Lemaklicious

Lemaklicious © Adrian Cheah

Lemaklicious illustrates my passion for good food. "Lemak" is a Malay word that means more than just "fat" or "rich in taste". It can be used in any context, always bring with it a luxurious feeling of creamy and rich indulgence that is equally satisfying and rewarding. Hence, it is most fitting that I fuse "lemak" with "licious" (from delicious) to sum up my love affair with food.

I grew up in Penang, surrounded by a large Peranakan family, so it is no wonder that I became passionate about food. The food we ate was very traditional – delicious Nyonya recipes based on fresh ingredients. Over the years, I recreated the taste of home or other delicious dishes which I have tasted around the world. I came to learn that preparing food is not just about the recipe itself but also its ingredients and awareness for choosing each element to create a dish. Enjoy and indulge!

Something blue, something rice, something nice at Mews Café

Yes, this blue-coloured rice dish from Mews Café that is simply delicious also titillates the senses. It looks amazing, smells appetising and tasted heavenly as well.

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Time always for Laksa

Penang Laksa © Adrian Cheah

Penang Assam Laksa is amongst the best known and loved of hawker fare in Penang. A bowl of steamed spaghetti-sized rice vermicelli is first generously garnished with finely sliced vegetables including onions, cucumber, red chillis, pineapple, lettuce, mint and pink bunga kantan (ginger buds).

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Coconut water – the perfect tonic for the tropics

Coconut © Adrian Cheah

On our way back from Pantai Kerachut one scorching afternoon, my friends and I were contemplating what to order to quench our thirst after an exhausting hike, aside from the obvious choices of carbonated drinks. After some deliberation, we decided to go with one of nature's wonders – fresh coconut water that is easily available in Penang. Thus, from the exit of the national park in Teluk Bahang, we made haste to the nearest nondescript roadside stall offering just that.

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Penang’s all-time favourite Char Koay Teow

Penang Char Koay Teow © Adrian Cheah

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.

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The exotic hairy fruit called the rambutan

Penang rambutan © Adrian Cheah

In the vast range of local fruits available in Penang, the rambutan comes in a close second to the durian as a popular choice. Rambutans are tied up in bunches of 50 or 100 each and sold at roadside stalls, at marketplaces and by some fruit vendors when in season. Prices vary according to size and quality. Rambutans sold in Penang are always fresh as they come straight from the local orchards.

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"Roti! Roti!", the lure of the bread man

Penang bread man © Adrian Cheah

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'.

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Otak-otak, a savory parcel of fish custard

Otak-otak © Adrian Cheah

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.

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The art of making the perfect Kuih Kapit (love letters)

Kuih Kapit © Adrian Cheah

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", more commonly known as Kuih Kapit (a paper-thin crispy biscuit), is an essential feature of Chinese and Malay festivals.

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Nyonya Kuih Bangkit with a difference. Why not?

kuih bangkit © Adrian Cheah

Nyonya Kuih Bangkit, one of the classic Chinese New Year cookies alongside Kuih Kapit and pineapple tarts, is well-loved by Penangites. What makes this traditional snow-white tapioca cookie good is its aromatic fragrance that welcomes you the moment you bite into the slightly crispy outer coating which then melts in the mouth to a powdery softness as it touches the saliva.

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Kebaya – inventive pan-Asian haute cuisine

Kebaya © Adrian Cheah

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 lineup 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.

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The culinary legacy of the Nyonyas

Nyonya cooking © Adrian Cheah

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 Chinese Peranakan cuisine, a combination of Chinese and Malay flavours.

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Appetising Nyonya Acar Hu (Nyonya pickled silver mullet)

Nyonya Acar Hu © Adrian Cheah

Nyonya Acar Hu is one of my favourite acar options that can truly whet one's appetite. Mum has been making this savoury delight for as long as I can remember. Its appetising flavours can be appreciated with a plate of steamed white rice.

This dish is like no other, combining a beautiful balance of sweet and sour flavours, spiced with cabai burung (bird’s eye chillies), ginger and of course, fresh turmeric. Other ingredients like shallots and garlic cloves are little preserved nuggets that complement the fish well. The deep-fried fish, given ample time to develop in the fresh turmeric vinaigrette are extremely tasty and tantalising. This is a dish that will wake up all your senses.

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Make your own Acar Awak (spicy mixed vegetable pickle)

Acar Awak © Adrian Cheah

A crunchy and aromatic dish concocted of mixed vegetables infused in a rich and spicy gravy garnished with crushed groundnuts. This dish acts as an appetiser in any meal. It adds zest to a plain dish of 'economy' fried bee hoon.

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Nasi lemak – a parcel of Malaysian goodness

Nasi lemak © Adrian Cheah

A favourite breakfast dish for most Malaysians is Nasi Lemak – something which transcends the often-tenuous ethnic boundaries in this multi-racial country, as Malays, Indians and Chinese, all love it!

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Roti Jala (net crepes) are simply irresistible with curry chicken and potatoes

Roti Jala © Adrian Cheah

If you are a tourist in Penang during Ramadhan, you have to add the Ramadhan bazaar to your list of must-see places. The month-long Ramadhan bazaar (opens from 3:30 – 7:30 pm) offers a wide variety of Malay specialities and it is a wonderful market to scout for delicious treats. Roti Jala is something I will usually buy among many others.

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Fanning the flames of satay

Satay © Adrian Cheah

Satay is an example of how Penang cuisine was greatly influenced by the Arabs who came here to trade from the Middle East. Some say that this dish has Turkish roots. Be that as it may, satay has been available in Malaysia for many years already and is synonymous with Malay cuisine.

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Fresh and colourful Nordic cuisine

 We have a better understanding of what the Vikings ate through archeological finds. Here are some examples of food species excavated from Dublin during the Viking age: fish – cod, ling; shellfish – cockles, mussels, oysters, scallops; cereals – wheat, rye, oats, barley; fruits – blackberries, apples, strawberries, sloes, elderberries, cherries, plums, hawthorns, mountain ashes, rose hips; vegetables – nettle, brassicas, celery, carrot, radish, fennel; legumes – peas; nuts – hazelnuts; and others including black mustard, poppy seeds and rapeseeds.

Nordic cuisine © Adrian Cheah

The fresh and colourful Nordic salad is served on a rectangular slate with Hollandaise sauce. The shallots infused with vanilla and pickle vegetables are memorable.

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Spongy Kuih Bahulu recipe

Kuih Bahulu © Adrian Cheah

Kuih Bahulu (also known as Kuih Baulu or Kuih Bolu) is a perennial favourite among Malaysians of all ages. In Hokkien, it is called Kay Nui Koh. It is a mini light and fluffy sponge cake made from eggs, flour and sugar. It has a slightly crusty outer layer with a soft and fluffy inside, quite similar in taste and texture to a French Madeleine. However, when compared to many western cakes, Kuih Bahulu is much lighter in texture and has a subtle sweetness.

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