Sunday, May 31, 2009

Vietnam Calling

We're planning this big trip to Europe in the late summer because our friends L & J and C & S are going to London, again. Because of the H1N1, airfares are on sale, with return trip to London about RM1600/US$440 (Airasia) and RM2400/660 (MAS), ex-KK. But Wey is sitting for his government exams (PMR) and instead of September, this year the exams are delayed until October because of the Ramadan month. I don't go anywhere cold, no way, after the Canadian Prairie Experience. After getting his report card last Friday, it looks like we have to stay put until his exams are over. Darn darn darn. The things we give up for our kids.

But we need a short break. Hub is thinking Tianjin, near Beijing but we can only be away about 5 days so that's not enough time. We are keeping Taipei for a whole family trip (hard to do now that both kids are in Australia) in December because that's one place where winter's not cold. China would be freezing by then. I'm rooting to go to Vietnam because 1) I love Vietnamese food 2) I want to visit Vietnam before it becomes another big slick Asian country 3) that's the place for a short getaway 4) the fare's only RM220 ex KL, return! That's truly cheaper than a meal.

I need to know from those who've been to Hanoi and HCMC (this is what I love about blogging--so much info available). Should I go to Hanoi or HCMC??? I have a friend in HCMC who's been telling me to visit, no one in Hanoi. I also am not interested in doing Halong Bay and those tourists -beaten tracks. I just want to visit a place I've never been before, enjoy and learn the history and culture of the country and eat. E-A-T.

Where to eat, where to sleep, where to go? Must know within the next two days!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Garlic Butter Buns


Who can resist a hot, fluffy garlic butter bun? I can't. I eat at least two of these buns each time they come out from the oven and I would have a third if my belly doesn't hurt so much hanging over my jeans.

The dough recipe is the same sweet dough I told you about a few posts ago. You can use this recipe to make all the different buns and rolls you can think of. Garlic butter spread is cheap and easy to make, and you can go further by adding grated cheese or a hot dog in the buns. Someone told me these buns are better than those from the bakeries, and I'm like "Of course they are!" Don't just read about it, try this out today. Don't wait. I may out of exasperation withdraw my recipes if they aren't put to use.


The Dough
500 g bread flour
1 1/2 t dry active yeast
50 g castor sugar*
1 t salt
1 medium-sized egg
50 g cold butter
260 ml cold water (lukewarm water if room temp is low)

*reduce or increase according to the type of bread you are making

1. Put all the ingredients into your mixer bowl and knead at medium speed for 12-15 minutes., or even longer (20 min) but do not let the machine over-heat. The dough will be very wet and sticky at first and gradually becomes less wet but still sticky. Take out the dough hook, cover the bowl with a cloth and leave in unheated oven for 1 hour until all puffed (they always say until dough doubles but really the dough triples).

2. Punch dough down, lift out of the bowl and put it on a lightly floured counter. Cut into 50 g pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball, then into a cone, then flatten the cone-shaped dough into a longish triangle and roll up from the wider end:


3. Place each rolled piece of dough onto a greased and/or well-floured tray and leave in unheated oven to proof for 1 hour or until more than doubled.

4. Brush the top of the buns with beaten egg yolk, snip down the middle with a sharp pair of scissors (careful or the dough will deflate), spoon some garlic butter onto the slitted area and place in a preheated oven at 200 C, for 8-10 minutes.

Garlic Butter
100 g salted butter
1 bulb garlic, chopped very finely
1 T fresh or 1 t dried parsley
-whisk it all together with a small hand whisk.
-add a pinch of salt if like (I don't; we are on low salt diet)

p.s. I made the buns at night and saved some of the proofed dough in the fridge overnight to make these 4 buns the next day so that I could take better photos in daylight. You can keep the proofed dough (after first proofing) for more than 12 hours in the fridge.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Nyon Gow

Unlike the nyon gow (soft gow) in the photo, nyon gows are usually made into swiss roll-like rounds, with a spiral of red bean paste.

This has become one of my fav kuih. I'm told that it's called "Ah ma gow (mom's kuih)" by the Hokkiens in Singapore but here it's called nyon gow by the Hakkas. I'm not sure if nyon means soft because if so, then what is "nem"? Nem carries with it a feeling of liquidy softness, as in "nem dat dat", am I right?

Kuih, btw, is a Malay term for snacks made of (mostly) rice flour, wheat flour, sago flour or tapioca flour and are usually steamed or boiled. The Chinese term for kuih is 'gow'. Kuih and gow are often conveniently called cakes, but that's like referring to tofu as cheese, which tofu is not.

Back to nyon gow. My fav nyon gow is from a coffeeshop on the same block as Pick N Pay near Austral Park. The nyon gow is always very nyon (because it's fresh. Nyon gow can go stale very quickly) and I love the flavor--which I can't quite tell whether is banana--and the bean paste filling is very generous. My only grouse is that the gow is too sweet.

Does anyone have the recipe for nyon gow? I think making nyon gow is similar to making Chi Fa Bun, but I'm just not sure about the flavor. Anyone?

Zhongzi (Glutinous Rice Dumplings)

Update: Today is again duan wu jie, the day we eat glutinous rice dumplings. I'm re-posting my 2007 post on glu rice dumplings because I didn't make any rice dumplings this year. I thought I'd wait until my kids are back from Melbourne next month for their winter break. It will be a feast everyday next month, and I'm getting ready by stocking up my fridge, fertilizing the daun kesom and mint (guess what for) and trying to loose 2 kgs (yes, those stubborn 2 kgs that have been dogging me since 2005) before bloating up again.

I have told you in my post below how the Chinese came to celebrate duan wu jie. Last week, the ex-president of Korea jumped to his death because he was plagued by legal moves against him for corruption while he was president in early to late-2000s. While it was shocking, and it is always tragic when someone takes his own life, I think he took the only honorable way out because jail would be too good for people who hold high public posts and abuse their positions. Roh may have been corrupt, but he had a conscience (or was it cowardice?) which is lacking in Taiwan's Chen Shui Bian. I can't believe Taiwan is so mesmerized by the actor-ex-president and moving so slowly to convict him, despite overwhelming evidence of massive corruption.

Post below was posted on 19/6/07:


Today is duan wu jie. Malaysians call duan wu jie ( Fifth Day of Fifth Lunar Month Festival) guo zhong jie which literally means "wrapping dumpling festival." According to my friend Lily from Jiangxi, China this festival started in 200 BC to commemorate Qu Yuan, an advisor and poet to the King of Chu State in China. A wise and much-loved statesman, Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into a river when he was saddened by the weak and corrupt court which had led to occupation of his state by another king. To prevent the fish in the river from getting to his body, the people made zhongzi (glutinous rice dumplings) and threw them into the river. Wow. Thank goodness for such integrity and patriotism or we wouldn't have zhongzi.
My kids grew up eating my MIL's Shanghainese zhongzi and through the years I've tried to wean them by buying the local zhongzi, which are mostly Cantonese zhongzi, but they stubbornly declare Shanghainese zhongzi are the best. I think both are great, the difference being Shanghainese zhongzi are more flavorful because the rice is flavored with soy sauce (so they're light brown as versus white Cantonese zhongs) and the pork is marinaded days ahead in soy sauce and saoxin wine. However, where they win in taste/flavor, the Shanghainese zhongzi lose in the variety of stuffing. True Shanghainese zhongzi has a huge piece of marinaded fatty pork, and thats it. I say "Boring" in retaliation to my Shanghainese FIL's accusation of "Zha qi zha ba" which means hodge podge, in reference to the Cantonese zhongzi of pork, chestnuts, green or black-eyed beans, salted egg yolk (yums!), dried shrimps, dried mushrooms and even sweetened peanuts (yuks). When I was little, my Dad tortured us with his 'pillow' zhongzi. It's as big as a telephone and to warm it up, he's have to cut it into smaller pieces and fry it and it really was a terrible jumble!

Well, the kids miss their Grandma's zhongzi this year because she won't be back from Shanghai till tomorrow so I bravely took on my MIL's role and made her zhongzi today. I've helped her make zhongzi once and tried it at home once and then swore I'd never make them again. So much work! But you know what, when Wey pronounced at first bite that its very close to Grandma's, I almost collapsed with happiness. Here I share my MIL's Shanghainese zhongzi recipe but I have improved it by adding salted egg yolk, dried mushrooms and dried shrimps. I think its the best of both zhongs.

Shanghainese Zhongzi

1) Glutinous rice


-wash well and drain. For every kilo of glutinous rice, mix in 1 T veg oil, 1T dark and 1 T light soy sauces, 2 1/4 t to 2 1/2 t salt and 1/3 t msg. Do taste the uncooked rice and adjust the taste to your liking, remembering that after boiling the zhongs will absorb water and expand and taste less salty than the uncooked rice. Season the rice about 1 hour before using it.

2)Fatty pork

- Use belly or the fatty part of pork shoulder. Remove skin. Cut into 3cm by 5 cm pieces, or larger if like. Marinade pork at least 3 days ahead with saoxin wine (about 3 T for each kg of pork), dark soy sauce for color, white pepper and salt.

3)Zhong leaves


-My cousin in Quilin had a zhong plant and I was surprised because I always thought zhong leaves are bamboo leaves. Lily said that zhongzi wrapped with fresh zhong leaves have a most wonderful smell, much better than the dried leaves. When my kids came home yesterday they were sniffing the air and drooling over the zhongs that were being boiled. Must smuggle the plant in some day. It looks like a nice ornamental house plant.
-Just plunge the leaves in boiling water till softened. Cut off the first 3cm because the petiole will pierce and tear the zhongzi if you don't remove it.
-Take out and soak in cold water, preferably overnight or the leaves will give a slight bitter taste to the zhongs.

4) Wrap zhongzi according to the desired style. I find this the hardest part because I'm all foot! Shanghainese zhongs are a twisted rectangle shape, unlike the pyramidal shape of Cantonese zhongs. Try and get natural weedstrings or even cotton yarn like I did to tie the zhongs. The commercial zhongzi are all tied with plastic 'raffia' and its just worrying when you consider that the zhongs have to be boiled for 3 hours. Make sure the water covers the zhongs.

Update: MIL has tasted my zhongxi and wasn't very impressed. Tips she gave me: don't tie zhongs too tight or the rice will not be able to expand/cook evenly. The pork pieces should be bigger, in rectangular size so all section of the zhongs will have some pork. The rice should be left to marinade an hour or so.

True Shanghainese rice dumplings will only have a large piece of marinaded pork, no dried shrimps, mushrooms etc. Mine's a cross between Cantonese-Shanghainese, like my kids.



(credits to Hongyi for taking these awesome pics!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

KL Hokkien Mee

Watched a TV show recently about a very popular restaurant (link given thanks to a reader) whose Hokkien noodles are said to be the best in KL. The grandfather of the present owner was the 'creator' of Hokkien mee, a dish ethnic to Malaysia and not anywhere else, not even Fujian (Hokkien), China. The restaurant is so popular that customers sleep-walk there at 3 am for their Hokkien mee and meat soup that goes with the noodles. Each plate of noodles is fried individually over charcoal flames. The Hokkien noodles are not as saucy or black as the ones we are used to in KK. Hokkien mee in KK is usually a plate of noodles swimming in black sauce to cover up the fact that there's hardly any meat and the excess sauce is to make the portion appear larger. Pork crackling is not an essential ingredient, making the noodles basically just a plate of soy sauce noodles without much flavor. As a result, many KKians have no idea what a good plate of Hokkien mee tastes like, until they eat the real thing in KL.

I am so glad I watched the whole episode (am not much of a TV person) because they actually showed how their delicious mee is fried, right down to the main ingredients used. The secret ingredient took me by surprise, and I happen to have it in my fridge but never used it. For dinner tonight I cooked Hokkien mee using the surprise secret ingredient and I am still floating with excitement and euphoria because Wey rated my Hokkien mee 9/10 (although I rate it 10/10 myself, humble me!), leaving me room for improvement yet again. I think the 1/10 he's not awarding me is maybe because the noodles weren't fried over a charcoal fire and also there wasn't enough crackling (he cycled to Lido market to buy more pork fat himself when he saw I had only half a cup, and the butcher cheated him, but that's another story) because I was concerned about eating too much of that. Wey loves crackling so much that he wished there's such a thing as crackling chips. He refused to talk while eating the Hokkien mee, so serious was he while eating it. He has been rather disappointed with all the Hokkien mee he has eaten in restaurants recently.

So you'd like to know the secret ingredient? It's ---surprise---dried sole fish (like a flounder), toasted over a charcoal fire and pounded into a powder! When I sprinkled the spoonful of dried sole fish powder into the hot pork oil, the aroma was just like that of the restaurants' -- a robust, mature, smoky and meaty fragrance that the pork oil alone cannot give. I got my stock of dried sole fish in Hong Kong for making the soup for wontons. I don't think you can find dried sole fish in KK, unfortunately. I also don't think most restaurants use this ingredient for cooking Hokkien mee, especially in KK where Hokkien mee is probably the last thing you should eat.

My Documents1
p.s Wey got home from school today (27/5) and wanted to learn how to cook KL Hokkien mee. I made sure there was enough pork crackling this time and gave the cooked noodles a final drizzle of pork oil. Wey declared, "Mom! This is 10/10!", stamping his feet crazily on the floor. Practice makes perfect, son.


Below is the previous post, but the recipe that follows has been revised.

Hokkien mee

Ah, who doesn't like a good plate of Hokkien mee? My family loves Hokkien mee (noodles), especially Wey and I but because this dish is coated with pork oil, it is something we can only eat once in a long while. We manage to live without it because there aren't any good Hokkien mee after Kim Loong Restaurant in Lido closed down (the owners went back to KL). Now we go to Diamond Restaurant, but it's not as good there. Last time we went there, the mee wasn't topped with cracklings. It was like eating a McD burger with no patty.

After a week of healthy dinners (a lot of fish and veggies), I knew we were all ready to clog our veins again, so why not go to the max and have Hokkien mee, which has pork oil as its most important ingredient. I didn't want to tell you all this, but being the (mostly) honest person that I am, Wey and Ming both said last night that if it was fried mee I cooked, they'll rank it high but since it was supposed to be Hokkien mee, they rated it 7/10 only. Now I wouldn't give you any recipe that ranks below 9.9, but since I'm out of something to post and I think the recipe is really good and can be a 10/10 if you can get hold of the right soy sauce, I will post this. Who knows, maybe someone can tell me what soy sauce to use. I've watched a hawker fry Hokkien mee from beginning to end but the sauce he used was already in a bowl.

I've found that there are 4 important must-dos if you want to fry up a good plate of Hokkien mee:

1. You gotta be brutal enough (hawkers are) to use lots of pork oil and crackling. If that is missing, the whole dish is a goner. I only used 1/4 cup pork oil to fry 1 kg of noodles last night. I just couldn't do it, remembering the cholesterol in animal fats and the fact that 1 gm of oil gives 9 calories compared to starch or sugar which at 1 gm give 4 calories.

2. The soy sauce is important. I used Lee Kum Kee's dark soy sauce and Camel thick soy sauce (but didn't use much of this because it looked toxic), but the resulting sauce was not the same as the restaurants/hawkers'.

3. The noodles must be thick yellow fresh noodles. I couldn't bring myself to feed the family with noodles full of color and preservatives (I know that for a fact because years ago I visited this big noodles factory in Kolombong and it was 2pm Saturday and they were closing. I saw bags of yellow noodles and kwey tiau (flat rice noodles) on the counters and asked what they would do with it. They said they'll distribute them to their buyers on Monday. Remember, this is tropical paradise and they weren't storing them in the fridge) so I used udon which Fussy Younger Son said had a slightly sourish taste, so please do not use that if you do not want to compromise on the taste.

4. Do not attempt to cook more than 1-2 portions at a time, to maintain the heat of the wok.


Hokkien Mee (for 1-2 persons)
250gm fresh thick yellow mee (washed quickly & drained well 1/2 hours b4 cooking@)
1/4 cup pork or chicken, in thin slices (marinade with salt, pepper & some cornflour)
3 or 4 prawns, shelled
a few pieces of squid or cuttlefish or fishcake (optional)
a handful of thinly sliced cabbage or Chinese cabbage
1 heaped T dried sole fish powder (toast dried sole fish until fragrant and pound in a granite mortar until fine)
dark soy sauce (Woh Hup)
light soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee Selected)+
1 T chopped garlic
1/4 t fine sugar (optional)
a pinch of msg (optional)*
1 cup concentrated chicken stock (homemade, or Swanson's)
a few shakes of white pepper, pinch of salt
3 T pork oil
pork crackling bits

@if you don't mind the oil, don't wash the noodles. Washing the noodles may result in a pasty texture if the noodles are cooked too long.

+if you like your noodles black (Sabah style), omit light soy sauce and use thick soy sauce. You can omit the sugar then because thick soy sauce is sweetish.

* this is what restaurants use, and they use much more but I found msg unnecessary because the chicken stock was good enough.

1. Get a good thick solid piece of pork fat and cut into small 1 cm cubes. Put the fat cubes into a wok and fry over medium-low heat. Keep stirring until all the oil comes out (you'll be surprised how much oil comes out!) and the crackling is golden brown. Remove the cracklings into a bowl and pour the pork oil into another bowl, leaving about 3 T (more if you dare) in the wok.

2. Increase the heat , add the chopped garlic and dried sole fish powder, fry a few seconds, then add the pork/chicken. Throw in the noodles and stock and stir to loosen the noodles, using a frying ladle and a pair of chopsticks. Add about 2 T thick soy sauce, 1-2 T light soy sauce, the sugar, salt, pepper, msg and top that with the veg. Cover and increase heat to high. Check once in a while, stirring to mix and add the squid and prawns when half done.

3. Check if the texture of the noodles is to your liking. Do not overcook the noodles or they will become pasty. Taste and season with more soy sauces if necessary because different brands have different levels of saltiness. You may have to add some more stock/water as this dish should be wet, but not too watery. Dish out onto a plate, scatter the crackling bits on top of the noodles. Serve hot with a hot chili sauce.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Stir-Fried Douban, Fava Beans

Stir-fried fava beans with xuecai. The beans can be mashed too; Wey likes them like that.

In Shanghainese, these shelled fava beans are called douban. Before shelling, the douban are in pods and are called swee dou. Each pod is about 4-5 times the size of a french bean. Malaysia's petai pod is flat, but more than thrice as big and long as the fava bean pod.

The shelled fava beans have a second shell which has to be removed for frying.

MIL sent 4 kgs of fava beans (broad beans in Britain and ex-colonies, but since I'm more pro-American than Brit, I'll call them fava beans) to my house yesterday. The beans were brought in by my high-flying SIL who was recently in Shanghai.

I have never eaten fresh fava beans. What we get here, usually in cinemas, are deep fried salted fava beans still in their inner shells. In my travels, I've seen fava beans and longed to try them but since cooking is not an option in hotels, I've never had the chance to eat this spring veg.

So I looked at the fava beans and had no idea what to do with them. I gave some to my sis who also didn't know what to do with them (I think she'll just boil them). I remember a copy of Saveur which featured fava beans, but I couldn't find the magazine after a frantic search (my beans were oxidizing quickly). I did find a recipe for the Egyptian national dish called ful mademes, but the beans have to be dried. Other western ways of cooking fava beans were to use the boiled beans in salads, usually with some mint. So, back to MIL and her Shanghainese way of cooking sweedou. Doubanjiang, the hot bean paste used in Sichuan cooking, is made with these beans. I always thought the paste was made from soy beans.

My conclusion after tasting fresh fava beans is that you really don't need to be fussy about cooking them. I used chicken stock when I fried the douban, but because the beans were naturally slightly sweet the result was a little too savory-sweet, so for the recipe below I used some water in addition to the stock. The Shanghainese way of sauteing the beans with a little bit of oil, salt, sugar and either spring onions or xuecai (a Shanghainese preserved veg) gives a simple yet delicate plate of beans that can be eaten as a snack or as a dish with rice. This is also how fresh soy beans (mao dou) are usually cooked in Shanghai, with the addition of bean curd sheets called ba yeh. I am drooling already. High time to visit Shanghai, H1N1 or not.

How do fava beans taste? The texture is somewhat like regular peas, very tender-nutty, and the taste is slightly sweet with a flavor of...fava beans. Wey said they remind him of petai, only fava beans are softer and without a strong flavor.

Stir Fried Douban, Fava Beans
400 g fresh fava beans, shelled
1/3 cup xue cai*, washed & chopped finely
1 T chopped spring onions
veg oil, a pinch of salt and sugar
about 2 T water & 2 T chicken stock

*this is a common ingredient used in Shanghainese cooking. You can get it in small cans in some Chinese grocers'. You can omit it but the resulting dish won't be as well-flavored.

1. Put about 2 T veg oil in a heated wok or pan, add the beans and stir fry at medium high heat for a couple of seconds. Add the xuecai, a pinch of salt (remember the xuecai is salted) and sugar. Add 1 T water or stock, stir fry until water is gone, then repeat until you have added about 4 T of water and stock. This dish should not be watery. This is dry frying so make sure the water or stock has evaporated between each addition of water/stock. All in, it takes about 4-5 minutes. You can put a lid over for 20 sec or so a couple of times. The beans should be quite soft.

2. Throw in the spring onions, stir to mix (if you like the beans mashed, use your ladle and cut them, pressing lightly to mash them) and dish out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Santan Taro Paste, Orh Nee

Orh nee, taro paste dessert

Just in case you are confused, taro is woo toe in Cantonese. In Malaysia and Singapore, the tuber is passed off as yam, causing a lot of confusion. I used to think yam and sweet potatoes are the same but apparently they aren't, and I've just realiZed I don't know what a yam looks like.

My son Wey recently declared that he loves taro over potatoes and other tubers because the flavor is so delightful. I have to agree with him. The flavor of taro is hard to describe: it's unique and a little bit floral. This tuber is yummy whether cooked in savory or sweet dishes. Getting a good taro is hard because instead of a floury taro, which is desirable, you may end up with a crunchy taro, which is terrible because it not only means the flavor is low, but also means it will not mash or break up into powdery crumbs. Imagine a potato that is crunchy like an apple. Vendors will willingly slice off one end of the taro to show you the specks and veins, and they'll show you their knife. If the knife that they just cut the taro with has a whitish sap, it indicates a floury taro. If you draw a finger across the cut surface of the taro and rub your fingers and it feels floury/powdery, the taro's going to be very floury. My way of checking if a taro is floury is by the looks--if there are lots of purple specks and veins, the taro is likely to be floury. As a rule, I find that the bigger and older the taro, the more likely it is to be floury.

The taro on the right is floury--it has lots of purple veins indicating that it's mature. The two smaller taro couldn't be mashed--they were crunchy.

Those small taro are from China. Boiled in salted water and eaten as a snack, their texture can vary between crunchy and floury and in between but their taro flavor is great.

Taro is a hardy plant that grows everywhere, by the roadside, near the ponds and the drains especially in the countryside. You can recognize them by their large heart-shaped leaves but you may be deceived by the wild taro which looks very similar but has a green stem instead of brown. Do be careful when you peel a taro because the sap will make your hands itchy so it's a good idea to wear a pair of gloves or wash immediately after peeling.

This dessert came about by default. I made wu gok (taro puffs) for the 5th time, and again the result was gok that didn't puff: they were like croquettes and brown potatoes, heavy and dense. I have no choice but to add ammonia the next time I try making wu gok.

So there I was, with a plateful of taro mash. I was too fed-up to make another batch of woo gok. Orh nee came to mind. I made orh nee once, a long time ago and the result killed my craving for it. The old-fashioned recipe called for pork fat, lots of sugar, chunks of pumpkin but it wasn't the fat or sugar that put me off. The authentic orh nee is a very thick paste. It sticks to your throat as you swallow, like cement I imagine. The new version of orh nee is lighter, very smooth and IMHO, much more delicious than the authentic version.

This orh nee is similar to those sold in food courts in Singapore. Since I love santan (coconut milk), that's what I used. I don't think milk makes a good substitute, neither will canned or powder santan. I've replaced the lard with a little bit of veg oil (Canola) so the orh nee isn't very very smooth but you can add more oil if that's important to you. If you have a better recipe that results in very smooth orh nee without the addition of too much oil, please let me know.

Orh Nee (6-8 servings)
600g mashed taro*
3/4 to 1 cup fine sugar
3/4 cup water
250 ml thick coconut milk (the thicker the better)
3 T veg oil (or more, if like)
1/3 to 1/2 cup shelled gingko nuts (remove the 'heart' if like)

* This is the weight after peeling. Peel and cut the taro into small chunks, steam about 20 minutes and mash when still hot.

1. Put the sugar, water and gingko nuts into a small pot and boil until the sugar has dissolved. The gingko nuts will be sweet and chewy. If you prefer not to sweeten the gingko nuts, you can boil them separately or just boil the nuts briefly in the sugar.

2. Put the mashed taro and coconut milk into a blender, add the sugar syrup and blend until very fine.

3. Pass the thick mash through a fine sieve into a small pot, using a large spoon to scrape and drive the mash through. This will take a bit of work but will ensure a smooth paste.

4. Put the pot of mash over a small fire, stirring all the time. Add the oil (amount to your liking), stir and cook for about 10 minutes to develop the flavor and thicken the paste. If you prefer a thinner paste, add more santan or water.

5. If the paste is very thick, arrange the cooked gingko nuts in a deep bowl, carefully scoop the paste on top. Level and let cool. Chill in the fridge and turn the bowl of paste onto a plate to serve. If paste is thinner, it can't firm up so you can't turn it over. Just pour the paste into a serving glass. When paste has cooled, arrange the cooked gingko nuts on top. Serve cold.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Talk The Wok

I've been deprived of the internet for a week! The Telekom people have been great, calling me 5-6 times a day, sending their technicians over, checking and changing cables but not being able to solve the problems and in the end it was a simple case of me deleting a huge file of games my son and his friend had downloaded. I hope Telekom doesn't read this; I've been rather assertive and they've been very accomodating.

Two different readers wrote me today (1 hour apart too) about woks, and asked what type of wok I use, and can I please do a post on it. I am surprised, because according to the stats on my site meter, How To Season A Wok is the most often google-searched post on this blog. Obviously Veronica and James haven't read it.

Now as far as what woks to get, I stick with the carbon steel type. They are lighter than iron woks and the more you use them, the better they get. I don't use anything non-stick although I admit that on my last visit to Singapore a few months back, I picked up a Green Pan. Side-tracking here, but I've found the Green Pan to be not very non-stick. I 've always been suspicious of non-stick utensils especially when heated up so if Green Pan is gas emission friendly, I can bear the reduced non-stickiness. I have a Buffalo stainless steel wok that cost half a grand (and that was bought years ago) but fry fish in it and it sticks like Crazy Glue so I only use it for steaming and boiling. Remember when it comes to wok, you want something that heats up and cools down fast (carbon steel), is light (carbon steel), gets better with use (carbon steel) and is cheap (carbon steel). Have I made myself clear?

Compare the wok in the post How To Season A Wok with, say, Ma's Shanghainese Lion Heads and you'll see the same wok, beautifully seasoned with use.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kedai Kopi Lee Sheng

The noodles stall in Lee Sheng, run by a lady who calls herself Fatty, has only two items: mixed beef noodles (ngiew chap) and fish head/slices noodles. On Sundays, Fatty works a bit harder and adds to the menu an oxtail stew.

The first time I ate here, 2 months ago, the 7-star grouper slices were the freshest I've tasted in years, the soup was light without too much msg and the addition of local hum choy (pickled kale) gave the noodles a refreshing taste. However. That dreaded word, however. Just when I thought I've found my perfect little noodle shop, it turns out that Fatty is also afflicted by the same KK cooking disorder: very highly variable standards. On one occasion, Fatty gave me a very coarse fish she called ju bee which a friend said is a good fish prized for the head which has excellent gelatinous skin and cartilage, or whatever it is that makes fish heads slippery and flavorful. On a recent visit, the fish was good but the soup was very fishy in flavor.

Fatty's ngiew chap looks like it's highly flavored because it's all dark and 'stewed' looking but many times I've been surprised by how bland the soup is. However, Fatty is very generous with her toppings, and her beef tendons are very good, tender and gelatinous. I've tried her oxtail stew too, and it tasted great.

The best thing about this place is the generous portions and the prices which are about the lowest in town. Where else can you have fresh quality fish slices noodles for RM6/US$1.70 and ngiew chap for RM4/US$1.10? I've not encountered any refrigerator flavor in Fatty's fish, unlike those in famous seafood restaurants like Wan Wan (which is the King of refrigerator flavor seafood--yuks) or Lee Wong Kee. But I'd still advise that you give her a call and only venture there if she has 7-star grouper. Start on the right note. And oh, you may want to check out the same shop at night when another operator takes over. The evening operator runs Jeff's Corner, famous for its local-style western food, greasy chicken chops, lamb and even wagyu steaks at reasonable prices. I've tried the steaks and chops and found them about the same as served in other local western food restaurants but I'm told their roasted lamb on Saturdays are worth clogging your arteries for.

Chunks of grouper head with mi fun in soup, RM6/US$1.70.

Fish slices with mi fun soup, RM6/US$1.70

Mixed beef mi fun soup, RM6/US$1.70 (RM4/US$1.10 for regular meat and meat balls noodles)

Lee Sheng Coffee Shop (corner lot),
Ground Floor Lot 1, Luyang Phase 6 Shophouse (diagonally opposite Luyang Apartments)
Tel: 019 8100698

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Living Fossil

I take a drive out into the kampungs (villages) whenever I need to be alone and yesterday afternoon, Mom's Day, was a bummer of a day, so there I was, driving along the Papar Road at 6pm, shaking and singing my head off at Linda Ronstadt's "Back In The USA".

Then I saw this large native family of about 10--mom, dad, babies, teens, walking at the side of the road. One of them, a boy of about 14, was holding something with both hands above his head over his back. I stopped my car and went after them with my handphone--didn't have my camera with me. Two of the boys patiently allowed me to take photos of this thing that looked like an alien or a giant bug or both. They said the thing was called "beringgis" in their language (and there is a Beringgis Resort nearby. Now I know the meaning of the word), they had just caught it from the sea, the legs are meaty and delicious, and there are loads of eggs/roe inside the shell. I didn't hold the thing, but it was as big as my wok so it must've been at least 4 kgs? I've only seen these 'bugs' hung on the walls in motels and seaside homes, and once or twice in the fish markets but this is the first time I've seen one alive and so big too.



When I showed Wey the photo, he said the crab was "like a thing from before Jesus". Correction, Wey, it should be "from 445 million years ago"! According to what I've read on horseshoe crabs, these are 'living fossils' because they haven't changed since at least 445 million years ago, based on a fossil dated to that era found in Manitoba, Canada. How do you like that?! I am fascinated.

I showed the photo to my friend Elaine this morning and asked her what she thinks horseshoe crabs are distant cousins of, in a very very minute size and she said "It looks like a giant tick!" She is right, the horseshoe crab is distantly related to the tick and the spider AND NOT the crab. I like to ask Elaine what she thinks of the looks of things, because she can be very apt in her description. She once described our least-liked dog (and she & I are dogs lovers) , the chihuahua, as "a giant rat!" That is so true, I always think of a rat when I see a chihuahua or some people who look like one.

Did you know that the horseshoe crab has colorless blood that turns dark BLUE after exposure to the air? Now how outer space is that?

The blood of horseshoe crabs (as well as that of most molluscs, including cephalopods and gastropods) contains the copper-containing protein hemocyanin at concentrations of about 50 g per litre.[18] These creatures do not have hemoglobin (iron-containing protein) which is the basis of oxygen transport in vertebrates. Hemocyanin is colourless when deoxygenated and dark blue when oxygenated. The blood in the circulation of these creatures, which generally live in cold environments with low oxygen tensions, is grey-white to pale yellow,[18] and it turns dark blue when exposed to the oxygen in the air, as seen when they bleed.[18] This is due to change in color of hemocyanin when it is oxygenated.[18] Hemocyanin carries oxygen in extracellular fluid, which is in contrast to the intracellular oxygen transport in vertebrates by hemoglobin in red blood cells.[18] (from Wikipedia)

In the Atlantic ocean of the USA, these creatures are tagged because they are periodically caught and bled. Yes, bled, to collect their blood for use by the pharmaceutical and medical device industries to ensure that their products, e.g., intravenous drugs, vaccines, and medical devices, are free of bacterial contamination. No other test works as easily or reliably for this purpose.

Horseshoe crabs are valuable as a species to the medical research community, and in medical testing. The above-mentioned clotting reaction is used in the Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) test to detect bacterial endotoxins in pharmaceuticals and to test for several bacterial diseases.[8] LAL is obtained from the animals' blood.

Horseshoe crabs are also used in finding remedies for diseases that have developed resistances to penicillin and other drugs.

Horseshoe crabs are returned to the ocean after bleeding, although some do die during the process. Studies show that blood volume returns to normal in about a week, though blood cell count can take two to three months to fully rebound.[21] A single horseshoe crab can be worth $2,500 over its lifetime for periodic blood extractions[citation needed].(Wikipedia)

I don't know if we do that here but from what those boys and their mom said, it looked like they had horseshoe crab for dinner last night. I also found this article. I wonder how they taste like. I don't mind trying. If it's from the sea, I'm not so squeamish about it. Wait, maybe I'm over-estimating myself. When we were in Japan, I was nauseated when I found that I was in a whale meat shop so I guess I'm just not so adventurous after all.

And if horseshoe crabs are not weird enough, how about this?


Thursday, May 7, 2009



Funny how I seem to be cooking and eating a lot of pork dishes recently. Somebody asked me if I'm not afraid of getting swine flu. Pigs have gotten a bad reputation mainly due to the old ways of rearing them on leftovers and scraps --they were reared as scavengers really--but the rearing of pigs have been modernized the last 40-50 years and these days pork is about as safe as beef and chicken. And anyway the present swine flu is being transmitted among humans because it is a mutated strain that affects humans. Since I'm in a rambling mood, did you read about the lockdown in a Hong Kong hotel this week? I didn't know of it until a friend told me yesterday. I read it here, and find it quite amusing. It's got the potential of a silly disaster movie, like The Poseidon or some stupid flick like that: a bunch of tourists from all over the world, locked down in a hotel, not knowing who will get the swine flu...

My son Wey was a scrawny kid, thin as a reed because he was a fussy eater. We called him sau meng gai (skinny chicken) and ba bi goong (fuss pot). My MIL would upset me by saying, "Are you feeding him at all? Don't scrimp on money, feed your son!" When she saw him naked in the bath, she'll always say, "Pitiful boy, skin wrapped on bones, he looks thinner than a beggar!"

Then suddenly, when he was 9, he started eating and growing and eating and growing, until he got so fat his face puffed up, all features like nose and eyes buried in the folds. It was my FIL's turn to always upset me by saying, "Hey, don't feed him so much, bu yao hai ta (don't harm him)!" My in-laws always have more freedom of speech than me.

The secret to Wey's sudden liking of food was this: he discovered belly pork, and the fatter it was the more he liked it. Then he discovered he liked it grilled Korean style. He just couldn't get enough of samgyubsal in Korean restaurants, which at RM26/US$7.20 for less than 10 small pieces of pork fat was too just expensive. So I started grilling samgyubsal at home on my old hibachi plate. Sometimes 6 times a week, every week, just as long as he eats. And that's how he got so fat. How did he loose weight then, in the last 2 years? Same way, in reverse. I don't cook samgyubsal except for once in 2 months or so, although tonight after finding the new grill perfect for grilling samgyubsal it looks like Wey will probably be ballooning again. Okay, he also lost weight after I started serving brown rice instead of white. Tonight we had pure white rice mixed with glutinous rice and he said it's his best meal in months. That kid, still a ba bi goong. Fusspot.

Back to samgyubsal. If you, like Wey, prefer your Korean bulgogi plain and not marinaded, this is a really easy way to cook at the table. Just have a stove at the table and each person cooks and helps himself to the meat, best when washed down by a cool beer. Have some side dishes like kim chi, fried anchovies, pickled bean sprouts, toasted crispy laver (gim) and a good hearty Korean soup like samgaetang or yukgaejang or seafood chili soup, and you'll swear it's one of your best meals ever too.



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You can use a seasoned salt dip, available in bottles at Korean marts. In KK, the best Korean mart in terms of variety and prices is Ace Korean Market next to Shikei Restarant (opposite from Chung Hwa Primary School) in Asia City.

a slab of fresh belly pork, skinless, and about 8-10 cm wide
salt & black pepper, toasted lightly in a greaseless wok or pot
Korean chili bean paste
raw garlic, in thin slices
fresh chili peppers (optional)

1. Put the clean belly pork on a large plate into the freezer. Take out when half-frozen. Using a very sharp knife, slice the belly pork into thin slices (not too thin, about 0.5 cm thick). If you can slice it very long, that's fine too becasue you can cut it with scissors after it's cooked but at home, without an electric meat slicer, smaller pieces are easier to cut. This is the only difficult part about preparing samgyubsal--slicing it evenly and neatly.

2. Set up a grill or a skillet, preferably at the table, lay the pork slices all over the grill (no need for oil) and turn on the fire, at low. Let the pork cook while you discuss how dirty politics is.

3. Turn the pork only when the bottom side is golden brown. Turn once only, don't mess it up by turning over and over.

4. To eat, (I would dab away the oil with kitchen paper...) take a piece of lettuce in your hand, dip the cooked pork into the salt & pepper and place on the lettuce, add a few slices of raw garlic and a chili and fold the lettuce into a wrap and take a bite. You can also add a small lump of chili bean paste.

Don't forget to serve with plain white rice. Just add 1 cup of glutinous rice to 2 cups of quality long grain rice, wash and cook as usual.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hakka Pork Egg Roll

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Home-made Hakka pork egg rolls

I think the confusion about the names of many Chinese dishes came about because sometimes each dialect pronounces the same thing differently and different things the same. Take the Hakka pork egg roll for example. We call it chun gen in Hakka, but that can mean egg roll or spring roll since chun can be egg or spring when spoken (although the characters are written differently). To make it worse, people like me, who speak but don't read or write Chinese, mistakenly translate chun into English as spring instead of egg and so these rolls are also called spring rolls which they are not.

In Hong Kong, egg rolls (dan guen, not chun guen because chun in Cantonese means spring, not egg. Still with me?) are those yummy sweet flaky rolls that are hollow inside. For that reason, I'm calling these pork-filled rolls pork egg rolls. Pork egg rolls are very different from spring rolls. Spring rolls are those delicious, crunchy deep-fried rolls with a meat and veg filling inside and a phyllo-like 'skin' outside. Pork egg rolls are rolls with minced pork filling and egg omelette as wrapper, or it can be a smaller version of the pork roll served in yum cha places. I hope you are still reading.

So next time you order egg roll and get spring rolls instead, you know how the mix-up came about. This will only happen in Sabah though, because apparently pork egg rolls are not found in other states of Malaysia (correct me, Westies).

My bro was here last week from Singapore and one of the things he craved for was pork egg rolls. I have been weaned off this item over the years because I find the taste of the pork quite unpalatable. I suspect bicarb of soda or some other chemical is added to the pork (cheaper cuts are used) to tenderize it and to make it swell. Whatever they put kills the sweetness and flavor of the pork (which is corrected with generous spiking of msg) and gives a slight alkaline taste (a saltiness that is unlike salt). Even the famous pork rolls from Kudat, the northern district of Borneo where the first Hakkas from China settled into, have this taste now. If you like commercial pork egg rolls, you are actually liking the msg. I also abstain from pork rolls because most of the rolls sold are now swiss-roll-like, with the egg omelette rolled into the mince so that the egg, which is cheaper than the meat, gives bulk to the roll but does not give the same bite as the authentic rolls. The only pork roll that still tastes alright is sold by an old lady vendor outside Thai Seng Supermarket next to Kian Kok Middle School. This is the same vendor who sells the best freshly-made tofu in town that doesn't smell of calcium sulphate.

Do you know that one skinny egg roll is now RM5/US$1.40, up from RM3? And they are now much shorter too, about a foot long only. This is something that really makes me hopping mad. Prices go up, but the goods are either of inferior quality or reduced quantity, or both. When oil prices went sky-high, so did the prices of everything but now that oil prices are low, the prices of everything keep going up. Consumers always end up short-changed.



These pork rolls from Lido Market were bland pork mince masked with lots of msg and swiss-rolled and they unravel after being cut.

My Wey loves egg rolls fried rice so I decided make my own egg rolls for the first time today. I checked Lilyanette , who seemed to be the only one who has done a post on the rolls so far, probably because these really are to native to Sabah. I have simplified the seasoning of the meat but it's up to you really how you want the flavor. In terms of costs, there won't be much savings since you'd be using better, leaner cuts of pork and making the filling thicker. I can see why they are selling these rolls for Rm5 now. I bet one day they'll add spring onions and chilies, eggsand flour etc to bulk up the rolls.

Taste wise, my egg rolls are far better than the commercial rolls but texture wise, they were coarse because I used pork tenderloin, which is all lean meat. As with everything, practice makes perfect and I need to make the omelette thinner (should be nearly paper-thin) and tuck the rolls so they are more compact. I think pork fat not only gives a smooth texture, it also prevents the rolls from shrinking after cooking, so that they are well-filled and compact.

Note: although in Sabah these rolls are strictly made with pork, some readers have pointed out that these rolls can be made of fish paste or beef so that's an alternative to those who eat kosher or halal food. Just make sure you get the meat springy and bouncy to the bite.

Pork Egg Rolls
400 g fresh pork*
1/3 t salt
large pinch of white pepper
1 T cornstarch (especially if you add pork fat)

*pork fat will give a smoother texture.

2 large eggs, salt & pepper

1. Chill the pork for an hour. Cut into small chunks and put it (by portions) in your machine, adding salt and pepper. Mince it until it becomes a paste and looks stiff and sticky. To make it more firm to the bite, use a pair of chopsticks or your hand and stir the mince in a bowl in one direction until the protein in the meat develops a springy texture.

2. Put the pork mince into a plastic bag and cut a hole (say 3 cm across) at the end for piping.

2. Add salt and pepper to the eggs, whisk well so the whites are fully mixed with the yolk. Let it sit for a while so that the air bubbles disappear.

3. Heat up a large non-stick pan, add a teaspoon of oil and smear it all over the pan and sides. Add the egg all at once, swirling your pan quickly so that a very thin omelette forms. Use very low fire.


4. When the omelette is set and firm (I don't flip over), remove the pan (do not remove the omelette from the pan; makes the rolling and handling easier) from the fire and pipe the meat sausage-like across the omelette, closer to one side. Fold the nearest side over the meat, fold both ends too and roll carefully until the omelette is all rolled up.

5. Put the rolls, seam-side down, on a heat-proof plate and steam 15-20 minutes (depending on the thickness of the meat roll) under medium-low heat.

6. When the rolls are cool, slice them diagonally, not too thick or thin, and serve with a chili-soy sauce dip.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Soft Sesame Seed Buns

So we finally fired up that giant 4 burners + 1 stove barbie grill that we bought 2 months ago .The heat was so strong that my bro Joe burnt half the ribs and lamb chops and we were done eating within 1 1/2 hours. Talk about efficiency. Gas grills are so convenient aren't they. And my hair didn't smell of smoke, unlike using charcoal grills. Only bummer is the cleaning up, and should the grease plates under the grill be cleaned up each time after use, or should the grease be left to contribute flavors to future grilling? Please advise, anyone.


We had baby back ribs basted with a sauce that Wey had cooked for more than an hour. The sauce was supposed to be a clone of that by the American chain restaurant Roadhouse Grill but we had substituted the Jim Beam whiskey with Harvey's Bristrol sherry and we couldn't get hold of any liquid mesquite smoke so it turned out tasting like tomato puree and cider vinegar mix. That confirmed it for me: making your own barbie sauce is a waste of time. Just buy the bottle. Still, the baby ribs were good. We also had some bratwursts my other bro Clive had brought in from Singapore. I liked the big green prawns best, grilled to almost charred outside and moist and springy inside. The head of the prawn was intense with flavor. But when Joe started serving his pork belly marinaded in red bean curd and wine, everything else tumbled to second place. The belly pork was savory sweet and juicy, with a strong red bean curd flavor.

My sesame seed buns were a hit. I've often used the same sweet dough recipe for making garlic rolls and cheesesticks but tonight's buns were extra cottony soft. I know it's not the Gold Medal bread flour. The secret was in the water-flour ratio. I've always added extra flour to the recipe (which is from a book called Make Your Own Bread--author's name is in Chinese) because it makes a messy, sticky dough but this time, I stayed true to the recipe (except for reducing the sugar and cutting short the steps) and what a big difference it made. I have simplified all my bread making into one step, no matter what recipe. As long as the yeast is good, I throw all the ingredients into the mixer without making a starter mix or adding the ingredients in stages and the bread'll still come out good.

This is a great recipe I treasure and which I'm sure you would too once you've tried it. You can add some raisins or cheese or garlic and butter or meat floss, or red bean paste...It is simple and easy to make yet yields amazingly soft, light and moist bread that stays soft without the use of bread improver and whatever else the commercial bakers use.



Soft Sesame Seed Buns
500 g bread flour
1 1/2 t dry active yeast
50 g castor sugar*
1 t salt
1 medium-sized egg
50 g cold butter
260 ml cold water (lukewarm water if room temp is low)

1 egg yolk, white sesame seeds

*reduce or increase according to the type of bread you are making

1. Put all the ingredients into your mixer bowl and knead at medium speed for 12-15 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sticky at first and gradually becomes less wet but still sticky. Take out the dough hook, cover the bowl with a cloth and leave in unheated oven for 1 hour until all puffed (they always say until dough doubles but really the dough triples).

2. Take the dough out and put on a lightly floured surface. Use a pastry cutter and cut into 10-12 equal pieces (I made 13).

3. Lightly flour your hands and roll each piece of dough on the counter in a circular motion. Press the dough out (using hands or rolling pin) into an oblong shape and roll it up, swiss-roll like, from the shorter side. Tuck in and press the open sides firmly to seal. Repeat for all dough pieces.

4. Pull the dough pieces lightly to lengthen and put them on a greased baking tray about 1 cm apart and let them rise in an unheated oven for an hour.

5. Take the tray out, heat the oven to 200 C. Brush the tops of the buns with a beaten egg yolk and sprinkle some sesame seeds over.

6. Bake until golden, about 13-15 minutes.

Some bread-making tips I've learnt:

--unless you have iron arms, kneading by machine using a dough hook gives best results
--make sure your yeast is active by 'growing' some of it in sugar, water n flour. If it bubbles & foams, it's good
--after the final/second proofing, be very careful when handling the proofed dough. If you bang it or give it a thud, the dough will deflate and the bread will be hard
--a wet dough gives softer bread
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