Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dried Bak Choy Soup

bak choy soup
Bak choy soup

The last batch of dried bak choy I bought from a Chinese herbal shop was so tough we couldn't chew on the veg even after 3 hours of boiling, so I decided to dry my own bak choy. I was surprised to find that the bak choy took about 10 days to dry completely. Another surprise was the that the bak choy shrank by as much as 10 times in volume. The color of the leaves were light brown, unlike the commercial ones which are almost black in color. I think the darker the color, the older the veg and that's why 3 hours of boiling didn't soften it.

Ming is a soup king. He is happy as long as he gets soup, and it doesn't matter if it's a quick soup to help wash his food down and rehydrate his system or a soup that's simmered for 3 hours to nourish his body, as long as it's a Chinese soup. Wey, on the other hand, is the only one in the family who doesn't drink Chinese soups so I have to stock up on Campbell's soups for him. Ming is very lucky that his "Australian mom" takes the trouble to cook Chinese soups just for him.

Friends who have migrated to western countries always tell me they can't make certain soup s because they can't get village chickens and regular chicken bones have an awful chicken flavor. Pork bones are the worst, smelling like what my mom said is pig pee which of course is not true but it comes close, I imagine. I think the piggy stink is because of the breed (and some say gender) and westerners expect their pork piggy so they don't mind it whereas in serious pork-eating countries (like China and anywhere you find Chinese), they rear pigs that don't have that piggy stink. If you can't get good pork or pork bones, use stewing beef or bones although traditionally this soup is made with pork. Add a small slice of ginger if using beef.

I've recently switched from using pork bones for my soup base to a cut of pork called yau moi dai in Hakka, meaning 'waist belt'. It is a piece of long lean meat covered with a thick membrane-like skin, and I'm told it is attached to the top of the tenderloin. Yau moi dai should not be cut it into small pieces; just boil it whole and cut after it's done. It will taste sweeter. The soup made with yau moi dai is just as sweet as pork bones soup with the advantage of being not oily. I've noticed that some people, especially Malaysians, add dried squid to all their simmered soups. That is so wrong. Not all traditional Chinese soups call for dried squid. In fact, sometimes the flavor of the dried squid overwhelms certain soups. Dried bak choy soup and watercress soup are two soups I can think of that don't need dried squid or dried oysters.

Dried bak choy soup is one of those old traditional favorites, cooked by moms when their families need something to cool their bodies. Many Chinese believe in heaty and cooling food--the Ying and Yang thing. Foods are heaty or cooling depending on the way they are cooked and on their intrinsic properties. Durians for example are very heaty fruits while mangosteens are cooling, and so it's best to eat both to balance the yingyang scale. Fried, roasted and bbqed food are heaty while boiled and steamed food are not. Some people are very sensitive to the heaty-cooling thing but I find it telling that our family doesn't bother much with it and so we don't suffer from heatiness or exteme coolness. It's like ghosts; the more you believe in them the more you'll see them. We have a friend who sees them everywhere and I can tell you it's very unnerving when he starts telling you who or what is in the room.

The bak choy shrank so much that I had to add fresh bak choy to the soup, but that combination makes a very refreshing soup. You can use wholly dried bak choy or add some fresh bak choy like I did. I will continue to dry my own bak choy from now on because other than the better texture and tastier soup it makes, and the fact that my choy is organic, home-dried bak choy has none of the slight sourness that commercial dried bak choy sometimes give. There's so much fiber in this soup, you'll feel very detoxed the next day.

bak choy
Fresh bak choy. To make your own, get the long-stemmed bak choy, wash well and hang them on a line to dry. When wilted, you can put on a metal tray or bamboo tray to dry. Dry it in hot sun until it is like straw.

bak choy 1
The ingredients for bak choy soup--I used 3 x as much fresh choy than shown in the photo. This is the amount of dried bak choy I got from the fresh choy in the previous photo.

Dried Bak Choy Soup (for 8-10 servings)
700-800 kg pork meat or 1 kg pork bones, or mixture of
a handful of dried bak choy (say 1 cup, compacted), soaked, washed n cut into 6 cm lengths
300-400g fresh bak choy, cut into 6-8 cm lengths
1 small handful red dates, washed
4-5 honey dates, preferably the sugar-free ones (if unavailable, substitute with ordinary dates)
2 T Chinese apricot kernels (for soups), washed
salt to taste, if using

1. Clean the pork meat or bones, then blanch them with boiling water and drain.

2. Put the meat/bones into a large pot and add enough water to give about 8 cm clearance from the ingredients to the water level. Add the red dates, honey dates, almonds and dried bak choy and let soup simmer 1 hour.

3. Add the fresh bak choy, season with salt lightly and simmer another hour (I don't believe in simmering for longer than 2-2 1/2 hours, unlike my MIL who simmers her soups for 3-4 hours). Do not add more water unless the water level is very low. Serve hot.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bubur Cha Cha

bubur chacha
Bubur cha cha, a simple yet yummy dessert of colorful sweet potatoes and taro cooked in coconut milk.

Ming is home and the family is complete. Not counting 1 1/2 years ago when we were in Melbourne for Yi's graduation, our family has not been together for 2 years, so this is a wonderful time. I feel the difference in my 2 older kids. They aren't teens anymore. I feel relieved and a little sad about that.

Ming was telling me about a popular show in Aussieland right now, Master Chef. In one of the episodes, an Asian contestant boiled sweet potatoes in coconut milk and the distinguished judges--professional chefs--were amazed with his cooking creativity and skills. It was hilarious, said Ming. Every Asian knows that dessert. In Malaysia, it's called bubur cha cha. The Thais use pumpkin, Viets add bananas to the sweet potatoes and Indonesians like their bubur cha cha with colored glutinous rice balls.

We get sweet potatoes in white, yellow, orange, light purple and dark purple. To me, there are 3 essential ingredients to making a fantastic pot of bubur (a Malay word for thick soup or congee) cha cha and they are pandan leaves, taro and fresh thick coconut milk. I sometimes make bubur cha cha the Chinese way, like my dad, with sweet potatoes, taro, fresh ginger and brown sugar but that will give a nice, refreshing dessert. Pour in some santan or coconut milk and it turns the dessert from nice to awesome. Santan is to Asia what dairy cream is to western countries. We add santan to soups, veg, drinks, curries, our pancakes, our kuihs, our cakes and our jellies. When it comes to santan, especially for desserts, I am very stubborn: it has to be fresh santan, straight from the coconut. For cooking savory dishes such as curries, I may use canned santan but that is only if I really can't get fresh grated coconut, which is unusual because they are found in most grocers.

You can add large sago pearls to the bubur but I find it a bother to have to cook them separately so I always use the tiny sago pearls. Sago pearls thicken the bubur and are fun to eat and look at (they turn totally transparent). One mistake I always used to make was cooking the sweet potatoes and taro for too long. I've found that it only takes 10 minutes to cook these tubers until tender. Immersed in a pot of hot liquid, the potatoes continue to cook even after the heat is taken off and by the time the bubur is cool, the potatoes are usually mushy and all broken up. Bubur cha cha tastes best when you let it sit a while after cooking, so the best time to eat it is when the bubur is lukewarm.

Note: I checked Nee's post on bubur cha cha and she steams her sweet potatoes and taro until they are tender and then add them to the boiled santan/coconut milk. This way the potatoes will not be too mushy (ensures perfect texture) but their flavor will not be infused into the santan so it's up to you what you want.

bubur chacha1

Bubur Cha Cha (makes a huge pot)
2 kg mix of sweet potatoes and taro
grated flesh of 3 coconuts
5 pandan leaves
sugar to taste
1/2 cup tiny sago pearls

1. Peel and cut the potatoes and taro into 2.5 cm chunks. Wash and tie the pandan leaves into a knot. Add 2 cups of room temp water into the grated coconut, 'massage' and knead the coconut so that the milk released is thick (sometimes called coconut cream). Squeeze out the milk and strain it into a large bowl. Add 1 liter of room temp water again to the grated coconut, massage and knead again. Squeeze the thinner milk through a sieve into the thicker milk. Put aside.

2. Put the pandan leaves into a large pot (doesn't have to be a thick-base pot because it retains too much heat) and add 1 1/2 liter water to boil for 10 minutes. Remove the leaves.

3. Now add the unwashed sago, sweet potatoes and taro, stirring well to mix. Add enough water if necessary to just cover the potatoes. Add enough sugar to just sweeten the soup; not too much because the milk will add more sweetness. Let the bubur simmer for another 5-7 minutes (stir once in a while) and then add the milk. When the bubur heats through but not boil, switch off the heat and let it sit covered for about 10 minutes. The sago pearls may still have some white uncooked starch in their center but this will turn transparent as the bubur cools.

You can add a pinch of salt if like but I think it's good not to salt everything, especially soupy desserts.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fried Assam Laksa

Fried assam laksa noodles

Is it just me who has never heard of fried assam laksa? I love Penang assam laksa, and even flew to Penang last year just to eat it. When I saw the recipe for fried assam laksa in a recent copy of Flavour magazine, I knew I had to cook the dish.

It is VERY hot and dry in KK now, and bunga kantan (kantan flowers, known as torch ginger buds for their shape) are aplenty in our markets. I love the scent of these buds, so much that I'm going to have a bunga kantan plant in my garden if I can get hold of one. Bunga kantan is an essential ingredient for making assam laksa. Without it, it is like Hokkien mee without pork crackling and pork oil. If you can't get your hands on some, you shouldn't attempt this dish. But poor you, you'll be missing out on a fantastic noodles dish. I think this dish will be a hit at pot luck dinners and gatherings, and unlike the original Penang assam laksa, this dish doesn't require as much work.

Asian dishes are very colorful and flavor-centered, and fried assam laksa has about 10 different highly scented and flavored ingredients that not only satisfy your tastebuds, but also your nose and your eyes. I have made quite a bit of adjustments to the original recipe, starting with the noodles. We just can't get fresh assam noodles here. Even dried assam noodles are hard to find. I think a good substitute would be what we call 'mouse noodles', those short rice noodles with a tapered end. I also added extra ingredients such as belacan, sweet shrimp paste, canned tuna, daun kesom and mint. These are basically the same ingredients used in the traditional assam laksa. Instead of mixing in and frying the traditional garnishing of cucumber and onions, I used them as garnishing and added bunga kantan, bombay onions, red chili and cucumber, as in traditional Penang assam laksa. What I missed out and will add next time I cook this is pineapple bits. That will really jazz this dish up and help blend all the different flavors. The ingredients list looks scary but it was okay for me because I grow most of the ingredients in my garden.

This noodle dish reminds me of Siam noodles, but it has even more intense and varied flavors. It also is very healthy since only a small amount of oil is used for frying and there are lots of fiber in the herbs and veg. We ate the whole plate of noodles for tea, the 4 of us. I nearly licked the plate.


Fried Assam Laksa
400 g dried assam laksa noodles, soaked in room temp water for 2 hours (or about 1 kg fresh)
1 large bunga kantan, sliced very very fine, divided into 2 parts
1/2 bulb garlic, minced
5 shallots, sliced
2 stalks of lemon grass (serai), the 'heart' sliced very finely
1/2 cup dried shrimps, soaked until soft, drained and chopped
1 can tuna chunks or flakes
1 x 40 g (about 2 T) pkt tomyam paste (I used Adabi brand)
1-2 t belacan
1 T sweet shrimp paste (hae ko)
juice from 3 limes or 1/2 cup thick assam water (or a mixture of)
1 t chicken stock powder
1/2 cup water (if using dried noodles &/or limes instead of fresh noodles &/or assam water)
3 T veg oil

1/2 the bunga kantan
1 Bombay onion, sliced into half rings
1 small stalk of lettuce, washed & sliced into 1 cm shreds
1 small Lebanese or Taiwanese cucumber, julienned
1 red chili, in thin strips
4-5 chili padis (optional)
1 cup pineapple, in small chunks
4-5 daun kesom, sliced into very very very thin strips
a small handful of mint

kasturi limes to serve with

1. Put oil into a heated wok and add the garlic, shallots and dried shrimps. Fry until lightly browned/golden, add the tomyam paste and belacan, stirring well to mix.

2. Add the shrimp paste and water/assam water if using. Add the chicken stock, stirring well.

3. Add the noodles and stir fry with a ladle and pair of chopsticks, taking care not to cut or break the noodles.

4. Now add the lemon grass, 1/2 the bunga kantan and lime juice (if using instead of assam water) and season with salt if necessary. If noodles are too hard, add some water.

5. Arrange the lettuce on a large plate or bowl, ladle the noodles over the lettuce and top with all the remaining garnish. Serve with kasturi limes on the side.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yakitori Chicken

Yakitori chicken

I've not been that busy, but I've certainly been lazy. On the pretext of taking my daughter (the 'pearl in our hand', as somebody described it, is back on winter break) out to eat her fav food, I've not been cooking except for Wey who has tuition at night and can't come out with us.

Talking of tuition, I was disappointed and dismayed after talking to Wey's English teacher yesterday. Wey and I had a big argument a few weeks ago when I sat him down to work on his English. For his PMR exams in Oct, Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde is one of the two books he has to cover, the other being Robinson Crusoe. He claimed that they haven't been asked to read the novels; he doesn't even have a copy of the novels. What they are using this year is two workbooks on Dr Jekyl. School just started Monday, so I went to the teacher who confirmed that the kids aren't required to read the novels because by the time they go through the workbooks, they'd know how to answer the questions. When I protested, she said they have no time (didn't they have 3 years, Form 1 to 3? And the novels, used by other schools, are in very simple English which a primary school kid would have no difficulty reading?) to read the books because the classes are big, the kids cannot be bothered, there are too many other subjects to cover and literature makes up only 10% of the total score. She then advised that I can always send my son for tuition. I was stunned. I don't think I endeared myself to her, because I told her as graciously as I could that if I was teaching, I'd make sure all the students read the novel first because what is the point of teaching literature if the students are not taught to appreciate the beauty of the language, the story, the prose? Her final word was that what everybody wants is to get high marks in exams so the school caters to that want. And so I rest my case, that education in Malaysia has gone to the dogs. I don't blame the teachers as much as I blame the schools and the Education Dept and parents, those who insist on all As, who regard any grade less than an A as a loss of face. Education here isn't about knowledge, it's about how many As the students can score. It isn't about learning important and relevant useful subjects because if it is, then students won't have to struggle with 11 subjects (12 if you do Chinese), of which the three subjects morals, civics and life skills, as far as I am concerned ARE A BLOODY WASTE OF TIME. Make that four subjects, because history is also a waste of time since it is 90% Malaysian history made up to brainwash the kids on the monarchy, our founding fathers and the government. If I am the Education Minister and I am truly concerned about education, I would review the present syllabus without any agenda but with a single-minded goal to make education truly meaningful, enjoyable and knowledge and skills-acquiring rather than score-seeking. Besides those 3 or 4 subjects, I would also throw out geography too, and replace all of them with a new subject that emphasizes geography, geo science, environmental science and ecology. This is what the future generation needs to know, the limitation of the earth's resources and how we should manage and preserve them, instead of where rubber trees are planted in Malaysia and the names of the tribal dances and different musical instruments of the natives.

So to the Chinese who are fighting to teach Science and Math in Chinese, and the Malays who want those two subjects in Malay, I say "Boot to the Head". The whole education system is rotten and we are fighting about teaching those subjects vernacularly.

Okay, that's some huffing I've done. If you still want food, here's what I whipped up for Wey's dinner tonight: yakitori chicken. If I had the time, I'd have skewered some shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers and even chicken livers, which is popular in yakitori joints in Japan. You do need a very hot grill for yakitori or you'll end up with a skewer of steamed meat. Make the sauce well ahead because you'll need some sauce to marinade the chicken with.

I think I need some leong cha to cool my head.

Yakitori Chicken
300g chicken thighs
2 stalks of leeks
wooden skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes
teriyaki sauce

1. Cut the chicken (with or without skin) into 4 cm squares, the leeks into 4 cm lengths.

2. Use 2 T of the teriyaki sauce to marinade the chicken for at least an hour.

3. Skewer the chicken and leeks alternately. It's good to start and end with a piece of leek because it holds the meat in.

4. Fire up that grill and grill the chicken on low heat for about 2-3 minutes each side, then increase the heat to high and baste with the teriyaki sauce for another minute or two. Be careful not to burn the chicken; the sugar in the sauce can burn easily and taste bitter. Serve with rice, or better still, with beer.

Teriyaki Sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1/2 cup sake
3 T sugar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 pinches of dashi (optional, but I like the extra umami taste)

Put everything except the dashi into a small pot and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes (add the dashi towards the end of cooking) until sauce is thickened. Remember that the sauce will thicken further upon cooling. I got about 5 T sauce for this recipe.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shah & Shafinaz's Wedding

I don't get invited to Malay weddings often, and when I do, I never miss them. In this case, I looked forward to this wedding because it was the wedding of the son of my classmate G (she is Aminah now, but we her classmates have the privilege of calling her fondly by her childhood name, G). A few of our schoolmates have kids who have gotten married but in our class of 22 girls, G's 22-year-old son is the first.

The wedding started with the akad nikah, the taking of vows in front of an iman, in G's new house in The Residence, an upscale estate that sits next to a golf course with the city of KK behind it separated by a small strip of sea. Access into the estate was by golf buggies because there were so many cars. I must tell G that next time she invites me, I want to be sent in by one of her two boats anchored behind the house.

The akad nikah was a very solemn ceremony that lasted nearly 2 hours. Because it was so solemn, I didn't take many photos but here are some taken after the ceremony:



The Filipino florist/designer came up with interesting flower center pieces that included veg such as cabbage and chives.

These are suluk-bajau dancers doing their traditional dances.

The lovely bride in a beautiful hand-sequined baju kurung.

A row of interesting hantaran (dowry), beautifully wrapped and presented. There were many of sets of cosmetics, a couple of Louis Vuitton bags, jewellery, an iPhone, a pair of jeans and dodol (a chewy fudge-like confectionery made of coconut milk).

The beautiful young newly weds.

The next batch of photos were taken the next evening (9/6/09) at The Magellan Sutera Hotel where about 1000 guests attended the dinner. Again, I couldn't take the photos as freely as I wanted to because the occasion was very formal and grand. I wish I had the guts to walk up to the stage where the bride and groom were seated, dressed like prince and princess, as they were blessed by the VIPs and relatives. I was especially awed by the bride's breathtaking shimmering butter-colored baju kurung. A friend asked why I wasn't wearing a baju kurung and I realized I don't have one. Why I don't have one is because I think baju kurungs are hideous sacks used by some ladies to hide their rolls and lumps and bumps. I much prefer the sarung kebaya which seems to be worn proudly by the Indonesians but not anymore by Malaysians.

Everyday baju kurungs are like big cloth bags with holes to put your head through, and are usually made with cheap loud flowery fabrics. The baju kurung I dislike most are those that have reversed backgrounds, with, say red dots against a blue background for the top and blue dots with red background for the bottom. Oh. so. trite.

Well, my eyes were opened last night. Evening baju kurungs are totally different from ordinary day time sacks. Evening bajus are slightly more shaped at the waist, and are elegant, classy, exquisite dresses made from diaphanous, dreamy silk chiffon hand sewn with sequins and beads that shimmer and shine as the ladies glide elegantly across the room. I was particularly taken by this pink number with its scalloped multi-tiered layers edged in beads and sequins (if you could just have a closer look, you'd be awed too), especially when she was on the stage blessing the couple:


These two beauties obligingly posed for me in their beautiful bajus.

By the time I left the party, I knew I want a taupe beige-colored chiffony, flowy baju with delicate scalloped edges sewn with tons of sequins and beads.

Ok, on with the show:


G and her prince who whisked her off at 20. G was a beauty queen and carries herself elegantly. I've never seen her without a smile, and as I thought about it last night, in all these years, I've never seen her angry or loud. Class lady, this one, and she remains the same as she was in school -- sweet, gentle and gracious.

G's baju was contemporary, very elegant and tasteful.


The food was absolutely delicious, from the soup soto kambing (lamb soup) to the nasi briyani (which had curry leaves), to the udang masak merah to the kurmah chicken. I had no idea Magellan serves such excellent Malay food. It def beats the food they serve at Chinese wedding banquets.

Dessert was a durian cheesecake, good with black coffee.

The cake was in the shape of fondant pillows...I wonder if there's a reason for this. Symbol of fertility perhaps? Somehow it reminds me of Arabian Nights, especially that blue pillow.

The stage where the couple sat to be blessed. You should've seen the bride's baju. It was stunning.



G and her family. I never understood pantuns/poems in school (although surprisingly now I do), couldn't speak Bahasa properly let alone write poems, but when G gave her speech at the end of the dinner, I teared as she told the newly weds to love each other forever unconditionally and recited a pantun that included these words, "kasih sayang bonda" --a mother's love. The tender feeling of gratefulness (that the kid has grown to what he is) and happiness (that he has found the person who loves him and will share his life) must've run through all the hearts of the mothers in the hall.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pork Leg With Soy Beans

pork trotters

An absolutely delicious dish cooked by my MIL. I won't even bother to cook this myself because Hub has just joked that my Shanghainese dishes are 'slightly' second rate to his mom's. I tell him if that's so it's because the teacher didn't teach me all her tricks.

You must have heard about the pig trotter-eating trend that started from Japan last year and reached as far as New York, where the beauty conscious are dining on pig trotters in a bid to replenish their aging bodies with collagen. The idea is that instead of injecting collagen into their faces, which may result in uneven contours and strange expressions, not forgetting the pain of the needles, eating collagen will naturally put back the glow and plumpness that time and stress have robbed. The Chinese have long known this, and pig skin was something the previous generation left on their pork; it is never discarded and in fact is sought after for the taste and bite. Pig leg in sweet black vinegar (a serious YUM!) is a dish most Chinese moms, MILs and confinement nannies will cook for new mothers, and friends of the new mothers look forward to eating when visiting the new mom and baby, so I'm sure there's something to this tradition. I am in the in-between generation, eating trotters' skin once in a while when it's served but my kids don't touch any pig skin at all, although lately Wey realized that he liked pig trotters for their tendons. I do believe that when we get into middle age, we shouldn't be too skinny or we'll have that weathered taut look. Look at AJ. Okay, she is still hot, but like a hot, tired and aged 40 something and that thin body looks like it's having trouble holding up her head, which is too big, literal and otherwise. What she needs is a good meal of pig trotters.

There isn't any meat in trotters (just skin and tendons) and in KK, the section from the knee to the trotters is sold in one piece. I shall call that section the lower leg. The shank, upper part of the lower leg, has quite a bit of meat though. Have the butcher cut the lower leg into small pieces through the bone but not through the bottom piece of skin so that the skin still holds the whole lower leg together. When you get home, you can wash the leg, then cut into smaller pieces. Don't reduce the amount of soy beans because they soak up the sauce and become very tasty; in my family, we fight for the beans as much as we fight for that perfect piece of pork--the piece with some meat, lots of tendon and lean skin. Since this dish needs slow cooking for more than 3 hours, it's a good idea to cook more so you can freeze some of it.

Move over SK II, I've found a cheaper fountain of youth, and I can eat it too.

Stewed Pig Leg With Soy Beans

1 pig shank & trotters (the lower leg), cut into 6 cm X 6 cm pieces
2 cups dried soy beans
1 cup dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked until soft n sliced into half
1/2 cup Kikkoman soy sauce*
1/3 cup Lee Kum Kee selected dark soy sauce*
50 g fresh ginger, in thick slices
50 g rock sugar*
1/2 t salt
4-5 T shaoxin wine

*Adjust the amount to your liking because the lower leg can vary in size

1. Soak the soy beans overnight. Put the soaked beans into a medium-sized pot, add water until it is 5 cm above the beans. Simmer for 1- 1 1/2 hours. Drain.

2. Boil some water and blanch the pieces of leg. Drain, throw away the water.

3. Put about 2 T veg oil in a large pot, fry the ginger until fragrant, add the leg and fry until the skin curls and contracts.

4. Add the soy sauces, sugar, salt and wine and enough water to just cover the trotters. When the dish comes to a boil, lower the heat until just simmering and cook until skin n meat are tender and very soft, but not falling off the bone and the beans are soft and filled with the flavor of the sauce. This can take 2 hours or more. Stir once in a while. There shouldn't be too much liquid or too little when the dish is done. Too much and the flavor is diluted and the sauce will be too runny; the sauce should be slightly thick. If this is the case, turn the heat up, take off the lid and let the sauce reduce but make sure you stir once in a while. Don't reduce the sauce too much or it will be too salty and there won't be enough sauce to go around. This is a good dish to eat hot with plain boiled rice.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kedai Kopi Ming Fong

A quick post. My internet connection is very slow again. I went to my hub's office last night to make some online payments and was taken aback by how fast the internet connection was; the page appeared right after clicking which seems like magic to me. I'm used to watching the what-do-u-call-it go round and round as the page tries to load and reload, stops, stalls and I have to start all over again.

We don't normally have late night meals now that we are our age and our size. But since school's out for Wey, we take him out once in a while because he needs 5 meals a day, especially just before he sleeps.

My sis told me about Kedai Kopi Ming Fong behind the burnt-down Servay Supermarket in Penampang whose young cook used to work at 'Bamboo Inn' (my translation) up on the hill slope near Taman Century in Shantung Au. I'm sure you know the Bamboo Inn. It was a very popular place to bring tourists for a very local meal because they served game such as wild boar, 'flying foxes', snakes, whatever else that I'm not aware of, in a wooden shaky open hut perched precariously on a hill side. I used to dread eating there because the hill was kind of spooky at night, although the air was very fresh and it freaked me out that my food may be contaminated with the blood of those exotic animals. It is also because of this reason that I don't go to Hong Kong or southern China in winter, because that's snake-eating season. Anyway, despite the large crowd, the place was closed down a couple of years ago after the landowner sold the property. Once in a while, I wondered where the restaurant relocated to. According to the young cook, all of them have gone on to work for other restaurants but he stressed that he'd work long enough at Bamboo Inn to come up with the same dishes, and the dish I wanted to eat was what I called 'Sabah mi fen' and what he called 'Fish sauce mi fen'. Btw, if you liked the guotie they used to serve at Bamboo Inn, the couple and son also relocated to Ming Feng. Gone are the days when people couldn't find a table. The concrete structure of the coffeeshop does not have that quaint wooden ramshackle-hut-in-the-jungle atmosphere so people don't bring their cousins visiting from Germany or Ireland here anymore. I suppose ambience was the real puller for Bamboo Inn. But I'd suggest you give the young cook a chance because he cooks pretty well and fast (okay, including us there was just another family in the whole restaurant).

Sabah style mi fen RM5/US$1.40, also known as fish sauce mi fen, is thin rice noodles fried with fish sauce, dried shrimps, sometimes salted fish, Sabah veg (vital) and a sprinkling of bird's eyes chilies, the hottest chilies in this country. 'White mi fen' is not easy to fry, since there's no soy sauce to lend any flavor, so there must be enough wok hei (heat of the wok that gives a smoky char flavor). The fish sauce, salted fish or dried shrimps and Sabah veg contribute to the subtle but yummy taste of this dish, best eaten with a belacan sauce or a lime-chili sauce.

Watan ho RM5/US$1.40, flat rice noodles with an egg gravy. It was okay, lots of wok hei but not exceptional in taste.

Guotie, pan-fried wheat flour snacks, was RM0.60 each and tasted like regular Malaysian-style guotie with a meat and onion filling.

Deep-fried quails, RM4.50 each, were lean and tender but a little too much for hub and I because Wey wouldn't touch it. "It's a little bird!" Yes, but so is chicken. "I don't like chicken anyway."

Bill was about RM26/US$7, cheaper than eating a pizza.

Ming Fong is in the middle of the last row of shop lots on the left side (if you are facing what used to be the entrance) of the Servay plot, on the road linking to Wong Kok Restaurant.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Chili Hot Ddeok

It was a long weekend so we took a drive down the coast where there are acres of green fields that used to be (and some still are) padi or rice fields. The west coast of Sabah is truly pretty, with blue hills on one side and the calm blue sea on the other side:


We went to the Bongawan Golf Resort that has been bought and recently renovated by some Koreans and we were hoping to have their daily Korean buffet. The restaurant was nice with a view of the golf course, which seemed rather devoid of shade trees except for coconut trees which don't give shade but then I'm not a golfer:


But the Korean buffet spread was pathetic, mostly veg and pickles, tough looking pa jon pancakes, and flies galore so we left and went to the Golf Club where we had their chicken chop rice which was, how shall I put it, strange-looking and tasting. Lucky for us we bumped into a friend who was there to golf and when we finished, the waiter told us that our meal was already paid by this friend. This is a common practice here. I like that, I should eat out more often at places where my friends frequent.


We passed by a stall where some fishermen displayed their catch of mackerel and another kind of fish which I can't recognize. I bought the whole fish because it was so fresh:


Since I was craving for Korean food, I got home and cooked the packet of ddeok that had been sitting in my fridge. Ddeok are short solid cylinders of rice dough that are very chewy. The Chinese (see my post on Shanghainese rice sticks), Japanese and Korean all have various shapes of chewy rice dough, and one common way of eating it is grilling and dunking it in soya sauce. My kids love to eat glutinous rice dough this way, as a snack.

The following way of cooking ddeok is very easy because everything is thrown into a pot and boiled until the water is reduced to a thick sauce and the rice dough is soft (but still chewy). You can take the long way and fry the ingredients before adding the water but why take the long (and oily) way when you can avoid it with similar results.

Personally, I'm not so hot about eating ddeok this way. I think Japanese curry sauce would go better with it but who knows, maybe that's how they eat ddeok in Japan.

Ddeokbokki, a popular Korean snack.

Chili Hot Ddeok (serves 4 or more)
600g fresh ddeok, soaked for 1 hour in room temp water & drained
1 brown onion, sliced thinly
200-250g fried fish cake, sliced thinly
1 T garlic, chopped
4 -5 T gochujang (Korean hot bean paste)
1 to 1 1/2 T gochugaru (Korean chili powder--can use local chili powder)
1-2 T light soy sauce
1 t fine sugar (Koreans like it 2 T sweeter but I don't)
2 cups dried anchovy or chicken stock
chopped spring onions and toasted sesame seeds for garnish, sesame oil to drizzle

1. Put the stock, gochujang, gochugaru, garlic, light soy sauce and sugar into a pot. When it boils, add the ddeok and brown onion and let it simmer, covered, stirring now and then.

2. After 15 minutes, add the fish cake slices and extra water if there isn't enough liquid. Let the ddeok simmer (stir!) for another 10 minutes, check if the texture is right for you (soft but still chewy), adjust seasoning if necessary and dish out. If there's a lot of liquid, remover the lid and increase the heat so that the liquid reduces and becomes thick.

3. Garnish with the sesame seeds, spring onions and drizzle some sesame oil over.

SIA, Strong $ & Now Their Police

I've been following news about Manohara ever since one of our local dailies reported it in April. Since then there has been a media black out on Manohara. Then today I read about her amazing escape (kudos to the Singaporean police, who acted without fear or favor) and I felt joy, just like how I felt three years ago when the Australian woman (I only remember her last name was Gillespie, because it reminded me of Pinocchio's maker, Guiseppe) finally was reunited with her now-grown kids after her Malaysian prince ex-hub abducted them in the 80s.

I am especially happy because the truth is out. I do not trust our mainstream papers, not even their reports on the economy. Wait, make that most of all their reports on the economy. They are too oppressed to report the truth.

I am especially happy for Manohara 's family, because Manohara escaped alive. Her story reminds us that the truth will prevail, eventually.

Anybody for Mongolian Hot Pot tonight?
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