Thursday, 28 February 2013

Formative years to home cooked meals

Malaysia is a melting pot of diversity, in food and culture, a legacy from its colorful past and present day dynamism.  Its main ethnics, Indians, Chinese, and Malays have dishes in their various authenticity, as well modified or fuse together to produce some new dishes that is uniquely Malaysian. The well known ones are roti canai, teh tarik, nasi lemak, nasi ayam, and ABC (air batu campur).

On top of that, regions have their own specialty and different recipes for the same name dish, like every state has their own laksa. And there are food from the street stalls, restaurants, and home cooked ones. Most street foods vendors offer well known Malaysian fares that are featured in the night market entry. But food variety in Malaysian restaurants are just endless; not only of local fares but from the world over. Malaysians eat out a lot and we all eat durian, the king of fruits, the one we love to tease our visitors taste buds with. Of course I've to list belacan (fermented shrimp paste), as one important ingredient in creating an authentic Malaysian cuisine. One day, long ago, I was cooking fried rice for breakfast, far away in a Brisbane suburb of Toowong, not only the entire house was filled with its aroma, but also the entire neighborhood.. An Australian friend who was passing by on her way to work knocked on my door, asking what was all that stinking smell!!! She ended joining me for breakfast though .. hehe.

Yes, I was indeed brought up very much with home cooked meals. My parents were of Javanese descent. My dad came to Malaya on his own after the end of word war II. My mom though was born in Malaysia (then Malaya), in the state of Johor, the south most state of the Malaysian Peninsular. However I spent my childhood days in Tanjung Karang, one of Malaysia's rice bowl. Thus begun my love affair with Asian's staple, rice.

Childhood home

The first dish I learned to cook, beside boiled rice is singgang (fish soup). The minimum ingredients needed are fish, garlic, onions, tamarind, salt and water. Fish was from the rice field, while onions, garlic and tamarind have always been the kitchen staples of a Malay house. When ginger, lemongrass, galangal, and chilies were available around the house, these herbs were added to the dish. Although it is also common to add tomatoes to one's singgang, I enjoy mine with the least of ingredients.

Fish singgang

There is another dish similar to singgang, it is call pindang. Same ingredients except in pindang, a little oil is use to fry the pounded onions and garlic and other ingredients before adding water and fish. In pindang, galangal is omitted and turmeric is added. However, this is the Southern (of the Malaysian Peninsular) interpretation of singgang and pindang; should you go to another regions - singgang and pindang could be the same thing. OK, now that we are talking about singgang and pindang, I'm going to go one step further, introducing you to a dish called asam rebus. In asam rebus, instead of using cut chilies (fresh or dried), pounded chilies or chili paste from either fresh or dried chilies, is used. What you get in asam rebus is a very chili hot soup compared to the mild soup of singgang. And when you fry all these ingredients meant for asam rebus, first, before adding water and fish, you get asam pedas. By the way belacan is added to an asam pedas, so is ginger torch flowers and Vietnamese mint.

My lesson in cooking continued with how to stir fry vegetables and deep fry fish. Although my late mother also did a lot of baking, grilling and steaming - I remained as cook's helper for a long time for these cooking method. My advance culinary lesson was cut short by going to boarding school at sixteen. My sisters are the ones who inherited my mom's cooking mastery. Still I'm glad to acquire the basic skill of cooking with whatever is available in the pantry or around the house. Ameen.

Another  favorite dish learned a long time ago is kerabu. It is made from various types of vegetables, some blanched, some fresh, that are cut into strips and mix with grated young coconut that has been grilled first then pounded together with grilled belacan, shallots and chilies. No matter how rich and flavorful the other dishes on the dining table, kerabu is always a delightful appetizer to have.

That was the beginning of my cooking experience. The variety of dishes available to choose, and mix and match these days are endless. This cooking variety that we have here in Malaysia could probably be represented by  this you tube channel The Malaysian Recipe. My way of enjoying them all  when we are at our city apartment is by having a pot luck session with good friends, family, and our visitors.

Malaysian couchsufers with our Britsih visitor who cooked us
a fusion food of  chicken, corn and mangoes in coconut milk.
There, for now from the house of Alternative Foodie. Hope everyone's week has been going splendidly. We are going for some grocery shopping. There are visitors coming for the weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Great pictures, and great story about your journey through learning to cook!