Coconut water – the perfect tonic for the tropics
On our way back from Pantai Kerachut, my friends and I were contemplating what drink to quench our thirst after an exhausting hike, aside from the obvious choices-100 Plus, Coke or Kickapoo. Why not coconut water, we thought, so coconut water it was.
Penang’s all-time favourite Char Koay Teow
I have always wondered where the all-so-famous Penang Char Koay Teow came from? Who were its original creators? Some believe that Char Koay Teow (‘fried flat noodles in Teochew) was first sold by Chinese fishermen, farmers and cockle-gatherers on the island who moonlighted as Char Koay Teow hawkers in the evening to supplement their income.
That hairy fruit called Rambutan
Among the vast range of fruits available in Penang, Rambutan comes a close second to Durian as a popular choice when in season. Sold along roadsides at market places and by fruit vendors, rambutans are tied up in bunches of 50 or 100 and prices vary according to size and quality.
"Roti! Roti!", the lure of the bread man
The 'roti man' or bread vendor is quite a common sight in Penang. They are usually on their rounds in the mornings and from tea time, plying their stock-in-trade in a road contraption that resembles a hybrid between a motorcycle and a 'meat safe'.
Otak-otak, a savory parcel of fish custard
Unwrap a parcel of otak-otak and you will catch a waft of the spicy, delicious egg-like fish custard that is usually served with other dishes common in a Nyonya household. Otak-okak can also be eaten on its own or as an appetiser or even with bread. This popular dish is available at Nyonya restaurants, some food courts and wet markets, as well as a common spread in “Economy Rice” stalls.
The art of making the perfect Kuih Kapit (love letters)
Some people claim that oysters are an aphrodisiac. Then there are others who say that the tomato is the food of love (from its name Pomme d'Amour – French for "love apple").
In Malaysia, there exists a delicacy that, despite its name, is neither an aphrodisiac nor a love potion. Yet those who have tasted it have been known to wax lyrical over the exquisite flavour. The love-letter, or more commonly known as Kuih Kapit (a paper-thin crispy biscuit) is an essential feature of Chinese and Malay festivals.
Kuih Bangkit (Tapioca cookies) – a popular Chinese New Year favourite
Kuih Bangkit is one of the classic Chinese New Year cookies beside Kuih Kapit and pineapple tarts which are adored by Penangites. What makes this traditional snow-white Nyonya cookie good is the aromatic smell that welcomes you the moment you bite into the crispy outer later which then melts in your mouth to a powdery softness.
Kebaya – inventive pan-Asian haute cuisine
The first time I sampled Christopher Ong’s cooking was at a Chinese New Year open house he held many years back. Lam Mee was on the line up and although it is an uncomplicated dish to prepare, a flavourful stock was necessary to serve up a delicious bowl. With a dollop of sambal belacan on the side, I relish the entire bowl with gusto that day. It was wonderful and had just the right combination of everything a good bowl of Lam Mee would call for. Chris also highlighted that I was eating off an authentic antique Peranakan blue and white batik bowl.
The culinary legacy of the Nyonyas
Historical records suggest that when Chinese migrants arrived in then Malaya, they brought with them several culinary styles, among them Hakka, Hainan, Foochow, Canton and others. One style of cooking which metamorphosed out of these 'prototypes' is known today as Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine, a combination of Chinese and Malay flavours.
Acar Chee Ya Hu (pickled mullet fish)
This is one of my mum's favourite acars. She has been making this for as long as I can remember. It is such an appetising dish when served with a bowl of steaming white rice.
Like other Nyonya acars, this dish is a combination of sweet and mostly tart flavours. However, the other ingredients, like onions and garlic still impart their individual aromas. The deep-fried fish absorbs the gravy and becomes succulent and moist.