Last month was the seventh month in Lunar calendar and we prepared food for our beloved grandmother to celebrate her passing and living. We always prepare food she loved when she was still around. Mother always cooks vegetarian food, as she requested that when she was around. That day we made taro fritters, vegetarian curry, stir-fry vegetables and vermicelli stir-fry. The food was prepared in the morning and arranged nicely on the altar. We would then lit incense on the altar. During lunch time, the food is enjoyed by her children and grandchildren.
I love fritters. I think once I have more time, I would experiment with any food ingredients that might be made into fritters. The taro fritters (or u-yen) is well loved in our family. My mother loves it. My aunties love it. My grandmother loved it. I love it. It is easy and simple to prepare. Grated taro is combined with tapioca starch and seasoned with a bit of sugar and salt. Water is a very important ingredient, as it helps cooking the taro faster when deep-fried. Once it is made, the dough doesn’t need to be fried all at once. It keeps quite well in the fridge for a couple of days. You shape the dough into round balls when the oil is heated well enough and ready to be fried.
This is also sold in the street as afternoon snacks. The Chinese ladies in our city just love this.
Life has been awfully hectic for the past couple of weeks. With the long Muslim New Year holiday drawing near, we rushed to complete outstanding orders and ongoing projects ready for deadline and inspections. I have never had such a long holiday in my entire adult life, it has always been work, work and more work, as I used to operate a big bakery and we adopt the KFC and Mc Donald’s culture, we open 365 days a year, as long as people still need to be fed.
This is a great holiday, with not much to do outside kitchen work. My sister and her family are home for the break. With two little children, two dogs and my parents and brother, there are endless dishes to be done, from the moment one’s eyes open till they are ready to close. I was very close to labeling our drinking glasses. And serving food in disposable plates. But it was an amazing week. Rarely we have people in the house, and my parents are just thrilled with the grandchildren running around the house.
The obsession with Penang cuisine continues in this blog. The close proximity of the city to Penang has resulted in some dishes heavily influenced by the beautiful cuisine of Penang. We have laksa asam too. Not very similar, but close enough.
Spices are grounded and cooked with fish stock. Ginger torch buds (bunga kencong / bunga kantan) are one of the main ingredients, as well daun laksa (Vietnamese mint) and shrimp paste. The whole thing is slowly simmered and served with white udon-like fat noodles. The condiments are sliced chilies, shallots, pineapples, fish flakes and mint leaves. And we have a secret ingredient too. Read on, please.
Spices to be grounded are chili, shallot and turmeric.
Blend them till fine in an electric blender, or mortar and pestle.
We know no sourdough bread, we don’t know any French-style baguette. We do know how to make delicious, sweet and airy buns filled with freshly grated coconut. Step into any local bakeries in the country and ask for coconut sweet bun, seller will tell you that it is the most popular item in any bakeries. Especially my home town, they bake beautiful coconut buns. Serious stuff. People buy them by the hundreds sometimes, since they are sweet, cheap and not very filling. They are easy to make at home, if you have a bit of time in hand. I prepared the filling with some pandan leaves to infuse the coconut with a bit of vanilla hint.
The high sugar content makes the buns very soft and pillowy. The sugar from the dough makes the bread soft and browns easily, which shorten the baking time. Sugar content from the coconut mixture makes the filling moist and sweet. This is the type of bread that bakeries sell and what the masses loves. They are quick to make since proofing time is short and baking time is even shorter, light and they just fly off the shelves. Bakeries are actually rated from the quality of their coconut sweet buns, also known as roti kelapa.
South East Asia is rich of strange fruits. We enjoy funny tasting fruit. Snake fruit, mangosteen, sawo and durian to name a few. These are all tropical fruits, that might be found in tropical countries only. You would love them but you can also hate them. If you have these in the country of origins, most probably they would taste like the way they are supposed to. But when they have been shipped thousands of miles away, they might not be their best, or even rotten. And for the unknowing, you might immediately think that is the rotten taste is the real taste. I read in a foodblog how someone bought snake fruit in Europe and, of course, they are pretty rotten. The beautiful fruit then got labelled ‘inedible for human consumption’. That is pretty sad.
Snake fruit is what we call salak. Obviously the skin is just like snake skin, with scales and thorns. When you peel off the skin, starting from the pointy part on top of the oval-ish fruit, you will see a plump (or two or three) creamy color fruit. The plain white ones are usually sweet, but sometimes they could be very tangy too. When you get the reddish color fruit, it would be very tart. The tartness would make you regret you’d ever taken a bite. It is not easy to spot sweet salak. If you buy 10 salak, most of the time you’d only get 2 sweet ones.
Our grandmother used to pickle the tart salak fruits. Using a very simple pickling technique, every each one of the salak fruits can be enjoyed. The fresh fruit is very crunchy, like crunchiness of an apple. When pickled, it is soft and tender.
The fruit is blanched with hot water to soften it and makes it able to absorb seasoning added and pickled by using fruit seasoning salt (bumbu semboi).
The following step by step pictures may come to be a bit strange, but I actually met a lot of people who have never seen nor peel it. So here they come.
Do not wash the fruit. You should peel the fruit with dry hands too. Start peeling from the tip of the fruit using your finger and pull the skin down.
August is always a festive month. It is our nation’s independence day. It also coincides with the 8th month of Chinese calendar. Many weddings and business openings because it is considered an auspicious month. Since the Ramadhan fasting month is also in August this year, work has been quite slow and I am taking it easy by staying home most mornings. Mother has made us promised not to eat meat for the whole August, mainly for being grateful that we have passed the tough four months in our family business. Before the vegetarian month started, I managed to squeeze this dish right on the last day.
We love a good steamed chicken rice at home. A lot of work goes into the cooking, but what’s new? When you are cooking for people you love, I don’t think anybody would mind a bit of extra work. There are many version of soy sauce-based steamed chicken rice around and this is just one of them. Famously known as ‘Nasi Tim Ayam‘, it is sold at traditional Chinese eateries. The halal version is to omit the pork.
The rice is steamed and cooked with other ingredients in an individual serving size bowl. Serve with lots of fresh coriander leaves and pickled cucumber. I can have two bowls of these. The rice is so flavorful and gooey and rich. Three steps are involved in the preparation. Getting the rice ready, cooking the meat and steaming the rice and meat using chicken broth.
Soak rice for an hour or so to hydrate the grains.