 has really been a trying year for us. My dad had undergone a major surgery just last weekend and is now recuperating in hospital. Thankfully, everything went on smoothly as for now, and he is recovering slowly, but surely. The sheer ordeal of going through the last couple of months of chemo and radiotherapy with him was really challenging to say the least. My family had just “bukak tua har” as well, coming out of the three year mourning period since the demise of my beloved mother 4 years back and we are trying to cope with our lives without her, revisiting the usual traditional practices, like “golek kueh ee” during tang chek at the end of last year, and semayang tee kong during the Chinese New Year period, albeit keeping things simpler and less elaborated. It is afterall the thought that counts… I
think hope. Tomorrow is 端午节 duanwu festival aka dragon boat festival or what is known as “bulan lima lima ari” to the Peranakans. I had planned to “ikat kueh chang” nearer the date for more than a month, something which I had not done for quite a few years already, since there is a patang against doing so when one is mourning. Alas my dad’s operation came right before the preparation period and that basically threw everything off course. But as my dad’s condition stabilised and is getting better, I pushed on ahead with my plans to ikat kueh chang nonetheless, grabbing ingredients and materials on a very last minute basis and slogged the night before preparing the ingredients and frying the filling, to be used the next day for making the dumplings. So here is a quick photo log of the making of my kueh chang babi this year. Having not done it for quite a few years now, my skills are really rusty. They look kinda out of shape yes, the wrapping job looks shoddy and the tying shitty yes, and the shade of bunga telang blue isn’t even close to what I had intended. But I’m glad I’d gone through and am now done with it. For me, to be able to celebrate these traditional festivals stretches far more than just being ritualistic or observing old customs plainly and passively. It rekindles memories of wonderful moments I’d enjoyed when I was young, with my loved ones who are no longer with me now, and more importantly, it likens to be able to embrace and celebrate life itself!
I bought quite a bit of bamboo shoots, tau kwa and shrimp the other day for making the filling for Kueh Pie Tee and thus the perfect opportunity to make one of my favorite soups, Pong Tauhu. Peranakan cuisine is known for its rich flavours, be it spicy, sourish, savory or sweet but once a while, we come across a gem like Pong Tauhu whose flavours and presentation perpetuate simplicity and bliss. Unlike the Loak Mejah Panjang dishes, i.e. food cooked for a Tok Panjang like Hee Pio Soup, Pong Tauhu uses far less ingredients and requires less time to prepare. This lovely soup which bears the essence of Peranakan daily home cooking is nonetheless flavorful and gratifying.
In the past when my maternal grandma was still around, there were some dishes that made rather frequent appearances on the dinner table during family gatherings and Chinese New Year meals. Ngoh Hiang (Chinese five-spice pork and prawn rolls) is an absolute must, and preparation usually started days before, given the number of dishes she has to whip up on the event itself. My grandma modified the conventional style of making ngoh hiang and made them rather petite, each about 2 inches in length, almost bitesize to be gobbled up in quick sucessions. I remember how my cousins and I would sneak into the kitchen as the unmistakable aroma of ngoh hiang frying permeated the house, to grab a piece or two when they were freshly out of the oil wok, even if it meant to risk scalding our tongue and palate, and a probable spanking and tongue lashing from our mothers who were helping out with the feast, for being “ill-mannered” as our misbehaviour were referenced with beggars’!
Then there was always a gigantic pot of kari ayam, quintessential to all meals at my grandma’s. It was very very lemak, just the way I love it, and full of kentang which were two of my cousins’ favorites! Together with it was a large rice-cooker which was never empty, an assuring sign that there is always food in the house no matter what time whomever visited. Finally of course, there is an equally large pot of chap chye, cooked the day before to allow the flavours to fully develop overnight. There would be other dishes on the table of course, like Udang Masak Kicap, Tau Yew Bak (braised pork belly in rich soya sauce), or Hee Peow Tng (fish maw soup) on the stove but the trinity of Ngoh Hiang, Kari Ayam and Chap Chye was always there with their unfailing presence. Though the spread was simple, it was the very essence of traditional home-style cooking which kept everyone well fueled and watered, which in turn kept my grandma happy, knowing that her dishes are thoroughly enjoyed by her children and grandchildren!