Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Fabulous Flavour of a Furtive Flower and Fire

This is a homemade treat that I have yet try anywhere else. The entire dish is made from scratch, including the curry base which is made from a flamboyance of fresh ingredients including large red chilies, shallots and turmeric. There is one magic ingredient which provides that distinctive non-replicable flavour and it is something that has always been shrouded in mystery. I know that my mother procures it from Malaysia and cannot seem to find it anywhere else, and I know that it is a flower. It looks like a banana flower, but it isn't. It’s like an untrimmed bamboo shoot, but not. And my mother always referred to it simply as 'that flower' so I have unfortunately yet to be initiated into the wonders of the Pineapple Curry Club nor made privy to their savoury secrets.

What I can tell you, though, is that this curry is always a delight to eat. It is so wonderfully light and fresh but packs a payload of flavour with a good hot kick to boot. My mum sometimes crafts this with king prawns instead of poultry. Either way, I have no problem polishing off a plate full of the stuff. The sweet and acidic pineapple chunks provide these explosive bursts of juicy sunshine to wash over the gentle heat of the fresh spice base. The turmeric really gives the whole thing a consistent savoury hum to compliment the piquant of the fresh red chilies. Just take care not to spill any as this luscious sauce will stain anything it comes in contact with. A delicious delicacy to be enjoyed on non-plastic dinnerware while dressed in your less-than Sunday best.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Many Colours in a Nonya Rainbow

Whilst we were in Kuala Lumpur, my Uncle John dropped by with a box of Nonya kuih. These are little chewy snack-like treats that tend to feature glutinous rice, rice flour, coconut and pandan as well as many other local flavourings (most of which I can’t name… ). I had just come downstairs as we had all planned to go to a nice dim sum brunch (that is a whole other story) and was greeted with this adorable rainbow of squidgy goodness.

As a child, I was never fond of your typical kuih. Even now, I tend to be quite picky with anything involving sticky rice. So I opted for one thing I knew I would like and another that piqued my curiosity. The first was kuih ketayap, a green spring roll which consists of a soft and sticky pandan crepe rolled around a toasted sweet coconut filling. The gentle flavour of the skin really helps cut through the sharp sweetness of the smoky brown shreds of coconut flesh.

The second thing I sampled was pulut tekan, the blue glutinous rice square topped with kaya (the brown egg custard jam). That vivid indigo shade comes from the butterfly pea flower, which is a popular flavouring in Southeast Asian cuisine. There is a tea in Thailand that uses these flowers which results in a bright blue or indigo translucent drink; very pretty. But back to the kuih; this little rice square had a rather prominent salty note which worked well against the sweet kaya. You could still see the individual grains of rice on the cake but they were very soft and merged together to form a sticky chewy bite.

Monday, 13 May 2013

A Wanton Want for Warm Wantans

So the plan for the day was to go have a dim sum brunch at one of our favourite morning eateries but arrived to find a crowd of people waiting outside for a table. It only took us a couple minutes to decide to move on to a different dim sum restaurant we also like. As our car slowly rolled past the second establishment, we saw an even bigger crowd of Sunday brunchers huddled around the entrance. Without even bothering to stop, we drove on and decided on a nearby recently opened noodle shop called Tek Kee Noodle House.

Located in a row of small shops and eateries in Subang Jaya, the modest decor and semi-fresco dining environment provided a casual atmosphere where you could really just sit back and enjoy a quick bite. The menu was focused, which is always a good sign; if a restaurant is specialising in something, it should run with that and not try to cover every conceivable concoction under the sun. They had noodles and rice with meats and a few simple vegetables and a small range of traditional soups. Nothing quirky or novel about the menu items really. It was the pure quality of what they served that blew my mind.Often, you will find that small coffee shops and noodle stalls will serve a char siew (barbequed pork) that is a vivid crimson red or, in some disturbing cases, an intense dark pink. These tend to be over cooked, under seasoned, dry, stringy or any combination of slightly unpleasant epicurean experiences which they attempt to mask with neon seizure-inducing colours.

The char siew that arrived upon a hefty pile of noodles was a toasted sultry caramel brown and was oozing clear meaty juices beneath the sticky shiny surface. Oh, yeah. You see how good that looks? Yeah, it tasted better. The meat was succulent and tender with just the right balance of fat and lean to create that scrumptious melt-in-your-mouth sensation you would only expect in a pretentious, all-white decor, fine-dining, fusion-Chinoise gastro-club. And that was just the pork. The steamed chicken was incredibly moist and tender without sacrificing flavour or texture. Texture really counts for a large part of how your body experiences flavour. This is what made the noodles - the real speciality of the store - so exceptional in every respect. Tender, but still with a spring in their bite, they were smothered in just the right quantity and viscosity of sauce. The quality of all of the dishes they presented us was truly surprising especially considering they offer their wonderful wares at almost the same price as your standard street side hawker's stall.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Popping Pills and Sucking Eggs

Every time we land in Kuala Lumpur, my family and I tend to beeline towards our favourite food haunts and the one that often ends up first on our list is Uncle Lim’s at Subang Parade. Quick, easy and simple, it never fails to provide that instant fix for local flavours whilst still being light enough to stuff in our faces straight off an airplane.

As mentioned before, I am still suffering from a bout of gastritis. If I had been at full cast-iron stomach power, I would have ordered their Nasi Lemak at the drop of a hat. Nasi lemak is coconut rice that is served with a variety of meats or seafood in curries or chili sauces. But as my tummy was tender, I steered away from the rich rice n spicy sauces and ordered a Roti Bakar, two half-boiled eggs and a soya cincau. Roti bakar, also known as kaya toast, is an egg custard jam and butter or margarine sandwiched between thick-cut slices of toasted bread. I love toast. When done properly, this simple staple can be a magical thing. Crisp and warm, light and fluffy; the roti bakar at Uncle Lim’s always makes me happy.  The toast came with the typical breakfast accompaniment of two half-boiled eggs. Just with a sprinkling of pepper and a splash of soy sauce, the runny golden yolks and slippery whites go down a treat.

Then I was stupid; in place of a nasi lemak I decided to try their Kari Mee. The yellow noodles in a curry broth for some illogical reason seemed less offensive to my stomach. Of course I was wrong. The soup definitely had a hot spicy kick but seemed to wane a bit when it came to the rest of the flavour. In all honesty, it felt a bit weak and watery with little strength to stand up to the bold flavour and texture of the yellow noodles lurking beneath the surface. However, the fishballs, fried tofu and crispy wantons that decorated the top were quite tasty and helped to redeem the dish a little. Due to the Scoville rating of the soup, I nibbled on the noodles and half the topping before passing the torch on to my dear father, who inexplicably transforms into a bottomless pit every time we come to Malaysia, Singapore or Hong Kong or anywhere else where he can find food he likes that we can’t get back home.

My drink of choice was not surprisingly a soya cincau (‘chin-chow’). In recent years I have found it difficult to resist such promise of light refreshment with a soft gently milkiness, a delicate yet hearty drink and dessert all rolled in to one. I know it is only slivers of grass jelly in soy milk, but I adore the combination. Bubble tea can go suck an egg. Speaking of sucking eggs, I did take a straw and poked into the yolk of my second egg and proceeded to drink it from the inside out; a novel experience which was quite pleasant until I tapped into a small reservoir of pure soy sauce towards the end of my egg drinking escapade. Should anyone else try this, I recommend stirring your eggs and sauce first and make sure your eggs are soft enough for the size of your straw. Size can matter. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Gentle Joys of a Jentacular Porky Porridge

So much time has passed since my last entry and now I found myself lying belly down in bed in our house in Kuala Lumpur nursing a tummy-tormenting bout of gastritis. It all started last year when my bestie and I decided to get married. In January of this year, we registered our marriage in Thailand and began planning for the big receptions in Bangkok and Johor Bahru, my maternal hometown. As part of the preliminary preparations I went to JB to scout some potential places for the festivities. As JB is closer to Singapore than KL, we flew from Bangkok to Singapore and drove over to JB. For the return journey we planned to do the same in reverse but also stop over for a couple days in Singapore. This of course brought the promise of many a tasty delight for my insatiable taste buds. But alas, it was not meant to be. On the last day we were in JB, I awoke to the tumultuous twangs of stabby tummy pains. And so began a short but intense stint of stomach flu. However, I find myself here, a week and a half later, still suffering from the turmoil of a sensitive and bloated belly.

It was during those few days we spent in Bangkok before flying back to Malaysia (this time to KL) that I had the chance to be extra kind to my delicate digestive system which brings us to the star of today: homemade pork rice porridge.

Now this is rice porridge is pretty much your everyday Southeast Asian savoury jentacular grub, but that does not in any way detract from the delectable delight that it can bring, especially on recently bruised bowels. The raw rice is boiled with pork bones and plenty of water until the grains split and begin to dissolve into the brewing liquid. It is seasoned quite modestly with salt, pepper, minced garlic and soy sauce just to highlight the natural savoury sweetness of the stock. It is finished with a smidgen of minced pork and a scattering of sliced spring onions for a little splash of freshness. This should definitely be on the menu of gentle foods for the sick and will provide a welcome hearty meal amongst the deluge of dry toast and clear chicken broth (mind you, I still adore a good crisp slice of toast, sick or not). But even if you are fortunate enough to have a perfectly happy tummy, this makes for a tasty light meal that is extremely easy to prepare.