Category Archives: food

Loving That Little Bit of Stink

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Petai sambal is best eaten with hot, steaming rice.

Petai sambal is best eaten with hot, steaming rice.

THERE are some types of food that people would put up with with. That others would never step within a 10 foot distance of. Like balut in the Philippines, stinky tofu in Hong Kong; petai (stinky bean) in Malaysia and several parts of Southeast Asia; stir-fried worms and a various assortment of six- to eight-legged critters in Thailand, to name a few.

One of my favourite dishes of all time is sambal petai.

Sambal petai, easily found in my home country of Malaysia, is most definitely an acquired dish. The beans, though not as offensive-smelling as the stinky tofu (which you can smell at least 100m away #truestory), still packs quite a powerful pong. The dish consists of petai (a kind of bean) and fresh medium-sized prawns cooked in a spicy paste consisting mainly of shallots, garlic, and dried and fresh chillies (I add bird’s eye chilli in it for more heat). It’s best served with hot, steaming rice, ad is certainly one of life’s many joys for me. Throw in a side of onion omelette or stir-fry brinjal and you’ve got yourself a complete meal.

Petai, a stinky bean that is commonly found in Malaysia and some countries in Southeast Asia.

Petai, a stinky bean that is commonly found in Malaysia and some countries in Southeast Asia.

While you can’t truly separate taste and smell when it comes to appreciating food, I personally find that the stink of the petai is mainly on the nose. The taste is a little milder and somewhat ‘green’ and pulpy. Petai can be eaten in many ways — raw with sambal belacan, stir-fried with other vegetables, or cooked in a sambal style. My preference is to eat it cooked in sambal or stir-fried in a mixed-veg dish.

I grew up eating Mum’s version of sambal petai, cooked with shrimps, onions and cili boh (ready made spicy paste which negates the need for tedious peeling, blending/grinding the ingredients). While I’ve enjoyed Mum’s sambai petai immensely, I’ve also grown to appreciate the flavours that come with making the dish from scratch. It’s not very difficult and, if you have time to spare, I would recommend it.

Once you've stirfried the spice blend in oil till fragrant, add the shrimps and tamarind juice. Season and add the petai and keep on the fire till shrimp and petai are cooked.

If you’d like to try the dish out, here’s the recipe. Beware, though: all that chilli will make your hands burn for an hour or so. Note: Petai attracts flies, so you might want to keep the beans covered at all times, or in the fridge until it’s ready for use.

INGREDIENTS

200g petai (halved and cleaned)
10 – 15 medium prawns
50g tamarind pulp (mixed with 1/2 cup water)
1/4 cup oil
1 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Spice paste (blend the following)

20 shallots
10 fresh red chillies
8 – 10 dried red chillies
3 birds eye chillies
3 cloves garlic
8 candlenuts
8 – 10g belacan (toast before cooking)

METHOD

1. Heat oil in pan and stir-fry spice paste till fragrant.

2. Add in strained tamarind juice and shrimps. Bring to a quick boil. Note: tamarind juice can be adjusted to taste. Some like a little more sourness to the dish.

3. Add seasoning to taste.

4. Add petai. Keep on the lowered heat till the shrimps and petai are cooked.

5. Serve with rice 🙂

Enjoy!!

Book Review | Julie & Julia

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julie juliaI FINALLY read Julie & Julia a few years, I must confess, after watching the movie. This is a bit of a cardinal sin for me because, as a rule, I always read the book before watching the movie. I blame this on the infallible Meryl Streep who starred as Julia Child in the movie. Madame Streep is one of my favourite actresses and the bait I couldn’t resist.

In a nutshell, Julie & Julia is a cooking memoir. The book is an account of how Julie Powell who, feeling like she needed more in life to live for, embarked on a ‘cooking expedition’. The goal was to attempt 524 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol I by Julia Child in one year, in a small, cramped apartment in Manhattan.

The book started out promisingly, but by the halfway mark, I had fast-tracked to skim-reading as it became more of the same: more cooking (duh!), how wrong the dish turned out and the subsequent tantrums/lash-outs at her long-suffering husband, Eric; her fans and friends, her deadbeat job as a secretary at a government agency. By the third quarter of the book, I was really speed-reading so that I could reach that climactic moment which, I think, began at the height of the dirtiness of her kitchen (uggh maggots??!!), and which resulted in a perfectly boned duck and Pate de Canard en Croute. It was great reading all the way from there till the end.

So, what were my observations of Julie & Julia?

  • Julie Powell is neurotic and self-absorbed (here’s where I expect her, if she were reading this, to say “Fuck Off”.)
  • Julie Powell’s ranking on the hygiene-o-meter is abysmal — unless the perpetual cat fur-covered apartment and pile of days-old dirty dishes in the sink are an exaggeration.
  • Her husband, Eric, is a saint. Is the guy for real? Amazing that he could stomach her fits of rage and misanthropic outbursts, not to mention eating dinner (whether it turned out well or not) at close to 10pm every other night? I finally understand why the word ‘long-suffering’ and ‘marriage’ go together. It’s about being there for your spouse for better or for worse. In this case, it was mostly for worse.
  • There is waaay too much butter going on for anyone’s waistline and heart 🙂
  • This was an exercise in sheer determination — one, to Julie Powell’s credit, I could never attempt. A round of applause for Ms. Powell.

Overall, I loved her style of writing. It gave me the feeling that I was really looking into that window of her life — dirty kitchen, maggot-y sink and all. The book was amusing in many parts and I greatly appreciated the creative turns-of-phrase now and then. I also loved how Julie Powell’s mad-capped cooking attempts in the book are interspersed with short glimpses of Julia Child. But, still, I enjoyed the movie more than the book and, just maybe, I have Meryl Streep to thank for that.

I leave you with Julia Child’s recipe for Boned Duck in Pastry, taken from G’Day Souffle’s blog, here. If any of you tried it, let me know how it turned out!

A Bowl of Yum | Cooking Mum’s Way

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Chicken minestrone, mum's way. Perfect on a rainy day.

Chicken soup, Mum’s way. Perfect on a rainy day.

THE thing about having dengue is that your body takes a long time to recover. It’s been five days since the doctor cleared me of dengue, and I still tire easily. Cooking — something I enjoy — is no longer a walk in the park, and my maximum cooking capacity is at two simple dishes or one, very elaborate, dish before I sink senseless and exhausted on to the couch.

One of the most comforting meals to have after being sick is a hearty, nutritious soup, and one of my most favourite soups in the world is chicken soup, Mum’s style. I grew up eating a simple version of it which we called ABC soup. What it is, is wedged carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and onions with chicken pieces on the bone. It was easy — chop everything up roughly, brown the chicken, then bring plain water to a boil with onions and browned chicken in it, and then chuck in the rest of the ingredients till it’s cooked and add seasoning. But a year ago, Mum decided to improvise on what now takes twice the effort and time, but which is slowly becoming a staple one-pot meal in my home.

In my last blog, I mentioned that dengue had given me a real sense of paranoia. Last night was one of my worst: I slept just before midnight and woke up at 2.50am, worrying about mosquitoes. By 4am, I still had not fallen back asleep, and my constant tossing, turning, scratching and sighing woke The Boy as well. Thankfully, he never gives me grief for waking him up every single paranoia-laced night. We ended up watching an episode of Homeland (Claire Danes’ character wins hands down as the most annoying ever in the history of serials) which irritated me immensely before I finally fell knocked out close to 7am.

So, today, I decided that I could use a comforting meal and what better than Mum’s One Dish Wonder. What I failed to remember was how time-consuming and tedious the dish was to make!

Dicing onions, carrots, potates and tomatoes is an incredibly tedious job!

Dicing onions, carrots, potates and tomatoes is an incredibly tedious job!

According to Mum’s improvised recipe, I had to peel and dice 3 carrots, 3 onions, 1 potato and 2 tomatoes. I did all this, during the hour it took me to boil a chicken carcass for some good old homemade stock, cutting my finger in the process. Once that was done, it was time to cool the carcass in a separate bowl so that I could peel the flesh off for the soup.

Why dice everything? Because the flavours really come out during the cooking.

As soon as the carcass had cooled, I proceeded to peel the remaining flesh off (why waste, no?) while putting the diced onions to boil in the home made chicken stock for about 45 minutes. The aroma of onions boiling merrily away very, very worth it. And while all that was going on, I put two fresh pieces of chicken on the rib to boil in a separate pot for half an hour. You want to save that stock once the chicken is cooked; it will come in handy when your onion-chicken stock soup subsequently reduces over time.

The aroma of onions boiling merrily away in homemade chicken stock broth is utterly beguiling.

The aroma of onions boiling merrily away in homemade chicken stock broth is utterly bewitching.

Then, it was time to add the diced carrots and potatoes to the onion-flavoured soup on the boil and start peeling the cooled chicken flesh. By this time, I was insanely beat, and had graduated to the couch in front of the TV.

After about 15 – 20 minutes, it was time to season the soup (I prefer ready-made chicken stock instead of salt) and leave it on the boil for few more minutes before dumping in the painstakingly peeled chicken flesh and additional home made chicken stock. The final step: add the diced tomatoes and boil for another 10 minutes or so. And the soup is finally done!

Dish out and garnish with freshly-crackled black pepper and chopped fresh cilantro. Ah, this will make a fine dinner tonight. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. But maybe I will only cook it again once I regain a little more of my strength.

Can’t wait to dig in later!

Nasi Lemak Atan

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I LOVE food programmes. I get hungry or inspired after watching them. Which is a lovely state of being compared to how I would feel after a love story (yuck), tear jerker (bleh), drama or horror flick (wired).

A few lazy nights ago, I tuned in to AFC and settled for a Best in the World marathon with Razif Hashim. I’m not normally a fan of locally produced food shows, but there’s something about Razif which makes me want to try the food he’s tried: his delivery is spontaneous and amusing, and he certainly can eat. Heartily.

So what particularly caught my attention that night was his entry on Nasi Lemak Atan at Chow Kit. Now,  I’ve never been to Chow Kit and have never felt the need to go there, but after watching Razif wolf down several packs of nasi lemak and side servings of lauk, The Boy and I decided we had to try it out.

Getting there wasn’t easy, especially for someone who is sometimes directionally challenged like me. But, we finally made it after driving aimlessly along narrow streets lined with numerous stalls. Note: if you are a datuk or datin who’s used to traveling in a huge MPV, you may want to downsize to a much smaller vehicle.
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Warm packs of nasi lemak in a basket. Picture courtesy of Fried Chillies.

What is it about Malaysians and their nasi lemak? For me, it’s about the warm, fluffy and subtly coconut flavoured rice, topped with spicy anchovy chilli paste and a simple hardboiled egg. All this wrapped in banana leaf and newspaper. This is best eaten not too long after it’s wrapped, or the rice would stick together in a big lump. It really is a matter of preference at the end of the day — not everyone minds lumpy rice like I do.

Nasi lemak at the stall is served in small packs — a practice Atan started and which his son continues to this day, after Atan passed on. Customers pick as many packs as they want into a basket, and they also get to choose from a variety of lauk (served in smaller plates) on the way to the cashier. Choices include fried chicken, chicken rendang, beef lung, cockles, cuttle fish….and more. If you prefer your rice on a plate instead of newspaper, be sure to ask for one.

Scrumptious spread of lauk to go with the nasi lemak

So, my verdict for Nasi Lemak Atan?

I thought the rice was still suitably warm, but not fluffy enough. The sambal was decent — not too sweet — but not spectacular. We also had the cockles (mediocre), beef lung (too hard), cuttle fish (awesome)  and chicken rendang (yummy) and one whole hard boiled egg on the side. All that, and three packs of nasi lemak shared between the two of us cost RM28.00. Frankly, I wouldn’t go back there again unless I had a crazy craving for the cuttle fish sambal. Or a very late night craving for nasi lemak!

 

Nasi Lemak Atan
Lot 1185 1A Lorong Haji Hussein off Jalan Haji Hussein,
Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur
Opens 6pm – 5am

 

 

 

3C/2K: Charkuayteow, Cendol, Currymee, Kwaychap and nasiKandar

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SO everyone says that the best food comes from Penang. I beg to differ; the best food comes from my momma’s kitchen. Without. A. Doubt.

But that’s not the point of this post.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that all Penang food is good. But I’ll give it credit for a few things which you’d be hard-pressed to find in KL or other states simply because it lacks that certain ‘Penang personality’, such as char kuay teow, curry mee and nasi kandar, to name a few.

Some time ago, we headed up North to give our minds and bodies a much-needed rest, and our appetites a nice jumpstart. It was time for a rejuvenation of sorts. Clothes: check. Eager and excited stomachs: check. High expectations: check. Food Bible (a.k.a The Star’s street food guide): check.

Our assignment was simple and specific and we only wanted to hit a few hawker joints, hence the 3C/2K strategy a. No point wasting time zipping all over town, right? Which was why we checked in to a hotel smack in the heart of town just to be close to the hawker-riddled streets of Georgetown.

Char Kuay Teow

The best char kuay teow in the world comes from Penang, no questions asked. You could try and pay me to change my mind but, nope, not gonna happen. I suppose this is the result of some kind of indoctrination from when I was a kid. Almost every char kuay teow stall in KL and Ipoh where I grew up claims to be from Penang.

The Star’s street food guide — our food bible — has many entries on char kuay teow. We decided to hit four stalls: 1) somewhere on Penang Road 2) Kimberley Street 3) Macalister Road 4) Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa opposite the Pulau Tikus police station. Pretty ambitious for a two-night trip, I admit.

The cook manages the flames with gusto

The winner, according to this panel of judges is the char kuay teow stall on Kimberley Street. Cooked with duck egg and mantis prawn, the dish is moist and tasty, unlike the over-fried versions at stalls (1) and (4). I had fun watching the cook too, particularly how he expertly worked his way around the burst of sparks surrounding the wok. Whoa! What gusto!

Coming in a close second is the famous sister’s char kuay teow at Macalister Road. My apologies to all char kuay teow connoisseurs out there who disagree, but this is, after all, merely my humble opinion.

I must say that what adds (very indirectly) to the allure of our winning number is its location. Kimberley Street is walking distance from where we stayed at the Traders Hotel and has a whole lot of food to offer. Kinda like Macalister Street, only nearer. I enjoyed the lin chee kang from the little tong sui store as well as the belacan fried chicken down the road.

Duck Meat Kway Chap

But across the road from the char kuay teow stall on Kimberley Street is this busy little stall selling duck meat kway chap. Apparently, the dude has been plying his trade at the same place for the past three decades, and makes the ‘kway’ (the rice sheets) himself. Read more about it here.

Here for the last 30 years

Traditionally, kway chap is a teochew dish of rice sheets served with pig offal, tofu derivatives and boiled eggs in dark soy soup. This was my first time trying the dish, and the swarm of people surrounding the stall boded well for a non-initiate like me.

Packed with duck and pork and all the trimmings that go with it

I wasn’t too disappointed. The dish was generously laden with pork offal, duck meat and all the trimmings that go with it in a flavourful broth. My only concern was that it tasted a mite too porky, but that is easily dealt with as long as you eat it piping hot. Still, I enjoyed it enough and would try it again. My greedy sidekick, however, wasn’t too impressed. Well, to each his own.

Cendol

While going about our exploration on foot, we’d pass the cendol stall on Penang Road ever so often. There’s always a queue at this stall; people tell me that it sells the best cendol in Penang. Now, I have always maintained that the best cendol in the world comes from my sister-in-law’s aunt’s stall in Malacca, but there’s always no harm in trying other stalls out.

This cendul seller makes brisk business

Verdict? Yep. The best cendol in the world still comes from my sister-in-law’s aunt’s stall in Malacca. But we’ll leave that for another day and another post.

Curry Mee

To satiate my constant craving for all things spicy, we made a stop at the curry mee stall at Lorong Seratus Tahun. This is, by far, the best curry mee dish ever for me because it isn’t thickened by artery-clogging coconut milk like the ones found in KL.

Want some curry mee?

The broth — served with pieces of shrimp, bean sprouts, tofu, cockles, cuttle fish and pig blood (not my cup of tea, so I refrained from having it) — was quite clear, yet full of flavour, and made spicy with a topping of chili paste. The chili was definitely the star; it was fragrant and tasty and the dish would not be quite the same without it. Greedy Sidekick loved the dish and slurped down half of it in no time. Should’ve ordered my own portion, but that’d mean limited space in my stomach for the rest of our char kuay teow expedition.

nasi Kandar

I remember the days when I was a poor student in Penang. During the fasting month, my pals Julia, Jaime and Goh would sometimes make the long trek with me from our university (USM) to Gelugor just so we can get nasi kandar served with the dude’s famous tujuh kuah campur. Saving money on bus fare meant we could spend more on nasi kandar. It seemed like a very feasible (literally) option at the time, so we walked. Nevermind the heat, the undulating terrain, the dust and sweat…Goh always had an umbrella to shield her from the sun. And then there was Abu Nasi Kandar near my apartment, which I could sniff out even before the stall is sighted, thanks to the aroma of Abu’s chicken being deep-fried. I’d order white rice flooded with curry, no vegetables and two pieces of fried chicken. And I’d be the happiest girl in the world.

One of the oldest nasi kandar outlets in Penang

Greedy Sidekick brought these memories to surface when he insisted that we try Line Clear Nasi Kandar, one of the oldest nasi kandar establishments in Penang. This joint is located in an alley on Chulia Street and is quite easy to miss if you don’t pay close enough attention. When we got there at 10am, there were patrons already queuing for food. Nasi kandar for breakfast? Incredible. I decided to just stick with a roti kosong (not great; Raju’s in PJ remains my top choice). I can’t remember much about it, though. I’d have to go back there for another try, although I do remember that whatever rice and curry I had that time tasted pretty good. I’d vouch that one of the reasons why the place is so popular is because of its amazing variety of food.

All in all, a pretty good trip. Next time on the menu would be orr chien, mee mamak and kuay teow th’ng.

Pat A Cake, Baker’s Man; Bake Me A Cake Fast as You Can

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Sweet Delights

 

“BAKING is really quite simple,” a friend once told me. “You just mix the ingredients, pour it into a pan, pop it into the oven, and hey presto!”

Although I can’t be sure, I think there must be some truth in that… after all, she bakes cakes on the side and works a stressful job in a financial institution. At one point, she was baking cakes after work just about every day and weekend and decorating the pretty little boxes which will eventually contain the goodies.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s gotta be talent. And (a great deal of) interest. I must confess I have none of the former and some of the latter — although it revolves mostly around eating the finished product more than anything else.

Still, I have resolved to learn how to bake properly one day, and not just the usual cup cakes and butter cakes. We’re talking the whole nine yards of icing, sugaring, etc… In short, a work of art; the premium stuff. It’s just that I’m quite put off by the whole idea of having to enroll for a two-year course in a hospitality institution and sit through countless of theory classes just to learn how to make macaroons, panna cotta or even a wedding cake.

 

Macaroons

 

See, I have a short attention span. I can’t just sit and listen for hours and try to imagine. I prefer to get in to the kitchen and do stuff because that’s the best way to learn and remember. Especially when it comes to things that involve the creative process.

So you can imagine my delight when I found out about the Academy of Pastry Arts Malaysia. The institute offers short term baking and pastry art courses, including sugar art and chocolate. These range from two-day specialty programmes conducted by award-winning guest chefs from Asia and Europe, to three- and nine-month courses conducted by Chef Guillaume Lejeune, the school’s resident French chef and director of pastry studies. Most of the learning is done on the job; very little of it is done in the classroom.

And you’re not given unrealistic expectations. The school’s commitment is in grooming the best ready-to-perform pastry professionals entering the hotel industry or related pastry fields. Meaning you’re not an expert the moment you graduate with a certificate, but you will certainly be better trained to immediately start work in the industry if you so choose; you’ll not look at the head chef with a blank look if he asked you to perform a task. And they’re not pretentious — hobbyists are welcome, too.

I paid a visit to the academy last week. It was exciting to see a table laden with all kinds of sweet delights. While I don’t have a sweet tooth, I certainly do enjoy looking at pretty things.

What really got me all excited was a demonstration on making panna cotta — one of my favourite desserts — by Chef Lejeune. It sounds quite simple, really. Heat cream sprinkled with vanilla pods and sugar in a pan. Add gelatin (already dissolved in water, and not too much or the panna cotta will turn out too stiff) and stir until consistency thickens. Turn off the pan and pour mixture into mould. Pop it into the fridge and let it set.

Get creative. Use strawberries.

Or mix two flavours — say vanilla and pistachio. Voila.

There’s plenty to learn. If you work hard at it, you can even set up your own shop! Find out more about the Academy of Pastry Arts Malaysia at http://www.academyofpastryartsmalaysia.com/or check out a video on Eduwebtv right here.

 

 

Eat, Drink & Live @ Epicure Malaysia 2010

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Eat, Drink, Live!

Interested in learning … how to make chocolate? How to cook classic French cuisine? All about golfing? All about beer or fine Italian wine? Where to find roofing or swimming pool specialists?  All of the above?

If you are — or fancy yourself — an epicurean, particularly one who is  educated, of the upper income bracket, lifestyle focused (wannabe snobs/snobs-in-training can take lessons here), block out your dates from Sept 17 to 19 and mosey on over to the Sime Darby Convention Centre for Epicure Malaysia 2010.

Epicure Malaysia is back for the seventh time and is the venue for all lifestyle products and services, from fine dining, wines and cigars to wellness, home entertainment and property. We’re talking about greening your house, kids scuba diving, Japanese tapas, the finer points of etiquette, First Aid (??), slimming — you name it.

Besides the assortment of exhibitors, the fair will also include cooking classes, workshops on wine and cigar appreciation, investments and many more. Bookings can be made at the website.

Additionally, you could check out the brochure here.

OR,

If you are not inclined to reading too much, and prefer a shortcut, here’s a TVC you can check out:

I am a snob-in-training, so chances are you’ll see me there. I wanna eat (burp), drink (blurb) and live (whoopee)!!!

*photo credited to Epicure 2010 website.

The Hokkien I Love

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FINALLY, I have decided to be true to my piggy self and write about food instead of the usual fictional or semi-fictional sob story.

(So, now you know the “Hokkien that I Love” refers to food.)

Thus, the first food posting my stomach has dictated that my brain focus on today is Hokkien mee. OK, the picture above doesn’t look so good, but, hey…I didn’t have a better looking one. And you know what they say anyway: the proof is in the pudding.

Before I continue, allow me to indulge in a bit of background explanation. This, for the benefit of those who just may not know what it is (ah, what sacrilege!).

According to Wikipedia, there are three types of hokkien mee: hokkien hae mee from Penang and Singapore (both with the same name, though cooked differently) and Hokkien (fried) mee from the Klang Valley. The Penang variant is a totally different dish (it’s soupy) and not what I want to discuss here…meanwhile, who cares about the Singaporean variant? Singapore food sucks anyway. Naturally, our Singaporean friends would vehemently defend their “native” delicacies (all ciplak from Malaysia wan lah), but we all know that arguing with the ignorant is like fighting a losing battle.

So, anyway.

I’ve had a long-standing love affair with hokkien mee since god-knows-when (actually, if I am going to be honest, I love food in general, but I have an especially soft spot for any dish that’s porky), and I’ve eaten at many (not all, ok?..better qualify before some hokkien mee zealot tries to crucify me) popular spots in the Klang Valley.

So, to make this as brief as possible, I will just zoom in for the kill and mention only my favourite.

Ever been to Reunion in Bangsar Village? THAT’S my ultimate destination for good old hokkien mee. I know. It sounds impossible. Here’s this really swanky Chinese restaurant and you’d think that all they served up was some cool unpronounceable chinky dish or other… but what a surprise to find the oh-so-pedestrian hokkien mee on its menu! Now, who would’ve thought?!

The noodles are cooked in black gravy wholesomely flavoured with pork liver, pork slices, squid, shrimp and cabbage. And, of course, generous amounts of pork lard. Each strand of noodle is slick and glistening with gravy, making every mouthful a rewarding (albeit incredibly artery-clogging) experience. You know for a fact that when you chewed on the noodle, you would never encounter the taste of lye so normally prevalent in thick yellow noodles.

I’m not a fan of pork liver, and don’t mind the pork slices, but the shrimps! OMG. THAT, dear reader, is simply divine. The prawns are fresh, sweet and so good to eat!

Still not convinced? Try it and see for yourself. It’s more than 20 bucks a dinner plate, but, trust me, there’s more than enough for two people (just don’t bring a greedy pig; bring me, can).

And. It. Is. Good.

Really.

My DailyLit

STEWING IN LAMB AND MACARONI

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‘I AM famished!’ thought Vivienne, her stomach echoing her thoughts with a loud and embarrassing rumble. This, she noted with despair, despite having a hearty – though unhealthy – breakfast at McDonald’s just before heading to the office.

Not that she wanted McDonald’s; she wanted lamb and macaroni stew – the one that Nigella made on TV that day. She could think of no place else to get it (unless she went banging on Miss Lawson’s kitchen door and risk getting stewed herself). Damn that woman for always turning her into a hungry monster each time she watches the show.

The more Vivienne thought about it, the more convinced she became that there was only one way to go about it: she would just have to cook the dish herself.

It didn’t seem too difficult, really. She’d go shopping that night and pick up the essentials.

“All I need are a few things,” said Vivienne over a long distance phonecall to her best friend, Joanna who lived in Singapore.

Vivienne had known Joanna since she moved in to the house next door back in the sleepy town of Ipoh 25 years ago. They warmed to each other the moment the bespectacled, bright-eyed Joanna introduced herself, and the two had been inseparable ever since.

“Viv. You haven’t cooked in a while. Are you sure you want to do this? Plus, you’re so accident-prone, what are the odds of you not setting fire to the kitchen?” her friend responded.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Vivienne retorted.

She’d show Jo. One way or another, this cookout was going to be a success; life and death depended on it!

She drove to the supermarket with her boyfriend, Caleb, in tow. Good old Caleb who always did the cooking at home, and who did not bat an eyelid when she announced her (very rare) culinary intentions.

All she needed were onions, garlic, celery, some herbs, tomato, carrots, and macaroni.

“Are you sure that’s all you need, babe?” Caleb asked doubtfully.

For a moment, she felt indignant that Caleb seemed to question her abilities. Then she realised that he was just being concerned. After all, she had decided not to tell him what exactly it was that she wanted to cook. She wanted it to be a surprise.

She recalled the phone call with her best friend.

“Does Caleb know? Do you think he’s gonna let you conjure a disaster in the kitchen?” Joanna had demanded.

“He’s not as critical as you,” she replied tartly. “Besides, he doesn’t know what I was planning to cook. I want it to be a surprise. He’ll love it.”

There was a short pause before Joanna responded.

“Just be careful in the kitchen, OK? Right, gotta run. Dinner. Later, babe.”

**********

LATER that evening, Vivienne slaved away, chopping and blending alone in the kitchen at her apartment. Caleb had been banished to his own pad.

“This is easier than I thought,” she mumbled to herself.

She took out the largest pot she could find in the kitchen and then heated up some olive oil in a skillet to brown the meat.

And then it struck her.

She had forgotten to buy the lamb! No wonder it seemed so easy.

“Aww…shit. No, no, no…how could I forget the main ingredient?” she groaned, sinking heavily on to a stool near the stove. And knocking the skillet handle in the process, causing the pan to fall on to the floor in a loud clang.

“Fuck!” she yelled, jumping to avoid the splatter of hot oil. This was turning into a disaster. Joanna was right. And Caleb probably figured this would happen.

At that moment, the phone rang. It was Caleb.

“Babe. You OK?” His voice was a mixture of concern and mirth.

“I’m fine!” she snapped.

“No, you’re not. Open the door. I’m right outside.”

“What? How did you….” But Caleb had hung up.

There was nothing else to do but to let him in. Caleb stared at the mess in the kitchen. From behind, Vivienne studied his profile. Tall, lean and with wavy dark hair, Caleb was a nice-looking bloke with a charming grin. She saw him take a deep breath as he surveyed the carnage. Caleb could be a little anal where cooking was concerned.

She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the rebuke – except that she could only hear a deep and long chuckle. She opened her eyes tentatively and saw Caleb looking at her with amusement written all over his face.

He held out a plastic bag.

“You forgot this,” he said, trying to contain his mirth before dissolving into a fit of laughter.

She opened the bag and stared. Caleb had brought fresh lamb shoulder from the butcher’s, all nicely cubed.

“You forgot this when we went to the supermarket that day. Hey, I pay attention, you know?” he explained.

“How did you know? I didn’t tell you!” she spluttered.

He smiled and put his finger to his lips, then drew her to him. “Let’s clean up; we’ve got to get ready,” was all he said before leading her to the kitchen and ignoring her frantic protestations. Fifteen minutes later saw the kitchen back in shape.

And then the doorbell rang.

“Who’s there?” Vivienne spoke into the intercom a little edgily.

“Open up,” came a brisk – and familiar – voice.

With a little yelp of delight, Vivienne opened the door to find her best friend standing outside. There was an expression of wry amusement on Joanna’s face. Vivienne looked at Caleb and then back at her best friend.

Joanna had arrived in Kuala Lumpur early that morning. She had wanted it to be a surprise and had called to inform Caleb of her plans.

“So. You didn’t kill yourself in the process,” she said with a grin after a round of hugs. “But my money is on Caleb helping you clean up some mess or other. Looks like you didn’t manage to get round to the cooking after all.”

Vivienne smiled ruefully before giving Caleb a mock accusatory stare.

“Well, that tells me I’m right. C’mon, let’s go out. I am famished,” said Joanna.

‘Yeah, so am I,’ Vivienne thought. “Except that all I really want to eat is lamb and macaroni stew. Like the one Nigella made on TV that day.’

‘Just as well,’ thought Caleb. ‘I hate lamb anyway.’

***********

Note:

Here’s a recipe for lamb and macaroni stew:

LAMB AND MACARONI STEW

Ingredients:

Lamb shoulder, cubed and lightly seasoned.
White onion
Garlic
Celery
Bay Leaves
Dried Oregano
2 cans tomato
Carrots
Fresh Oregano
Macaroni
Feta cheese
Bottle of white wine

Method:

1. Brown lamb cubes (don’t fully cook), then set aside.
2. Blend chopped onion, garlic and celery, then fry mixture in lamb oil.
3. When slightly translucent, take out half the portion, throw in lamb cubes and cover with remaining mix.
4. Sprinkle in dried oregano and bay leaves, and pour in tomatoes.
5. Stir. Pour in white wine.
6. Add a jug of water. Mix, cover pot with lid and leave on low fire for two hours.
7. Later, bring the stew to boil, then pour in the macaroni.
8. Dish out.

Garnishing:

1. Chop fresh oregano and knead with feta cheese.
2. Sprinkle on top of stew
3. Serve

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