Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seafood At Kedai Kopi Taman Cantek

The food is average but the prices are below average and for that, this 2 month-old coffeeshop seafood restaurant is making good business.

Crabs are their specialty. Male crabs are only RM13/US$3.60 per kg and female RM15/US$4.20 per kg, probably the cheapest crabs in town. I've tried the crabs steamed, fried with ginger and spring onions, deep-fried with black pepper and 'kim heong' and I like the black pepper style the best. I'd come here just to eat the crabs because anything else can be very inconsistent. Sometimes the fried mifen is good, sometimes bad.


We had the crabs steamed but they are also good fried with black pepper.


These oysters were very big so they were cut up and that was bad because you don't get a whole oyster in each and some parts were very tough. This was the first time oysters tasted bland, which was rather strange because oysters are always delicious and savory sweet.


Sand clams with ginger and spring onions were very tasty and meaty the first time but on a different occasion, they weren't fresh.


Doong fung loh are shells that you have to use a toothpick to pick out. They are rather bland too but fun to eat.


Sabah veg cooked the traditional way, with eggs.


A plate of fried mifen with salted fish.

All that, for about RM80. The corner restaurant is at the end of the first row of Taman Cantek shophouses (Penampang) and is open every night.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ming's Pasta

Plain can be tasty: pasta tossed with Bovril and butter, a dish not for the faint of weight.

I realise that I don't have any food recipes to blog since it's still CNY and I'm still eating out, at restaurants, friends' and my MIL's. So before all my readers run away, here's the world's simplest way to serve pasta according to my son Ming who cooked it up, literally. All you need is pasta, preferably the ones with a hollow center like macaroni and bucatini, Bovril and the best butter. That would be Lurpak or President butter here but if you can get Kerrygold, which we used to get, that's good too. A cheaper but still good butter is Anchor block butter.

This is a pasta dish for hungry teenagers whose moms are lazy/too busy/ran out of money/all the previous excuses/reasons.

Ming's Pasta

1. Boil your pasta in salted water as usual (and never add oil, it's unecessary and makes the pasta too slippery for the sauce to cling) and to the texture you like. Drain well.

2. When still hot, add lots of butter and Bovril. That's it. A minestrone or tangy seafood tomato soup goes well with it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Heather & William's Wedding

Heather is the daughter of my childhood best friend Joanne. I've watched her grow up and as she said her wedding vows and cried with happiness yesterday, I too cried with joy for her. Heather is a beautiful, capable, wonderful, warm-hearted, unspoilt and unpretentious girl, a daughter that I would be truly proud of. In my husband's Cantonese words as they danced on the floor later that night, "Goh nam jei jen hei jeb doe" (it's hard to translate but it means the fella's real lucky).

You'd think that when she moved to Shanghai to work 2 years ago that Heather would meet a Chinaman but no, a Frenchman moved to the 'Paris Of The East' at about the same time and they were introduced by a friend a couple of months after arrival to the city. That was 1 1/2 years ago and yesterday Heather and William were married at the Pacific Sutera Resort Hotel just before sunset.

There are three resort hotels in the city and we the locals take them for granted, never visiting them until some visitors are in town. The city of Kota Kinabalu is blessed with a coastline of calm blue seas and fine white sandy shores and I've said this before: KK is on the west (unlike Sandakan and Tawau, which also have long coastlines but the sun rises over the sea) and the sun sets over the sea, offering us the most beautiful glorious sunsets everyday.

The night before was the hen (bachelorette) party but the guys who dropped their wives/girl friends wouldn't leave and the plans to belly-dance the night away were shelved. The professional manicurists did such brisk business that I only got my nails painted mauve at about 10 pm.

My Documents

The mostly vegetarian Kadazan spread was a welcome change from the rich CNY food that most of us have been eating and helped the ladies keep their waistlines trim for the next day. I made chocolate cupcakes with Valrhona cocoa powder Rei gave me (finally, an occasion fitting enough for such a special present from another blogger) and topped it with generous swirls of pink Swiss meringue buttercream. Thinking back, I should've flavored the buttercream with raspberry. William is the much-awarded French chef of Papillon, the top French restaurant in Shanghai, located on The Bund, Shanghai's most famous spot. It was he who designed Joanne's new outdoor steel-cladded kitchen with pots and pans on the wall. No wonder Kevin, Joanne's husband who loves to cook, is enamored of his son-in-law. Yolanda reminded me that it is traditional to serve tang yuen, glutinous rice balls in a sweet ginger soup, to symbolize a sweet marriage. I bought the white sesame-filled balls and made the pink peanut butter-filled ones (peanut butter made by Joanne) and cooked them with candied ginger.



Don and Bryan (here with their girlfriends) are Heather's younger brothers. I caught them as they were about to bring their suits to the hotels. There was so much joy and laughter that night. That's when I think again that I should've had more kids. Joanne did well, 5 is a record among our classmates. Before I get slammed, I should mention two other classmates, Benny and Genie, who also enjoy that high productivity status.

The next afternoon, at Pacific Sutera:

My Documents2

Bryan sang " I'm Yours" as the bride and her dad arrived in a golf buggy. The wind was gentle and the coconut trees were swaying; it was such a happy and beautiful wedding. The bride and groom, family and friends were beautifully casual in the tropical paradise setting. And just as the ceremony started, the battery icon on my camera began to blink. I had forgotten to charge it or bring the spare. I should never turn to photography as a career.


Heather's off-white made-in-Shanghai chiffon gown was perfect for the beachside wedding.


Heather had asked me months ago, and I had agreed, to make her wedding cake because I used to make her birthday cakes. But I soon backed out because I was nervous about making the cake topper. When I saw this pretty single tier cake and saw that they used only fresh flowers, I felt terrible inside: I could've done it. I wish I made good my promise.





Isn't she beautiful, isn't she lovely? Many of the guests who haven't seen Heather for years were awed by the ravishing bride. Heather stands at 5' 8" (the perfect height for a girl, I've always said. Any taller, a girl can risk looking like a tranny and any shorter, an ordinary plain Jane) and William complements her height. They make such a beautiful couple.

Kev made the best father of the bride speech I've ever heard. His advice to William was that only 3 words were important (something he picked up on the net when he googled for father of the bride speeches) in marriage. Those 3 words are "You are right". Hub said he has learnt a lot from Kev. He said he'll have 4 words of advice for my daughter's husband: "You are always right".

Heather and William, join the club and dance every night.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2nd Day CNY

The 2nd day of CNY is when the married women bring their families to visit their parents. I used to tussle diplomatically with my MIL over the Reunion Dinner. Although I have three brothers, one is single and another sometimes can't make it back from Singapore for the dinner. The remaining brother came back for the Reunion Dinners only while dad was alive. For reasons only he knows, and I know he's reading this, he is considered 'married off' rather than 'married in'. My sister goes back to her in laws in Sandakan. That means although my parents have 5 children, only my oldest bro and I will be around for CNY. And because of this, I would make an effort to eat at my parents' house and then eat at my in laws'. After dad passed on, I still made sure to eat Reunion Dinner with my bro and mom, before going back to my in laws. MIL was upset initially but I stood my ground. Girls, we have as much rights as the guys to be with our parents! I wonder how other people manage this sensitive issue of which set of parents to eat Reunion Dinner with. I know some will have dinner with their own parents and siblings on other days. In my case, I'm getting my siblings and their families together on the 15th day. I personally feel that married women should be allowed to eat with their parents, especially in China where most families have only 1 child.

Anyway, most people will bai nien (greet the new year) by visiting their friends on the second day since the first day is for visiting relatives. In the past, we used to rush from house to house. While that was fun too, especially for the kids because they get more hung bao (gifts of money placed in little red envelopes to unmarried people), I find getting in and out of sun-baked cars too unpleasant in our weather. Since I was cooking dinner for Hub's relatives on the 2nd day, we visited my dear friend E's house for a quick lunch. I hope L is not reading this because I knew there'll be hundreds of people at her house and I don't like to be part of a hundred. Apologies to S and B too for not going to their respective dinners. *sigh* For this period, I fast during the day and eat like crazy at night but the weighing scale shows record highs every night.

E cooked a western lunch and it was a welcome change after the Chinese feasts the last 3 nights.


The brie was hand-carried from Switzerland and was the smoothest and softest (it was oozy) brie I've ever tasted. I would've eaten the whole disc if I hadn't caught a glimpse of a giant pear when I walked past E's hallway.


A cold cut platter from Recipes House included slices of vegetarian mock abalone, smoked duck breast and salmon skin. While most people liked the salmon skin, I'm unsure about it. The soy and sesame oil dressing was tasty and the skin was crunchy but when put on my plate, the skin looked rather like snakeskin and I felt very uneasy.


Roasted pork from Tong Hing. This was too tender and bland. I prefer my pork to taste like pork, with texture and flavor.


E called this 'jai' (vegetarian dish usually eaten on Day 1 of CNY) but there was chicken in it so technically it wasn't 'jai'. Kind of oily.


Roasted lamb was tasty.


E makes the best multi-grain bread of anyone, any bakery I know and it's made by a Sanyo bread machine. The bread has an unusually strong el dente bite and is addictive to eat with butter. Maybe I should just accept being a giant pear.


Unfortunately the walnuts from Pelangi was rancid and spoilt this cake. I know the frustration, E, because I used almond flakes fron the shop and they made rancid-tasting cookies. That's why whenever anyone is coming back from Australia and asks me if I want anything, I usually tell them I want any kind of nuts. Hey.


The apple crumble was simple and delicious with cream and black coffee.


On the way out, we all spied this on the coffee table and played 3 rounds. Hub walked away the winner, RM1/US$0.30 richer.

I think it's an excellent idea to serve a western lunch on one of the CNY days when everybody is sick of koe rou, boiled chicken and fatt cai stew. Dinner is a different thing though. My MIL requested that I roast a turkey for our relatives from Shanghai on the 2nd day of CNY. While the turkey was roasting and giving off that heavenly aroma, the lion dances troupe came calling and firecrackers were sounding around the neighborhood and it was a very confusing moment. Was it Christmas or CNY?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2010

Chinese New Year (CNY) is more commonly known as 'Spring Festival' in China. The festival is celebrated for 15 days but because the Reunion Dinner on the eve of CNY is the most important meal of the year and most establishments will give their workers the afternoon off to prepare for The Dinner, I think the duration of the festival is actually 16 days. The Dinner is so important that this year, an estimated 2.5 BILLION people in China will make trips home just to be in time for it. For some folks, this is the only time they get to see loved ones, and many save all year just to make this trip and bring home presents for their loved ones.

Of course the merry making for most people won't last 15 days; if only life's that much fun. By the 3rd day, people have to go back to work and on the 4th day, most businesses will be open. Skilled workers like carpenters, construction contractors and other workers who don't get annual holidays will usually have 2 weeks off. Most will celebrate upto the 7th day, which to certain Chinese sects like the Fujians (Hokkien), is 'Human Day', the day they believe man was created. From the eight day on there usually are not many celebrations but on the 15th day, businesses close and it's another round of lion dances, firecrackers, abundant food and fun and it's like the CNY celebrations all over again. The 16th day is sobering: back to the reality and drudgery of routine life until the next CNY.

We have dinners lined up every night until the 8th day of CNY, and my body is showing the effects of both gluttony and age. But it's CNY and some of the food just won't taste the same on other days so eat I must, scrumptious food like Hakka koe rou, sticky rice cake, my MIL's fried Shanghainese rice sticks and Cantonese radish cake.

This year, my in-laws had relatives from London and Shanghai and MIL foresaw a lot of cooking ahead and wanted a stress-free CNY eve so for the first time, we ate Reunion Dinner at a hotel. Needless to say, the food was ordinary and it just wasn't fun to eat Reunion Dinner out. On the first day of CNY, MIL and Weiyi, Hub's cousin from Shanghai, worked all day to cook a Shanghainese dinner with many of the ingredients hand-carried from Shanghai a few days ago. There were some non-Shanghainese dishes like koe rou and abalone kailan and we had an astonishing 10 dishes, 1 soup and 2 desserts. By the time dinner was over, all the dishes were gone except for the mixed veg and a few pieces of koe rou and kailan. Hub pointed out that since there were 14 of us, it worked out to each of us eating nearly one whole dish!


MIL's 'red-cooked' (braising with soy sauce and spices, something the Shanghainese excel at) meat (beef shin, pork tongue and stomach), eggs and tofu are the best. The two kinds of tofu were brought in from Shanghai. They are softer than our local hard tofu and so absorb the braising liquid better.


The only dish I need to prepare every year (MIL insists on doing her own marketing and cooking, so when every housewife was busy shopping, I was blogging) is the simple but exquisite Cantonese dish, abalone on kailan. I don't add oyster sauce to the sauce so that the natural flavor of the abalone liquid is not masked. An expensive dish that is cooked only once a year.


Steamed 7-star grouper perfectly done.


Fresh tako cai and spring bamboo stirred fried by Weiyi was perfect. DELICIOUS.


MIL's drunken chicken--nearly all of this went into Wey's tummy. I prefer drunken chicken with more wine flavor and wine.


Brought in from Shanghai, salted eel is steamed, hand-shredded and eaten with black vinegar. The eel is soft and tender and the taste is between salted fish and fresh fish. It's okay, doesn't move my earth.


This is a soupy dish called gunxi tang (dried tofu shreds soup), a very Shanghainese dish. My MIL and Hub ate 1/3 of this between them, I think. The tofu, salted pork and dong shen (winter bamboo ) were from Shanghai. The other ingredients were dried black mushrooms and fresh pork. All cooked with a thick home-brewed chicken stock. Seriously tasty, eaten with black vinegar.


Battered fried yellow prawns.


On the 1st day of CNY, even non-Buddists will observe a non-meat diet. But most carnivorous families will just include a vegetarian jai dish like the one above, which has some kind of Shanghainese tofu skin that is hollow inside, like pita bread and inari.


Hakka koe rou is pork belly and taro slices steamed for about 4 hours until the pork is soft and the seasoning permeates the pork and taro. Deep-frying the taro slices before steaming makes sure that the taro doesn't disintegrate. So clever.

yin doo xin
(last year's yin doo xin)


Yindoo sin is a Shanghainese soup that is full of flavors from the Chinese salted pork, Chinese ham, winter bamboo, tofu 'skin' (twisted and knotted) that's cooked in a thick broth of chicken and pork.

The desserts:


Lien zi tang yuen means lotus sticky rice balls but it also sounds like 'unity children reunited' . It is a sweet soup eaten to show harmony and peace in the family. My MIL makes the best unity soup. Each ingredient is added to boil according to their characteristic texture so that nothing is too soft or too hard or too sweet or too bland. And the amount of cooking is perfect so that the soup remains clear and not turn cloudy. The amount of brown cane sugar is just enough to lightly sweeten the soup so that you want to have bowl after bowl of it without feeling poisoned by the sweetness.


This 8-jewel rice is from an old and well-known Shanghainese restaurant called Wang Jia Sha. We loved it! It wasn't the 8 jewels (I counted 7--honey date, dried apricot, red dates, melon seeds, walnut, green raisins, maraschino cherry) but the sticky rice and the red bean paste filling that made this absolutely delicious. The rice was fresh, very moist and soft.


That was a big delicious meal. Have you noticed that Shanghainese are big on bamboo and tofu? Home-made Shanghainese dishes are tasty and I enjoy them. Maybe I'm ignorant, but the Shanghainese do not seem to have special CNY dishes unlike the Cantonese . Other than being delicious, Cantonese CNY dishes also have to be made with good-sounding and expensive, quality ingredients eaten only on such special occasions.

Gong xi fa cai everyone!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Re-Post: Tied Pork Knuckle

It's almost CNY! The town is so jam-packed with cars that it took me 40 minutes just to get out of the city-town (though KK was hastily declared a city--so a mayor can be appointed and paid a salary and perks by our tax dollars?--we are more like a big town) and onto the flyovers. A friend who came back for holidays commented that KK seems smaller each time, and I fully understand what he means. An Aussie from Brisbane who visited last week for the first time was surprised/disappointed that there are so many cars (this is Borneo, isn't it?). The way the buildings are coming up on the roadside makes the city-town congested and suffocating. I particularly can't understand how the authorities can approve 1) the ugly shoplots opposite Sutera Harbour Resort, which are not just cheap and ugly looking but also taking up one lane of the 4-lane road. This road should be maintained as a wide boulevard, with trees on both sides 2) the building coming up in front of Milimewa Supermarket in the center of town. The front door of the building practically opens onto the road. An inexperienced driver can easily drive right into the building when navigating the mini roundabout in front of the building. It looks like we are building another Kuala Lumpur, a gridless maze of ugly buildings and roads. Which is a pity since KK is a new town and had the chance to be properly planned.

I'm sure many of you have finalized your CNY menu. If not, how about making tied pork knuckle as an appetizer? Every dish served at the Reunion Dinner (eve of CNY) has to have good-sounding names and significance, especially for the Cantonese. The knuckle is served sliced into 'coins', symbolizing money and prosperity.You can make it today and keep it in the freezer, or even keep it until Nien Xiao, 15th day of CNY.

The following recipe was posted for last year's CNY. It's a classic dish, never fails to please, so here it is again:



Here's the recipe Nick and friends and some of my friends requested for: Chinese tied pork knuckle. Translated literally from the Chinese name ze ti (tied leg) for this dish, tied pork knuckle is usually served cold as an appetizer. The only restaurant that serves tied pork knuckle in KK is King Hu in Tanjung Aru. King Hu's version is bland but goes very well with black vinegar. I have eaten another type of ze ti from Sandakan, obviously a Hakka version, because 5 spice powder is added as seasoning. I myself like to add some Sichuan peppercorns, whole or grounded, for the flavor and numbing kick. Feel free to adjust the seasoning to your liking. If you are going to make it for CNY, do it now because pork knuckles are going fast. The knuckle or hock by the way is the lower part of the leg and our butchers call it ti or leg. The upper leg is usually cut up and sold in chunks.

I've not seen this recipe anywhere so I am proud to present it to you in time for CNY. I am almost reluctant to post this because is a guarded recipe by those who know it. I guess after this post it'll be all over cyberspace. This recipe is based on my own try, my MIL's experience and information I sought from a lady who makes it commercially. How to cook the pork knuckle is easy but to tie it is not if you have no idea how to do it and I have not been successful in a previous attempt. I had my MIL over to teach me this time, and it really is not hard once you've seen how it's done. MIL too learnt it by experience so there may be other ways to do it and you probably will adapt my recipe and improve on it.My MIL uses plastic and raffia strings to tie her pork knuckles. I tried both plastic and muslin cloth but am not sure if the cloth is a good idea because it soaks up the pork juice/liquid/seasoning. Raffia is definitely better than cotton strings because it is thinner and broader so it doesn't cut into the skin as easily as the string does. Raffia also covers and binds a bigger surface area so the ti will be more tight and compacted. In the photos, I've used plastic sheets because they are clear and give a better picture of how the ze ti looks and I had only cotton strings so that's what I used.

You can keep the tied knuckles for a couple of weeks in the freezer so they come handy when you have unexpected dinner guests. Just thaw the knuckle slightly (too soft and it will break apart when you cut it), still wrapped in the plastic, and cut into thin pieces and serve cold or on a plate of pickles, or even better, with dressed jellyfish or other cold cuts. I think Sichuan garlic sauce will go very well with it, but usually I don't bother and just serve it with several dips: black vinegar, chili-lime and even mayo.

Tied pork knuckle must be served cold. When warm, it goes soft and oily, so serve in small portions, keep the rest in the fridge and top up as required.

Chinese Tied Pork Knuckle
2 pork knuckles, skin & bones intact & cleaned*
3 star anises
1 t salt (or more, up to you)
white pepper
1 t Sichuan peppercorn, grounded or 1/2 t 5 spice powder
msg (optional)
shao xin wine

*Since our butchers sell the knuckle with the trotters, you can remove the trotters from the knee joint but boil it together with the knuckle until the trotters are tender, then chop the trotters into small pieces and season with salt and shao xin wine for drunken trotters.

1. Put the knuckles (and trotters if making them into drunken trotters) into a pot of boiling water (enough to cover) with the star anise and let it boil gently for 1/2 hour. If you skip this step, your ze ti will have an awful smell. Of course I learnt this the hard way.

2. Throw away the water and the star anise in which the knuckles were boiled and add fresh water, enough to cover. Boil gently for one to one and a half hour, depending on the knuckle. How do you tell? Well, this is where experience comes in. Test by poking the skin with a chopstick. It should be soft but not mushy. Remember that upon chilling, the skin will firm up. Too hard and the skin will be hard when it's chilled. Too soft and the skin'll cut when you tie the knuckles.

My Documents

3. Remove knuckles from the water (you can save it as stock) and let them cool slightly. Use a sharp knife to cut knuckle down one side (keep the other in a pot, covered) and remove the bone. Now cut the de-boned knuckle into half lengthwise and put into a large bowl or plate.

4. Season the knuckle halves with 1/2 t salt, 2 t shao xin wine, some pepper, some msg if using, and either 5 spice powder or Sichuan peppercorns, rubbing in well with your hands. Adjust the seasoning amounts according to the size of the knuckle and your taste. Work quickly because the knuckle must still be warm when you wrap it or it won't stick together well. Sprinkle more wine over if like.

5. Put the knuckle on a piece of plastic, invert the halves so that the thinner part of half will have the thicker part of the other on top of it. Got it? Wrap the knuckle by rolling it in the plastic sheet. Fold the plastic on one end loosely to close, giving about 1 cm space and start tying the knuckle, pulling on tautly as you go down the length of the knuckle. The knuckle will lengthen because you are pressing it tight. If you don't tie tautly enough, the meat will break up when you cut it. Close the other end of the plastic sheet by folding over like you did the other side and tie tightly. A good tied knuckle should be even in thickness.

6. Repeat with the other knuckle and put into freezer until ready to serve. Cut into thin slices to serve. Serve with Chinese black vinegar or other dips.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chi Gu Chips

Arrowroot Chi gu chips

note: I was mistaken by the English name for these bulbs. They are NOT arrowroot, which is a different thing.

Arrowroot Chi Gu bulbs

My father had two ways with arrowroot chi gu bulbs, an aquatic plant. He either put them in a shallow bowl of water and stones about a month before CNY to get a green healthy decorative plant (signifying spring and new beginnings) for the celebrations or he cooked the sliced bulbs with cured pressed duck. I didn't quiet like arrowroot bulbs cooked that way because I could detect the slight, very slight bitterness in them. But turned into chips, arrowroot bulbs are delicious. You know I have a weakness for good potato chips, which is very lacking here. I don't know why Merdeka and Tong Hing Supermarkets carry such *bleep* imported potato chips as Oregon Fresh (an oxymoron name because the chips smell stale and rancid, maybe because they're expensive and are on the shelves forever) and Kettle (can taste real potato in them but they are so hard my brains rattle when I bite on them and they also stay on the shelves until clearance sale) respectively and the local horrors Jack N Jill (they are chips not rubber prophylactics) & Mister Potato chips, when they could just give us good old Lays or Smiths chips. That's why I love Lintas Supermarket, behind Apiwon in Luyang, because it's the only supermarket that sells Lays potato chips. And that's also where I found taro at RM4.50/US$1.25 per kg and arrowroot at RM4.99/US$1.40 per kg whereas the other places are selling the same things for RM8/kg and RM12-15/kg respectively!

I nicked and skinned all the fingers on my right hand yesterday slicing the arrowroot bulbs with a mandoline. Making arrowroot chips is straightforward. Just slice and fry but getting good chips is another thing. Some chips among the whole batch remained soft and soggy and I had to pick them out. I tried frying at low heat and at high heat but both ways I still got a couple of soggy chips. If the heat is too high, the chips turn brown and bitter. I tried frying about 12 slices each time and I ended up frying chips all night and woke up with a headache this morning. Maybe I should've dried the chips in the sun before I fried them? Any experience to share?

Arrowroot chips are very tasty. They have a slight flavor but my Hub can't even tell they aren't potato chips, which surprises me. Sometimes I think my culinary efforts are wasted on him. He can't tell if something is on the way to rot; the rest of us won't eat something that's off but he'd not notice it or that we're not eating. Then he looks up and catches us making eyes and goes "What?" I once got into the car and he said, "Nice dress". It was a dress I'd been wearing for 7-8 years. After a radical hair cut once, I asked if he noticed anything different and he said "New dress?".

Arrowroot Chips
1 kg arrowroot  chigu
1/2 t salt
oil for frying

1. Peel (update 14/1/2012: I don't peel the chi gu anymore. Just peel remove the thin 'skin' and scrub well. Less wastage and more fiber) the arrowroot but leave the stem on because you'll need them to hold on to as you slice them into thin slices (the thinner the better) with a mandoline. That's a tip I got from here.

2. Toss the arrowroot bulbs with the salt and leave for an hour.

3. Now, my advice is to bandage all the fingers on your working hand with plaster bandages to prevent skinning them. Get a mandoline that gives the thinnest slices and slice all the arrowroot bulbs (do not rinse away the salt) with a to and fro movement. Update: If you are patient, arrange the arrowroot slices on trays or colanders and leave for a couple of hours (I left them out 1 hour and they were still wet) to dry.

4. Heat up lots of oil and fry the slices in small batches until slightly golden. You have to put the slices one by one into the oil so that they will not stick together. The chips will turn darker even after frying so remove them from the oil when they just turn golden. Drain on paper towels, cool and store in CNY canisters. No need to salt them.

Sesame Seaweed Chips

Sesame seaweed chips don't look impressive but are very tasty and addictive!

Ming left for Melbourne last night and Wey was so desolate he didn't eat dinner. He actually cried on the way back from the airport, a rare thing for him to do. Said Ming is the perfect brother. Before I knew it, I too burst into tears when we arrived home. Hub gave me 20 seconds of sympathy and quickly went into the house for refuge.

I got busy straight after dinner, making Nee's momo cookies (didn't turn out satisfactory as I made them too big). As I was frying the flour in my outdoor kitchen, I could hear fireworks in the distance. Cool wind blew at me and I nearly dropped everything as I felt a wave of pity (that I have to make Chinese New Year cookies on my own) and fear (that in old age it'll just be me and Hub celebrating CNY). Yes, MP, it's hard to celebrate CNY when the kids are not around. Thank God there's still Wey. Now if only I had that 4th child.

Today I made chigu (Chinese arrowroot, a kind of bulb) chips and sesame seaweed chips. Again, I got the seaweed chips recipe from Nee, the master baker. Instead of sesame oil, I added white sesame seeds for extra flavor and bite and the chips went so fast I had to tape the canisters so Hub and Wey can't get at them. Of the kuih momo, chigu chips and seaweed chips, seaweed chips are the easiest to make. A packet of spring roll 'skin' (wrapper) and nori (Japanese seaweed sheets) can make plenty of chips and that's basically all the ingredients you need, if you don't add sesame seeds. I didn't make any prawn crackers this year (very toned down CNY) so the seaweed crackers will make up for that.

Sesame Seaweed Chips
1 packet popiah or spring roll skin/wrapper*
2 packets nori
white sesame seeds
salt & white pepper (mix 1 t salt to 1/2 t pepper)
oil for frying
2-3 egg whites, whisk lightly (do not use water to substitute; wrapper n nori won't stick)

* Do not get the Lotus brand because the wrappers are about 2 cm smaller length and breadth than the nori sheets. Pertama brand is perfect.

1. Peel and separate all the spring roll wrappers. Cover with a tea towel.

2. Lay 2 pieces wrapper side by side. Brush egg white on left wrapper(work quickly!). Sprinkle sesame seeds on the left wrapper, then lay a piece of nori on that wrapper. Brush right wrapper. with egg white. Dab the salt & pepper mixture lightly with two fingers and quickly smear it all over the right wrapper. Lay the salt & pepper wrapper over the nori, pressing down firmly.

3. After you've finish sandwiching all the wrappers, fold each into 3 and use scissors to cut into 3 equal strips. Turn the strips short side towards you and cut into 1 cm small strips.

4. Heat 4-5 cups of oil in a wok. While waiting for the oil to heat up, separate the strips of sandwiched seaweed. When oil begins to smoke, turn heat to low and throw in a handful of the seaweed strips, using a pair of chopsticks or tongs to stir and separate the strips. Do not cook too many strips each time. Continue stirring so that both sides of the strips get cooked and when they just begin to brown, lift the chips out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Remember that the chips will continue to cook & brown after it's lifted from the oil so don't cook them too brown.

5. When cool, pack the chips in a canister.

note: if you prefer to use sesame oil like Nee, brush it on the nori and smear the pepper & salt on the nori instead.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winter Cured Meat


Cured meat is not made by the Italians only. The Chinese make them too. In China, meat that is salted and cured in the winter wind and sun is called la wei. Since Chinese-illiterate people like me mistake the word la for wax, the English term 'wax meat' for la wei is commonly used here because the word la sounds like the word for wax too. I even thought that wax is one of the ingredients in la wei, which is not surprising because if you have handled la rou, which is cured bacon, your hands will feel waxy from the fat.

Two weeks ago, Lily, from Jiangxi in China, gave us some la chang (cured sausages) her mom had made. When I told her that la chang is known as 'wax sausages' in English, she was tickled (probably by how ignorant we are). La is a word meaning the 12th month, the end of the year, on the Chinese Lunar calender. All la rou are made during the winter months when the cold dry air blows. Just like how lei cha is corrupted into 'thunder tea' (it actually should be translated as 'milled tea'), so has la chang been lost in translation as wax sausages. This mix up seems to originate from Singapore and Malaysia where many Chinese are Chinese-language illiterate.

I called my friend Leila in Sichuan a few days ago to ask her to take some photos of her mom making la chang. Unfortunately, that was the first day of spring and la rou-making season is officially over. Come on, I said, surely it's still cold over there so the meat won't spoil? But her mom's answer is they strictly follow the seasons and winter is the only season to make la wei but she has plenty of la chang to give me when Leila comes next month. We'll have to wait until next winter to learn how to make Leila's mom's Sichuan ma la la chang. Leila's mom's la chang are so tasty, I have to stash them in secret pockets of the fridge to save them for Ming when he comes back for holidays. Even my MIL who is very xenophobic against any food not Shanghainese loves Sichuan la chang which are meaty, tasty and full of Sichuan peppercorn flavor. Your tongue would fizz and go numb with the ma la (numbing) of the Sichuan peppercorns.

You may not want to eat la rou during Chinese New Year (CNY) because there are so many other dishes to enjoy. But do get some la chang, which are freshest now, because some days when you don't feel like cooking, just steam the la chang and fry a plate of greens and it's a simple, tasty meal. For a more fancy la chang dish, make claypot rice.

claypot rice
Claypot rice

radish cake
Chinese carrot/radish cake

La rou
in China tastes and look different and once you've eaten it, you won't eat the la rou we get here. Since la rou in China is usually home-made, it is softer, fresher, less salty and not waxy and are usually sliced thinly and fried with veggies. I use la rou to make Chinese carrot/radish cake on the eve of CNY, just like my parents did, and serve it for breakfast CNY morning. This is a Cantonese tradition I hope my kids will keep, and that of the Malaysian Chinese tradition of eating nien gou or sweet brown sticky rice cake. I've noticed that some form of sticky rice cake is eaten by the Koreans (ddeouk) and the Japanese (mocchi) too on CNY which is celebrated by all the three yellow Orientals (better yellow than green). The Chinese tradition of eating rice cake came from the practice of offering these sticky cakes to the kitchen god (who is supposed to live in every kitchen but I suspect is now deposed by maids) who'll have his mouth stuck so tight that he can't make a bad report about your family (if I believe that, I'll offer sticky cakes every day) when he meets the king of heaven once a year on CNY. Which makes you wonder if the king of heaven is blind or just dumb when he sees the kitchen god struggle with a glued mouth every year and doesn't know the fella has eaten sticky cakes.

Top left: ma la la chang and top right: charcoal smoked la rou, both made by Leila's mom. Bottom left: commercial pork liver sausages, Chinese bacon, ordinary pork sausages and 2 drumsticks of la ya, cured duck.

To cook la wei, just wash them and steam for about 20 minutes. Discard the oil that comes out. My dad used to place la chang on boiling rice so that the rice will absorb all the oil and flavor but that's a big no for this obese generation. Since la wei is salty, do slice them thinly and serve with rice.

pig face presssed

cured rats
I bet the Italians are not as creative. Cured rats (in Guilin, China) and cured pressed pig's face,(in Shanghai, China), anyone? Btw, Wey wasn't acting--I made him hold the packet of pressed pig's face and he was very repulsed by it.

This will be the first time both Yi and Ming won't be here for CNY. I don't have the mood for celebrating CNY without them. Ming leaves for Melbourne today. How quickly three months have passed. He had a couple of friends over yesterday. I was cooking and they were playing fireworks and firecrackers, yelling and running as some of the fireworks misfired. It gave such a fun CNY atmosphere to our home. All these boys and girls who are starting second year uni are still kids inside. I miss the times when all my three kids played firecrackers and didn't have to go off to college. Once Ming flies off, I will have time to make CNY cookies and reply email. And go back to routine, like (s)mothering Wey.
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