Tag Archives: Food

Loving That Little Bit of Stink

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.


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)


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 🙂



Book Review | Julie & Julia


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

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!

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


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.


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.