As a kid, I had poor appetite and was skinny and anaemic and my mom would have bottles of Marmite and Bovril at home as prescribed by the doctor. These two very British spreads are still easily available here, even in little grocery shops, and they are the result of Sabah's British colonial rule in the 50s. If you come into my kitchen, you will always see Marmite and Bovril on the counter, in the biggest bottle they come, 470 g. They are as essential as soy sauce and cooking oil and I make sure I'm never out of them. People have comfort blankets, but I have comfort condiments.
Which do I prefer? I'd have to say "Marmite!" even though I do love Bovril too. Sometimes, I'd take a teaspoon of the stuff and eat it just like that and feel comforted that I've had my Vitamin B complex for the day. Truth is, besides the nutritional goodness, I love the salty-savory-sourish taste of Marmite. I love it on bread, on crackers, in my congee, in my noodles and in my rice. I stop at drinking it though. That would be strange, sipping a cup of steaming Marmite.
The Australians and NZders have a vile version of Marmite called 'Vegemite'. I shudder when I type this word, Vegemite. It shows that you can be so close yet so far, even in taste. If I had to , say, pledge citizenship allegiance to Australia by eating Vegemite, I'd fail. Back to Marmite. Do you know why Marmite tastes so good? Marmite is made from yeast extract, a by-product of the beer making process (another plus) and it naturally has lots of glutamic acids, a non-sodium form of monosodium glutamate, those magic chemicals which perk all savory food up with that extra xien/umami taste. For more info on Marmite, check here. For more Marmite recipes, here's the official Marmite site.
Marmite is good enough to eat as it is, but in Malaysia, Marmite lovers use it as a condiment. I've never tasted a good restaurant Marmite chicken or prawns. I think the cooks are too stingy when it comes to using this ingredient and as a Marmite lover, I want to taste the Marmite, not the soy sauce and sugar. The great thing about cooking a dish yourself is that you can add as much of any ingredient as you like. This recipe doesn't make a shy Marmite dish: I used 2 1/2 tablespoons of the stuff. The dish is intense in flavor and taste and you just need a good soup and a plate of garlic fried greens to complete the meal. The sauce is sticky and especially good with plain rice. Hub said "Hmmm!" at first bite and Wey didn't complain like he did earlier when I was frying the pork. He doesn't like sauce-coated fried stuff and thinks deep-fried food should be eaten as they are, nice and crunchy. But tonight, he actually ate most of this dish. I saw the original recipe in a magazine and made some changes, to my convenience and taste, such as doing away with the chopped onions and chili sauce, replacing Chinese black vinegar (partly for the sake of those who have no idea what Chinese black vinegar is) with Worchestershire sauce for a more tangy taste and black soy sauce for a deeper color instead of light soy sauce. Marinading the meat before frying it also made it tastier, and the egg white helped the cornflour to stick better so, yes, this is a winner and I'm inspired to do a similar dish with Bovril and beef.
update: I just made marmite prawns and find them simply the best, better than pork!
1 egg white
dashes of white pepper
1 T light soy sauce
1/8 t salt
--marinade the meat with these ingredients for at least 1 hour. Alternately, you can use 1 T of the Marmite sauce below to marinade the meat, but add the egg white.
2 to 2 1/2 T Marmite
1 T Lea & Perrins Worchestershire sauce
1 T tomato sauce
2 T caster sugar (or honey)
1 t dark soy sauce
100 ml water (omit if using honey)
For frying: 1 cup cornstarch + 2 cups veg oil
* you can also use lamb, pork, pork ribs or large prawns with shells on, chicken boned or with bones
1. Chop or cut the meat into rectangular (not cubes because it may be too thick & hard) pieces about the size of a large walnut (I can't think of anything else). If using chicken with bone on, cut it bigger, say the size of a large egg.
2. Marinade meat for 1 hour.
3. Coat each piece of meat with the cornstarch (you can shake them in a plastic bag) to cover completely, shake off excess.
4. Heat up 2 cups of oil in a wok and deep fry meat in medium heat until golden and cooked. Blot on kitchen paper.
5. Pour all the oil away, wipe the pan or wok with paper towels to clean and add the sauce ingredients. Let sauce cook at high heat until it is very thick, then add the fried meat pieces, tossing well until the sauce is all absorbed by the meat. Remove onto a plate & sprinkle some sliced hot chilies for extra oomph. Serve with plain rice. Eat with fingers.