NPR recording of Yee Sang/Lo Hei

Lo Hei/Yee Sang - New Year Salad

Last Saturday,  I held my annual Lunar New Year Celebration at my house.  A prominent dish served on this occasion is a raw fish salad called Yee Sang.  NPR had found my past postings (read blog) on this unique Southeast Asian tradition and they inquired if I knew anyone holding such custom.  So, I invited the producer over, and here is the audio broadcast, along with a few photos.

http://www.npr.org/2016/02/14/466748096/yuhsheng-a-dish-to-toss-in-the-air-to-celebrate-the-chinese-new-year

History of Yee Sang/Lo Hei

Hope you can feel the joy and festive mood when “tossing” this salad high in the air for good fortune in the year.  Happy Year of the Monkey.

Peanut Cookies

Peanut CookiesAfter cooking for around a week, my guests have just left my Lunar New Year Open House.  It was the perfect opportunity for me to prepare some of my grandmother’s Nyonya dishes (see blog), a treat for my guests over the last few years.  This year, I decided to make New Year cookies as  dessert, and I started preparations a bit earlier for that.  With three attempts to make the special powdery cookies, Kueh Bangkit, resulting in dissatisfaction and disappointment, I resorted to Peanut Cookies, a favorite of mine back when I was growing up in Malaysia.  These are very delicate flakey bites with the rich nutty flavor in each crumb.  With success under my belt, here is the simple and tasty recipe, adapted from the Rasa Malaysia website (see page).

Ingredients:

4 cups ground roasted peanuts (or oven roast peeled raw peanuts at 250 F (120C) until fragrant and lightly brown)

1 cup confectionary sugar

1 cup peanut oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons shortening

1 egg yolk, beaten slightly with 1 tsp water for egg wash

Method:

Chop peanuts in food chopper until very fine and loose and when the mixture starts to become slightly sticky.

Mix the ground peanut, sugar, and flour together until well combined. Cut the shortening into mixture until fine bits.  Slowly add the peanut oil and mix well, until the mixture begins to come together – stop adding the oil at this point.

Shape into small balls and place on baking tray lined with parchment paper – do not flatten.   Use a toothpaste cap to make the circular indentation by pressing and rotating the cap to lightly flatten the cookie.

Brush the sides below the indentation with the egg wash.

Bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) on middle rack for 20 minutes or until brown – check and watch out for burning after 15 minutes (remove if you smell burning). Remove from oven and let cool.  When cool, store in airtight container.

Long Yoke/Pork Jerky Recipe

Loke Yoke/Pork Jerky

Long Yoke/Pork JerkyLast Friday, we welcomed in the Year of the Horse, one of the dozen zodiac signs marking each year in the Lunar Calendar.  Growing up in Malaysia, this was a three-day celebration filled with an Open House wowing guests with wonderful food and treats, and a constant stream of invitations to restaurant dinners and homes of other people to divulge in their gastronomic offerings.  One of the seasonal treats is Long Yoke, a sweet and salty pork jerky, whose grill smoke clouds the air in Chinese-dominated parts of the city.  As kids, we would literally attack the packet of these meaty treats since they were not available year round and due to their irresistible flavor.  Since I now live in the Washington DC area,  it is impossible for me to find them store-made; hence, I am compelled to make it myself at home.  I managed to find a couple of online recipes, and with a bit of tweaking and merging of both, this is my version.  Believe me, once you have made it, you will find it both quite easy to make and delectable to dig your teeth into.

Ingredients:

2 lbs ground pork

Marinade:

1   1/2 tbsp fish sauce

1   1/2 tbsp soy sauce

200 gm sugar

1/8 tsp five-spiced powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 tsp kam cho powder (grounded from dried licorice stems) – in Asian grocery stores

1 tbsp oil

2 tbsp thick dark soy sauce

2 tbsp rice wine (preferably Rose rice wine)

3-4 drops of red food coloring

Method:

1.Season ground pork with the marinade and leave in the fridge overnight or at least 4 hours.

2.Turn oven to 250 F.

3.Oil  or line the under side of large baking sheet.  Put marinated pork on baking sheet and spread meat as thinly as possible to cover the whole sheet. Use another baking sheet if there is extra meat.

4.Bake in oven for 20 mins or until firm to the touch.

5.Turn oven up to 350 F and bake for 20-30 mins until pieces are sticky and quite dry.

6.Remove from oven and using a scissor or pizza cuter, cut meat into large pieces. Allow to cool.

7.Grill pieces or place them in broiler until slightly caramelized.  Wrap in foil and freeze until needed.

Chinese Banquet 1

50th Wedding Anniversary DinnerIn my last blog, I wrote about my family coming together from disparate parts of the world to meet up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in order to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I described the delicious dishes of first Chinese dinner that we ate on the first night together. This type of dinners was always a gastronomic highlight for me, of which I find such quality cooking missing from my experiences outside of Asia. To continue with this series, I will describe a couple of formal Chinese banquets that we were ingratiated with during our brief trip.

The first banquet took place in celebration of my parents’ Golden Anniversary. Many relatives and friends were invited to partake in such a joyous occasion, and since some were Muslim, the meal was completely halal (Muslim kosher), thus no pork was served at all. However, such dietary restriction is never in the way of good creative Chinese cooking as in their banquets. Since my nephew from Australia was sitting next to me, it was a good opportunity to explain to him the logical sequence of dishes in a banquet, very much like the order of the Chinese dinner in the last blog.

Four Seasons Appetizer

1) Appetizer: Four Seasons. In a formal banquet, the meal starts with this kind of opener, unlike a dinner. This platter holds such a name as it is a dish with four different elements that distinguish themselves in texture, flavor, and ingredient. On this day, we were served a cold spicy papaya salad, crispy soybean skin stuffed with a fragrant lemongrass filling, crispy spring rolls coated with a sweet sauce, and chicken cooked with Chinese mushrooms.

Sharks Fin Soup

2) Soup: Shark Fin Soup. This soup is almost de rigueur in a big celebratory dinner, as was in this case. The thick soup comes with fine strands of shark fin that has been cooked until it is tender. Although it has not much in terms of flavor, a good stock gives it character and body. Furthermore, a customary splash of Chinese black vinegar and English mustard (a new local trend for me) gives it some more flavor interest – this soup is a favorite of my mother. Unfortunately, this dish has fallen out of favor for many due to its unsustainable ecological practices.

Steamed Pomfret Fish

3) Protein 1: Steamed Pomfret Fish. Like the Chinese dinners, the fish is simply cooked, steamed as in this case, and paired with a light soy sauce. The diner is always looking for a fresh sweet quality from the flesh, not covered by too much or too heavy of a sauce. The fish that arrived on the table was really huge, more than enough to serve 10 guests per table.

Crispy Chicken and Shrimp Crackers

4) Protein 2: Roasted Chicken. Since the meal was halal, poultry was the obvious alternative (never beef or lamb since many Chinese find their flavors too strong for their palate). Here the meat was well-seasoned and the skin made crisp in the oven, which can be dipped in a white pepper/salt combination for more seasoning. The clouds of Shrimp Crackers are equally tasty echoing the crispy nature of the dish.

Lotus Root and Sweet Peppers

5) Vegetable/Tofu Dish: Sautéed Lotus Roots with Sweet Peppers. This was a new dish for me. Slices of fresh lotus roots have been stir-fried with sweet peppers in a light sauce. I have had this root in mostly soup dishes, but I quite enjoyed its slight crunchy texture with equally crunchy sweet peppers.

Longevity Noodles with Roasted Chicken and Chinese Mushroom

6) Noodle/Rice Dish: Longevity Noodles. This dish is a must-order in such celebrations as my parents’ anniversary. Here the noodles are paired with roasted chicken, Chinese chives, bean sprouts, and Chinese mushrooms, brought together by a light sauce. It is imperative that server does not cut into the noodles to ensure the intention of wishing the celebrants longevity in their marriage and lives together.

Sweet Lotus Seed PancakeLongan in Syrup

7) Dessert: Longan in Syrup and Lotus Seed Pancakes. This is one of my favorite banquet desserts. Fresh longan fruit has been cooked in light syrup, paired with a hot pancake with filling made from mashed lotus seeds, a divergence from the traditional use of black bean paste. In the past, this pancake was served with a hot sweet peanut soup, which I enjoyed very much. However, this was equally satisfying for its light quality, especially after so many courses.

In the next blog, I will be writing about another Chinese banquet. I hope this posting is giving you an idea what a Chinese formal entails, and how much I miss such delicious delights being away from my childhood home.

Chinese Dinner 1

Recently, members of my family and their spouses and children travelled long distances to meet up in the country which we were grew up in. The purpose of such reunion was for our parents who had been planning to come back to mark their Golden Anniversary with the renewal of their vows in the church where they first exchanged them 50 years ago, and to invite all their respective relatives to a big dinner that night. On the first night of the reunion, the whole gang of 16 decided to have a Chinese dinner in a reputable restaurant not too far from the hotel where we were staying at.

Many of you have read that I have hesitated for the longest to write a blog on Chinese food in the DC restaurant scene. This stems from the fact that I have been spoiled by quality Chinese food either in the restaurants, hawker stalls, or at home as I was growing up in that part of the world. When I would come back to Kuala Lumpur to visit my parents before their migration abroad, I looked forward to the home cooking and to our meals at high-end eating establishments that were always a epicurean highlight for me as I was growing up. Here is one such meal, albeit not quite a banquet, but a quality Chinese dinner.

Chinese BBQ Pork

First Course: Protein – Chinese Barbeque Pork. Customarily, in a regular dinner, there are no appetizers. This rendition comprised of small slabs of pork belly, mostly likely a suckling pig, that has been roasted and basted with a molasses-like sweet and salty sauce. This is my father’s favorite dish, and it is usually not amiss among the other orders.

Roast Duck

Second Course: Another protein – Roast Duck. The restaurant does a wonderful version here. The meat was still moist yet flavorful with the skin completely rendered of its fat and quite crispy. The flavor was less “gamey” than the ones I have tasted in other countries – this dish would win over the not-so-aficionado of this bird meat.

Steamed Sai Kap Fish

Third Course: Seafood. The Chinese prefer to have their seafood cooked simply in order to showcase the freshness and sweetness of the protein. Here a Wild Patin fish has been steamed with some rice wine and ginger juice before lightly covered with a light soy sauce mixture along with some green onion garnish. The flesh was indeed moist and sweet, however, the price of this dish was a bit of a sticker shock – Asians never ask the price before hand. However, it was a worthwhile order for the quality ingredient and cooking. I was just a bit dismayed that they had chopped off the fish’s head, to which the diner would find it a bit suspicious (Asians prefer to see the whole animal/fish intact).

Tofu and Vegetables

Fourth Course: Tofu Dish. Here, pillows of this soybean cake have been fried lightly to give it texture and body, and they are braised along with some Chinese vegetable resembling a large zucchini in a savory sauce.

Chinese Broccoli/Gai Lan

Fifth Course: Vegetable Dish – Chinese Broccoli/Gai Lan. The vegetable has been quickly parboiled and paired with mild sauces like soy sauce or oyster sauce. With this vegetable, it is important not to cook it too long so that the sweetness is retained along with the crunch of the stems. Like the seafood, mildness of flavor and freshness of ingredient are qualities sought after here.

Crispy Noodles with Freshwater Prawns

Sixth Course: Noodle or Rice Dish. Customarily, a noodle or rice dish served in a banquet is considered more or less a “throw away” dish, meaning, if you are still hungry, you better fill up with this dish. However, in a Chinese regular dinner, it is a bit more purposeful, and in this case, we ordered something that we missed very much – Sang Ha Meen.  Crispy bits of egg noodle have been paired by large freshwater prawns in a thick eggy sauce spiked with lots of ginger and green onion. It is favorite among my family members, but it took the restaurant so long to serve it and we waited very impatiently. But once the dish arrived, we attacked and ate it with muted hungry mouths.

Dessert: Since we had waited for a long time for the last dish and we had young toddlers in the group, we opted to skip this course. Usually, fresh fruits or fruit cocktail would be on the order.

In the next couple of blogs, I will write about the Chinese Banquet Meals that I managed to savor on this trip.   Hope this blog builds up an appetite for what is to come.

Lunar New Year Celebration

I am reblogging last year’s Lunar New Year’s celebration since I added a couple of dishes and photos to the blog – Enjoy!

Wong Eats

Over the past weekend, I held a dinner to mark the end of the fortnight-celebration that brought in the Lunar New Year. Being the Year of the Dragon, it is considered a very auspicious year, and it is my oldest brother “anniversary”. This year, the Lunar New Year commenced so close to the Gregorian New Year that I could not get myself ready in time to have a dinner gathering at the end of January – all I could muster then was a quick meal of 3 dishes with a couple of friends on the eve of the New Year.

The New Year celebration is a time for family members to travel back to the family home in order to spend time together. The Reunion Dinner, as it is known, is held on the eve, and it is considered imperative that all members are present at the dinning table for…

View original post 2,186 more words

Malaysian Drinks, Fruits, and Desserts

Al Fresco at Coffee ShopLiving in an environment where mornings start with 2 hours of soft diffused light and the skin is constantly moisturized from the high humidity and warm temperature, there are some downsides to these pleasant living conditions of tropical Malaysia.  Furthermore, the local penchant for rich and spicy dishes does tend to overwork the body system as I experienced this after a few days of indulging in the wonderful irresistible dishes that attack the visitor from all angles.  To overcome this “heatiness” that most face as the result of the above, many Malaysians resort to drinks and fruits to cool the system down.  With the abundance of fruits everywhere and the amazing variety grown in this tropical climate, one looks forward to the different offerings depending on the growing season.  Fruits also act as the perfect end to a meal, as well as some sweet concoction.  Here are the common Malaysian drinks, fruits, and desserts:
.
.

DSC_0016.jpg

1) Leong Soi – This hideous witches-brew-looking drink was my first request when I went to visit my auntie during my trip.  My grandmother used to boil this drink consisting of various dried leaves and stems that produce a slightly bitter dark herbal drink that I would sip often when it was too hot or when my system was overtaxed by the rich food.  Grandma was well-versed in Chinese herbal medicine since she had to rely on such cures during times when visiting doctors were financially unfeasible during the meager war years.  I am glad my auntie boiled this large pot since I must have consumed most of this in just a mere two days!  I did indeed feel much better after.

DSC_0361.jpg2) Yeen Mai Soi/Barley Drink – Another favorite of mine is this drink made by boiling whole barley pearls until most of the starch has leached into the liquid, leaving a slightly thick drink.  Sugar is added to sweeten it and lime juice to lighten it.  Served with ice, it is the perfect order when visiting a coffeeshop as in this case, the reputable Lai Fong Coffeeshop near Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur.  It may appear quite heavy due to the starch but amazingly it does a wonderful job cooling the system especially when served with lots of ice.

.

.

.

.

.

.

DSC_0226.jpg3) Leong Fun/Grass Jelly Drink – This dark drink is another coffeeshop favorite that consists of a jelly made from Grass Jelly and mixed with a slightly sweetened iced water.  The jelly is made by boiling slightly oxidized stems and leaves of a plant, member of the mint family, along with a coagulant, and then allowed to cool into a jelly form.  It is slightly bitter and herbal which is balanced by the sugary water.  It can be found in most coffeeshops and it is another must order when dealing with the tropical heat.

.

.

.

.

.

.

DSC_0108.jpg4) Sheen Kam Soi/Lime Drink – This rather potent drink is made with lots of lime juice as well as Vitamin C.  It is made with the local Kalamansi lime which is small yet packs a punch in its juices but not too sour as Key limes, the one used to make Key lime pies.  It has a slight bitterness from its tough skin that balances the tart flavors.  To enhance the flavors, a dried salted plum is added as the piece de resistance and the ultimate sour and salty treat in this drink.

Sydney 052.jpg

5) Teh Tarik/Pulled Tea – This drink hails from the South Indian community that used to be served at Roti Canai stalls (see blog) along with its food offering.  It is basically strong local tea (my favorite) that has been mixed with sweet condensed milk and “pulled” until it is frothy and slightly cool enough to be sipped – the tea version of cappuccino.  It is an incredible sight to watch someone pouring the steamy tea into another container while “pulling” the tea by lifting the containers away from each other, without spilling a single drop.  Just like its coffee counterpart, the top foam makes this drink stand out from its flat version. This is usually drunk at anytime, including late in the night at the night markets.

DSC_9930.jpg6) Duku Langsat – the flesh is sweet and fleshy with a bitter tiny seed in the middle, making it a challenge to eat the fruit without biting it.  But the sweet flesh makes it worthwhile and all attempts are usually made to avoid the center.  The outer skin is quite distinct by its leathery quality that peels easily to reveal the semi-translucent flesh.
.
.
.
.
.
.

.

.

.

.

.

DSC_0009.jpg

7) Chiku – This fruit is also known as Sapote in the Spanish-speaking world.  The sweet flesh is very soft but a bit rough in texture.  Like most fruits in this part of the world, it is seasonal and thus available only at a certain time of the year.  I was glad that it was available when I made my visit back recently.

DSC_0146.jpg8) Chempedak – this fruit is related to the Jackfruit and Breadfruit, but it grows only in the Southeast Asian region.  The flesh is a rich and sweet soft flesh, much like the texture of a ripe mango, but much sweeter and strong heady notes to accompany it.  The seeds are usually saved and boiled, tasting much like a richer water chestnut.  As a child, I would eat this fruit that has been battered and deep-fried, which made the seeds edible when well-cooked.  It is definitely missed due to its unavailability outside Southeast Asia.
.
.
.
.
.
.

DSC_9965.jpg

9) Starfruit – most homes in this tropical country would grow this fruit tree since they do well without much care.  When in season, the tree bears many fruits that need to be wrapped in paper to prevent the birds from ingesting them, as was in the case at my auntie’s home.  the skin is a a thin skin that protects a juicy insides, much like a soft apple.  However, it is slightly tart and sweet at the same time, providing a light crunch in each bite.  Strangely, Malaysians love to eat it by dipping it into a pool of salt.

DSC_0151.jpg10) Papaya – another commonly grown fruit tree in most homes is the papaya.  Like the starfruit, it is commonly vulnerable to birds that sense when the fruits are ripe and sweet, thus the common practice of wrapping them in paper as they ripen.  I really enjoy this soft and sweet fruit that exude a unique fructose flavor that is unmatchable.  It is one of my favorite breakfast fruits that is paired with a squeeze of lime.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

DSC_0067.jpg

11) Mata Kuching – A long time favorite of mine.  It is a slightly leathery flesh that is very sweet, coating a hard black seed.  It bears the name of “cat’s eye” due to its similar appearance.  This fruit is very sweet and makes it completely irresistible, making heavy consumption of it possible.  However, the common warning is that consuming too much can over-tax the system.

DSC_0285.jpg12) Dragon Fruit – this fruit was not common more than 10 years ago.  This fruit is indigenous to Vietnam and it made its way to this part of the world.  It bears such name due to the leaves that emanate from the body of the fruit, looking like dragon scales.  But inside bears a richly colored fruit that is soft and sweet.  It has become a well sought-after fruit by the locals due to its wonderful flavor and exotic looks.

DSC_9998.jpg

13) Durian – I saved the King of Southeast Asian Fruits for last among the fruits.  How can I explain its flavor?  It is unique and extremely strong, yet illusive at the same time.  Some have described it as rotting garbage which does not make it exactly attractive to the novice.  But once you can get pass its strong odors, you will taste a flavor that is rich, custard-like, very heady, complex, slightly fermented, sweet, and mineral-like.  It is this mix of flavors that make it totally irresistible to many, much like an addict looking for a fix.  I have watched many locals sitting at stalls indulging in these fruits with glazed eyes – and I know why.

DSC_0047.jpg14) Tau Foo Fah –  One of my pleasures of going back to my childhood home is going to the morning market like I used to do so with my grandmother and later with my mother.  It was always a delight to see fresh ingredients among the array of spices and dry goods.  Among them are prepared foods that are readily available for consumption, including this Tofu dish which I came across a vendor selling this item.  Although it is a sweet dish, it is usually eaten as a snack or at any time of the day.  It is fresh soft silken tofu that is paired up with palm sugar spiked with fresh ginger.  This is indeed a healthy snack and has a cooling effect on the body even when consumed hot, as it is customarily done so.

.

.

.

.

DSC_0632.jpg15) Kueh Lapis – While visiting my parents in Melbourne, Australia, we stumbled across these Nyonya cakes in a local Asian grocery store that caters to the local Malaysian community.  They are made of layers of rice flour dough that has been enriched with coconut milk, each layer steamed separately thus its name meaning “layer cake”.  Each layer is contrasted with a different colored layer to create such effect.  Eating this delight reminded me of my grandmother who was a master Nyonya cake maker, and I was glad to be the recipient of her wonderful gift.  They are usually eaten for afternoon tea rather than dessert after a meal.

.

.

.

.

DSC_0657.jpg16) Ais Batu Campur (ABC) – This dessert/snack is a definite favorite among nearly all Malaysians.  It is basically shaved ice that is sitting on top of a melange of cooked red beans, cooked fresh corn kernels, different forms of jelly, and nuts.  The shaved ice is usually flavored with a sugar syrup, rose petal syrup and evaporated milk.  As a child, this was a frequent order during my school recess time as a way to cool down from the heat and the non air-conditioned classrooms.  I had this rendition with my parents and their friends in a Malaysian restaurant in Melbourne, even in the midst of their winter season.  I guess, for some, habits are hard to die as we were digging into it with gusto even after a big meal, much like little kids at the school canteen, albeit in cold weather.

This ends the series of Malaysian food, from Noodles and Rice Dishes; Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner 1; and Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner 2.  I hope the series has shown you the essence of this Southeas Asian cuisine, the variety of dishes, and that it has inspired the reader to look out for the dishes that I have described, even though some dishes seem a bit off-putting by the descriptions, like the Durian fruit or the Buah Keluak.  But one has to take the leap and take the first bite.  That may just change your mind and make you an aficionado of the rather bizarre.  If not, there are many more dishes you will fall in love with.  Selamat makan (Happy eating).