Har Gau


Thursday 30 December 2010

M’sian home cooking

(Been searching through my draft posts and decided to post this so it's from some time back.)

My mum has transformed from someone who couldn’t cook to someone who actually has a secret stack of recipes, all hand-written and crumpled with the many times she’s referred to them. Whenever I’m home, she’ll try to bring out all the new dishes she’s learnt and it always amazes me how good her cooking skills have become.

Some of my favourite home-cooked dishes are shown below. Alot of them are plain and simple dishes as I remember them from my childhood, but as you all know, sometimes these are the best types of meals.

Different lighting from different meal times - also partly due to rubbish photography skills

M'sian cooking - Steamed meat

Tung choy cheng chu yuk (Steamed pork with preserved vegetables)

Bits of pork minced with some tung choy, seasoned with salt and pepper, and steamed. That’s all. Easy. When I was a kid, I used to have plate after plate of rice with just the gravy from the dish alone. Just gravy and rice, lots and lots of it.

M'sian cooking - Stewed chicken feet

Lou kai kiok (Stewed chicken feet)

This is another one of those home-cooked favourites that can’t be found in restaurants. Chicken feet is stewed in soy sauce (and other sauce mixtures) till cooked, and hard boiled eggs added in to absorb the flavour. Eaten with rice, the gravy alone can can take me through plates of it.

M'sian cooking - Salted fish meatballs

Salted fish meat patties

I specifically asked my mum to make this dish while I was home. It’s not like I can’t make this in London, well, maybe the salted fish is quite expensive so I don’t buy it here, but it’s different, you know? Eating this at home makes it taste a little better.

M'sian cooking - Sweet soy sauce chicken

Dark soy sauce sweet chicken

I used to call this ‘Teem Gai’, or sweet chicken, as this is how it tastes. First the chicken pieces are fried (not deep-fried, but fried so preferably the skin should be left on to allow the chicken to be nice and crispy) and then the sauce is made, and the chicken pieces thrown back into the work to absorb all the lovely flavours. The sauce is made with thick, dark soy sauce, soy sauce, a little oyster sauce and quite a bit of sugar. When cooked, the sauce (because of the sugar) thickens up (and sometimes tends to stick to the bottom of the wok), but this ensures that the chicken pieces are coated perfectly.

It’s almost like biting into a boiled sweet, where the shell first cracks and then the tender chicken piece inside is revealed.


Steamed lap cheong and lap ngap (Chinese sausage and waxed duck)

This has traditionally been a Chinese New Year dish with us, as waxed duck is one of those things we get during the festive period. I’m sure there’s something on Wikipedia as to why this is so (but I’m not going to research that just now).

The taste of this always reminds me of when I was in school, as this was one of the simplest dishes that could be made for dinner. Chuck a few pieces of Chinese sausage and waxed duck onto a plate, put that on top of some rice in the rice cooker, and half an hour later, a lovely meaty smell is wafting around. We usually drizzle some dark soy sauce over the dish and that blends quite well with the oil that is steamed out of the duck and sausages, really lovely gravy for hot, steamed rice.

(OK, a tiny bit of flash photography coming up ...)

M'sian cooking - claypot fish and taufoo

Claypot fish with Japanese tofu, baby sweetcorn and vegetables

This is a new dish in that it wasn't one of those I had when I was a kid. My mom tried something similar when she was in London, and tried making it at home and it turned out really nice! Not sure what fish she used but it's a white fish, and the chunks were deep fried before being stewed in the claypot together with the tofu and vegetables. With the hot gravy over steamed rice, absolutely perfect.

M'sian cooking - Brinjal and prawn 2

Aubergine with dried prawns (har mai)

This is another one of the new dishes learned from restaurants, and mastered through practise. Pieces of aubergine are coated in a light flour batter before being deep fried (this is one looooong process, believe me) and once that's done, they're removed from the wok. The small prawns (fragrant, and used to add a new dimension to dishes) are sauteed in hot oil, with some seasoning, before the aubergine is thrown back into the wok for one more thorough stir and the dish is ready to be served.

M'sian cooking - Vegetable curry

Fish and vegetable curry

There have been a few version of this curry dish through the years, but they are largely similar in that this is a slightly sour curry (fish curries in Malaysia tend to be) flavoured with assam skin to give it the limey, tangy taste, and the vegetables used are usually a combination of ladies fingers (okra), aubergine and green beans. This is one of my favourites because it doesn't feel that heavy like curries usually do, mainly due to the limey lift from the assam skin. A plate of steamed, fluffy rice drenched in this gravy, with a crumbling of poppadum (and a fried egg) is possibly one of the nicest dishes I've had.

M'sian cooking - Black bean spare ribs

Stewed pork in soy sauce (lou chu yuk)

Now THIS is definitely on top of the league of childhood dishes, and I can understand why. Aside from it being so unbelievably tasty, it's also not a difficult dish to cook once you've got the seasoning and ingredients right. The pork is stewed in a sauce made from soy sauce (light and dark), star anise, garlic cloves and white pepper. Once cooked for a few hours, the meat and sauce almost melt into each other, resulting in a stew with the most tender, flavoursome meat. Fantastic with rice (you're beginning to see a trend now, aren't you).

M'sian cooking - Baked beans and meat patties

To round it off, one of my favourites of all time (I was craving this a few days ago).

Baked beans with fried egg and sliced onions

Yes, possibly a combination of items guaranteed to give your social life a decline, but who cares when you get a dish that good in return? When I mentioned this recipe to my friends, the most common reaction I got back was one of slight suspicion, mixed in with curiosity.

If you like all these 3 ingredients separately, how can you not like it together? It's the ultimate in comfort food and if you know you're not going out (for the next few days), throw these 3 ingredients together and you'll have a warm, tomatoey, beany dish perfect for ... guess it ... white rice!

Mmm I'm hungry.

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