Chinese New Year peanut cookies

One of the bad things about being away from home is missing out on Chinese New Year festivities. Sure, I can deck my place out in decorations, but it’s just not the same. My family isn’t here, you don’t have cheesy Chinese New Year songs playing everywhere you go, and you don’t have all the food and goodies that come along with it. Plus, it’s hard to have much of a festive spirit when you have to go to work…

I was lucky enough to go home for Chinese New Year last year (after not celebrating it at home for a whole 7 years), and it was GOOD. Unfortunately I do not have such good fortune this year, and will in fact be working everyday for a 12 day stretch at the time.

Having said that, there is no way I am going to miss out on the food of Chinese New Year… so I made some peanut cookies last week. These (along with pineapple tarts and arrowroot chips) are my favourite Chinese New Year treats, and I was actually worried that the peanut cookies I made would not live up to my high expectations. I’m very picky with my peanut cookies you see.

I hate recipes that are too finicky, so loved how my grandma’s yam cake recipe used a simple “cup ratio”. So when I chanced upon Quinn’s post on peanut cookies, where she used a similar “cup ratio” recipe, I knew I had to try it out. You can use ANY cup you wish – in fact, I used a chinese rice bowl. Just be sure to use the same cup throughout, and stick to the 2:2:1:1 ratio.

These cookies turned out beautifully, and had the “melt in your mouth” quality that is essential for peanut cookies. I used corn oil for the “fat” component of the cookies as it was all I had to hand. I would have preferred to use lard (I know it’s unhealthy but it’s the secret to the best “melt in your mouth” cookies), but it was cold and wet outside and I was too lazy to go out and buy some. But no matter, as they were still yum. :)


Chinese New Year peanut cookies
Based on Quinn’s recipe

  • 2 cups peanuts
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup icing sugar (alternatively, use castor sugar)
  • 1 cup corn oil (alternatively, use lard or butter)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, beaten

1. Dry fry the peanuts in a wide non-stick pan (over medium heat), until they start to become fragrant and lightly browned. Take care to make sure you do not burn the peanuts.
2. Pulse the peanuts in a food processor, until it becomes a fine powder.
3. Heat the oven to 180’C.
4. Place the ground peanuts, flour, sugar and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer*, and mix until well combined.
5. With the stand mixer on (medium speed), slowly trickle the corn oil into the bowl containing the peanut/flour/sugar mixture. Mix until it forms a cohesive dough. You may need more or less oil depending on the weather/humidity. A good guide is to try forming a ball from the dough – it should not crumble.
6. Form the dough into 2cm balls, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Press down lightly with a chopstick (alternatively, use a straw or a clean pen cover), this forms the typical indentation you see in the cookie.
7. Glaze lightly with the beaten egg.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they turn a lovely shade of golden brown.

* if you have a food processor, you can use it to mix the cookie dough as it will lead to less washing up! Alternatively, you can use a wooden spoon/your hands to mix the dough together.

Red bean soup

First of all, apologies for abandoning the blog for such a long time! December has been a mad flurry of work, job applications, and more work. And it didn’t help that I managed to get the flu during this time – believe me when I say it is very hard to work when you’re all sniffly, have lost your voice, and have blocked ears. But I’m back now (still sniffly but much better), and that is what matters. :)

I’m not exactly sure why, but I always get homesick when I’m ill or stressed. And in the last few weeks, I’ve really wished I could just hop on a plane and go home. However it’s never as easy as that, so I have to find ways to “relieve” the homesick-ness.

One dish that always reminds me of home is red (adzuki) bean soup, which I grew up eating. One sip of this humble soup or “tong shui” is enough to transport me back to my childhood, and back to Malaysia. At any rate, it has remained one of my favourite comfort foods (alongside tang yuan), and I make it everytime I miss home, or when it’s cold. Which actually translates into me making it pretty regularly…..

The beauty about this dessert/tong shui is how simple it is to make. Like many traditional Chinese recipes, this is done by “feel” and estimation. I’ve personally never used a recipe for this, and have just thrown everything together – and it has always worked out. Always. I’ve included a simple recipe at the end of the post which can be used as a guide, but rest assured you do not need to stick to it religiously.

To be on the safe side and be certain that the beans will soften, you should soak your red beans overnight. Strangely enough, the red beans I buy from Chinatown don’t need to be soaked overnight, but the ones I buy from non-Asian grocery stores (e.g. Tesco, Waitrose) have to be soaked. So, I only buy them from Chinatown now, as I never plan that far ahead when it comes to this!

I also highly recommend using some sort of mandarin/orange peel in the soup. It adds a great citrus tang to the soup, and in my opinion elevates it to another level.

I do hope you try making this, it’s simple and makes for a delicious dessert – regardless if you serve it hot, warm, or cold!

Red bean soup

  • 1 cup red (adzuki) beans
  • 2 tablespoons dried longans (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon dried mandarin peel – alternatively, use 3-4 pieces of fresh mandarin/orange peel
  • 1 piece of rock sugar (approx 5x7cm) – alternatively, use 1/3 cup sugar
  • 7 cups water

Add all the ingredients into a pot, slow cooker or rice cooker. Slow cook (over low heat if using a pot on the stove) for 2-3 hours, or until the beans turn deliciously soft and mushy. That’s it – told you it was easy. :)

* If you wish, you can add some tapioca pearls (sago) to this – simply cook 1 cup of tapioca pearls in hot boiling water (in a seperate pan). When they turn translucent, add them to the red bean soup, and you’re good to go!

Coffee & matcha “Mexican” Rotiboy buns

One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is how it opens my eyes to a whole range of foods I would never have known about otherwise. It not only introduces me to ingredients that were previously foreign to me, but also introduces me to new places to eat in. I’m not sure if I’d have discovered some of my favourite places to eat (Byrons, Pearl Liang, Koya) if not for the blogosphere. Which is why I’ve been hesitant to blog about these buns.

If you’re Malaysian, chances are that you’ll know what these are. For anyone else, you’re probably thinking what on earth “Mexican buns” are. Well, I must admit that I have no idea why these are called Mexican buns – I don’t know much about Mexican food, but I’m pretty sure these buns don’t originate from Mexico. But when the buns taste as good as they do, frankly, I don’t really mind what they’re called. They’re basically a soft and fluffy bun, with a crunchy coffee crust and a melting buttery filling. Utter perfection, especially when eaten warm.

I still remember when these Mexican buns first burst onto the bakery scene back home, and how much I used to love eating them. The most “famous” buns were sold by a company called Rotiboy (where “roti” = bread, “boy” =  boy), which is why these buns are also known as “Rotiboy”. This company seems to have been founded in my hometown of Bukit Mertajam, Penang. I must say I never knew this, as I didn’t know of any Rotiboy outlets in BM or Penang at the start of the Mexican bun craze. We even used to buy a whole lot of buns from KL (that’s Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia) when we were there, and would freeze them for err… times of need. And now I find out they were founded in BM?! Ah well, nevermind.

But I was talking about how I had been hesitant to blog about these. Why? Well, I learnt how to make these in a baking class. As such, I didn’t feel that it was polite to share the recipe for the buns on the blog. And so these photos sat languishing in my backlog pile, whilst I tried to decide if I wanted to blog about them sans recipe. In the end, I emailed the lady who teaches the classes, who said that I could share the recipe for these buns via email (but not on the blog as her other students might get upset!). Which I felt was a fair request.

As always, I made some minor changes to the recipe. Instead of making only the “traditional” bun with a coffee crust and buttery filling, I made some with a matcha/green tea crust and a black sesame filling. The matcha version turned out well, but I must say that my loyalty still lies with the original coffee/butter combination.

These buns are made with a “sponge and dough” method, which consists of two stages. The first stage is the making of the “sponge” which is left in the fridge to slowly ferment/rise overnight. The second stage is when the “sponge” is added to all the other ingredients = forming the “dough”. Having made bread and buns with both the normal straight dough method (which is the conventional method you see in many recipes) and the “sponge and dough” method, I find that the latter produces softer and fluffier bread. An added plus is how the bread stays softer for longer.

These buns also freeze well, and it’s always nice to have a stash in your freezer for a quick fix when a craving hits! All you need to do is to heat it up in a hot oven (I usually use 180°C) for about 10 minutes until it’s heated through. Yummy buns that are freezable. See what I mean by perfection?

If you’re interested in giving these Mexican buns/Rotiboys a try, drop me an email and I’ll send the recipe to you.

You can also head towards Bee’s site Rasa Malaysia for an alternative recipe for these Mexican (Rotiboy) buns.

Taste of London: I came, I saw, I ate.

Taste of London is a pop-up restaurant festival that is held every summer in the beautiful surroundings of Regents Park. It’s a total foodie event, with more than 40 restaurants offering a selection of their dishes, alongside a whole load of other stalls selling everything from cupcakes to alcohol. You buy dishes with the festival currency (“crowns”), where £1 = 2 crowns. There are also have various chef demonstrations throughout the day, and some of the chefs that are at Taste this year include Heston Blumenthal, Jun Tanaka and Tristan Welch.

I went to Taste twice this year (what can I say, I’m greedy) – for the Friday afternoon session, and the Saturday evening session. On Friday, I was joined by the lovely Davina of The Sugar Bar, and the ever cheerful Mowie of Mowielicious. And on Saturday, I went with R.

Davina doing what all food bloggers do best – taking photos, and eating. :D

Mowie very carefully studied the menu card and ensured we didn’t get lost… (he was not posing for the photos despite it looking like he is – such photogenic-ism!)

I took a LOT of photos over the two days, and Ive managed to cut it down to a semi-respectable number for this post. Will try to keep the words to a minimum and let the photos to the talking.

So first up – the FOOD. I shall do this by restaurant:

Dinings

I ate in Dinings a while back, and really enjoyed the food. And of course, it’s sitting in my pile of blog post backlogs… one day I’ll get there. Anyway, they do a seared wagyu beef sushi that is mindblowingly awesome, and I was so excited to find that they would be serving it at Taste, as their “icon dish”.

Seared wagyu sushi with foie gras (12 crowns). The richness of the foie gras and the barely seared piece of wagyu sound like a strange combination (especially with sushi rice), but believe me when I say it tastes beautiful. It’s also cheaper than eating it at the restaurant as they charge £9 for this there, and at 12 crowns/£6, it’s a steal! We errr… had this twice. :P

Sea bass carpaccio with ponzu jelly and fresh truffle (8 crowns). This was SO good I wanted to cry. But I didn’t – I just licked my plate clean (discretely, of course).

Chilli garlic black cod (10 crowns) – perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked, this was a delight to eat. The flavours in this were very mild which I appreciated, as it meant the cod was not overpowered by chilli.

Yuzu champagne sorbet with fresh shiso leaf (8 crowns). This was by far, one of the best sorbets I’ve tasted. Mowie and Davina were in agreement, and we truly wished there was more of it in the glass!

Trinity

Pig trotters on toasted pain polaine, fried quail egg, sauce gribiche and crackling (12 crowns). This dish was actually voted as the BEST dish of the festival by a group of judges, and I could see why when I put a spoonful of it into my mouth. The pig trotter meat was so tender it literally melted in my mouth, and the paper thin pain polaine that it sat upon provided a perfect contrast of texture. And then there was the stick of crackling. I could snack on that all day…

Roast belly of middle white pork, smoked apple, watercress and shallot salad and crackling (10 crowns). One of the best pieces of roast belly pork I have eaten, ever. I would love to be able to cook belly pork that tastes like this…

Fino

Cochifrito suckling pig (14 crowns). Voted the 2nd best dish of the festival, this was always going to be on my list of things to eat. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. A definite must try.

Launceston Place

Spit roast Old Spot suckling pig and black summer truffles (10 crowns). Yes, more suckling pig. I don’t know why but I seem to gravitate towards all the pork dishes… I loved this. Loved it so much that we had to get two – no sharing when it came to such deliciousness. The suckling pig was again cooked beautifully, and paired with the truffle cream and freshly shaved truffles… oh my. The burger bun was surprisingly good, and tasted a bit like brioche.

Gaucho

Bife de Chorizo: Argentine black angus sirloin served with a humitas chimichurri (10 crowns). Seduced by the smell of beef on the grill, we wandered towards the Gaucho stall. Now I had no idea what humitas were, but I figured they were some sort of corn side as it was wrapped in what looked like corn husks – and you can never go too wrong with corn. I’m glad I had this: the steak was cooked well, with just the right amount of charring on its surface. The chimichurri sauce went well with it. And the humitas I really liked too, though I felt it didn’t necessarily complement the steak all that well.

Mennula

Carpaccio of line caught yellow fin tuna with fennel blossom salt crust, served with toasted almonds, currants and sweet and sour red onions (8 crowns). This was refreshingly light, and the currants in this were quite a revelation – never thought that currants would go so well with a fish carpaccio!

Odette’s

Turbot, braised oxtail, cockles and samphire (20 crowns). This dish was very elusive – it was served at a particular time of each session, and supplies were very limited. We went prepared though (partly because this was on the Saturday), and the reward for that was a plate of this dish – which was a winning dish (for Wales) on the Great British Menu, and was actually served during the Queen’s birthday meal. The turbot was cooked beautifully well, and when eaten with the tender oxtail meat and the cockles…. heaven. I did feel that the samphire didn’t add much to the dish though, and I love samphire. Maybe there was just too little of it that it faded away into the background.

Le Gavroche

Daube de boeuf Ia la nicoise: braised beef with olives and soft polenta (10 crowns). This beef must have been braised for hours, because it was really tender and full of flavour. The olives were an interesting addition and gave a nice twist to the dish.

The Grill at the Dorchester

Roasted rack of lamb served with slow cooked cherry tomatoes, baby courgettes and a shallot puree (12 crowns). The only lamb dish I ate in a pork dominated weekend. I enjoyed this – the lamb was cooked well, and the cherry tomato juices provided a great jus for the dish.

Summer cherry trifle (6 crowns). This was complimentary: “a dessert for the lady” apparently. Do I exude greediness? But anyway, I never say no to dessert. The trifle was very light and I’m glad I got the chance to try it.

York & Albany

Champagne and elderflower jelly served with a gooseberry compote (8 crowns). This was very good. The champagne elderflower jelly was perfectly set, not too sweet, and very refreshing. Ditto for the gooseberry compote.

The Modern Pantry

Garlicky snails and chorizo mash (8 crowns). Is it wrong that I enjoyed the chorizo mash more than the snails? :P This was a nice and hearty dish – give me mash anytime!

Atari goma pannacotta, saffron poached rhubarb and pistachio praline (8 crowns). This was a dissapointment, and we expected more of the dish which sounded so good.

Waitrose Kitchen

Chocolate mousse with strawberries, coconut whip and hazelnut crackling (6 crowns). More crackling, but this time it wasn’t from a pig. I daresay the crackling was my favourite part of the dish, and I’m already making plans to recreate it in my kitchen. I’m normally not a fan of whipped cream, but the coconut whip was ultra yum. Great dessert.

Yauatcha

Spicy chicken wonton dumpling (8 crowns). These were good, and the spicy chilli oil gave a nice kick to it. I wasn’t blown away though.

So that was the food. But I was also there to celebrity spot… *ahem*

The amazing Heston Blumenthal. I was SO excited to see this man in person, as sad as that is. He held 2 sessions – one on BBQ tips, and the other was a Q&A session. I enjoyed the Q&A session – found out that London restaurant will be opening in December; that there’s an upcoming Channel 4 show (where he takes on hospital food, airline food, submarine food etc); and how he sometimes goes home to a pot of prawn cocktail in the fridge (put there by his wife). Oh, and apparently the Fat Duck gets 12,000 calls a day from people trying to secure a reservation. So now you know why you constantly have to press ‘redial’…. I managed to get an autograph, and I shall be guarding that very preciously! :D

The lovely Jun Tanaka from Pearl. He comes across as someone who’s really down to earth, he’s funny, and he’s nice to look at. Perfection. Mowie was quite amused at how star struck Davina and I were! ;) He demonstrated 3 dishes, photos of which I’ll include below. I’ll try to give a description of each, but be warned that they may be wrong as I can’t actually remember what was in each dish! He also gave many helpful cooking tips along the way, which were very well received. But yes, the dishes. (Unfortunately we were not allowed to try the them, due to health and safety regulations. Pah.)

Fillet of (enter appropriate name of fish here), served with a creamy sauce made from clams and broad beans. See, I told you I couldn’t remember what was in it.

Beef (cooked in a salt crust), pan cooked Jersey Royales and seared asparagus, served with a horseradish cream.

Berries en papillote, served with a vannila cream. This was rather interesting dessert, as it can be modified to be cooked on the BBQ (just replace the parchment paper with aluminium foil). And I love the concept of how the dessert can be concealed until the packet is cut open at the table!

Davina taking notes diligently…

Michel Roux Jr of Le Gavroche

Paul Merrett, from The Victoria

Ainsley Harriott

Jay Rayner, the renowned food critic

Tristan Welch of Launceston Place

And now for some non-pork, non-stalkeresque photos…

David at the Jing Tea stall. If you haven’t heard of them, do check out their website. The provide a wide selection of high quality teas, and both Davina and I are huge fans. The shiny gold tin also helps, of course. :D

A very attractive dancer from the Caribbean Drinks Ltd stall

The art of “teh tarik” (translated as ‘pulled tea’) – this is a popular Malaysian drink, and was part of the Taste of Malaysia feature in the festival. To read more about teh tarik, please click here. I didn’t take too many photos of the Malaysian stand as I was largely distracted by this man and his antics (believe me when I say it takes lot of practice to do what he was doing!).

British Airways VIP Lounge

And a few last photos of the area in general:

So yes. After what seems like an endless number of photos, I hope I’ve managed to give you an idea of what Taste of London is all about. And if you’re reading this before Sunday (June 20th), you still have a chance to go! It’s not necessarily the cheapest dining option (all those crowns do add up, unfortunately), but I think it’s worth it. I can’t wait for Taste London 2011…

Taste of London
17-20 June 2010
Regents Park, London
http://www.tastefestivals.com/london/

p.s. To see what some other food bloggers thought, check out Kang’s review of Taste, and Mark’s photo set on Flickr.

Yam cake (or kuih)

I’m back from a fantastic trip to Florence (and Pisa)… and all I want to do is to go back. I mean, everything was great – the food, the weather, the atmosphere… you name it, Florence had it. And for some reason, our appetites doubled whilst we were there (perhaps a testament to the delicious food?), which led us to eat a ridiculous amount of food and gelato whilst we were there. But hey, it was a holiday so in my world it was a justified binge. :D I predictably took a whole load of photos, so do expect a few Florence related posts in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve written my first ever guest post for the lovely Bee of Rasa Malaysia. Her blog is fantastic, and is the place you want to go for tried and tested Malaysian and Chinese recipes and cooking tips – which explains why I was really excited when she invited me to write a guest post for her!

After much deliberation, I decided to write about yam cake, a savoury Malaysian kuih (snack). For the rest of the post, more photos and the recipe, please click HERE.

Tang yuan (glutinous rice balls)

Tang yuan is a traditional Chinese dessert which is well loved by all generations. They’re basically glutinous rice balls (either filled or unfilled) that are served in a sweet broth. They’re most popular during the winter solstice (Dongzhi festival) – usually celebrated in December (it was on the 22nd last year), and symbolizes the day in the year where the day is the shortest. After this celebration, the Chinese believe that the days will be filled with more hours of sunlight, and therefore and increase in the amount of positive energy. In addition, eating these during the winter solstice also symbolizes becoming a year older. (I choose to ignore this last fact, because if I truly age a year everytime I eat tang yuan, I would cringe to think how old I am now…)

Besides eating these during the winter solstice, tang yuan are also made on special celebrations (such as Chinese New Year) and used as an offering to the gods. They are also served during weddings, where I was told (a long time ago by one of my aunts) that it is considered good luck for the bride and groom to not chew on the tang yuan when eating them – i.e. it is better if you swallow them whole. Now, this is easier said than done as these little babies are seriously sticky!

There are many variants of tang yuan, and as I mentioned earlier they can be either filled or unfilled. The unfilled tang yuans tend to be smaller in size (I’m not sure why), and also tend to be more colourful. The fillings for tang yuan vary – popular fillings are black sesame paste, peanut paste and red bean paste.  The tang yuan are then cooked in a pot of boiling water, and served with a sweet broth. Again, there are many types of sweet broth – my favourite is a sweet broth made with ginger and rock sugar. (Other variants: red bean soup, a combination of fermented glutinous rice/sweet osmanthus/rock sugar)

Now, I’d never made these before last year as I always thought they were really hard to make. And I was wrong. VERY wrong. These little babies are one of the easiest Chinese foods to make, and I’m not kidding. All you need are 3 ingredients – how much better could it get? ;) And of course, since I discovered how un-difficult these are to whip up, I have been making them on a semi-regular basis. These photos have rather embarassingly been sitting in my pile of archives since last year, and I’m glad that I’m finally getting round to blogging about them. :)

Tang yuan (unfilled)
From this recipe on Nyonya Food

  • 2 cups glutinous rice flour
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 200ml water
  • food coloring (optional)

1. Mix glutinous rice flour with sugar in a large bowl.
2. Add the water, and slowly knead until it forms a soft paste that does not stick to your hands. (The mixture is very gloopy and sticky at first, but the more you knead it, the less sticky it gets)
3. If you wish to have colourful tang yuans, divide the dough into portions, and add a few drops of food colouring to each portion. Knead the dough until the food colouring is evenly distributed throughout the dough.
4. Shape the dough into 1-2cm balls.
5. Drop the balls into a pot of boiling water. The tang yuan will float to the surface of the water once they are cooked. Once this happens, transfer the tang yuan to the sugar broth. (The reason for boiling the tang yuan in a separate pot is so that they won’t “cloud” up your sweet broth. It’s not a compulsory step though, and on my lazy days I do just cook the tang yuan in the sweet broth to make washing up easier.)

Tang yuan with black sesame paste filling
Adapted slightly from this recipe on Rasa Malaysia

  • 230g (just under 1 cup) glutinous rice flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

1. Grind the black sesame seeds until they form a fine powder (I used my mini food processor).
2. Heat a small pan over medium high heat, and transfer the ground sesame seeds into this pan. Add the softened butter and sugar to the mixture and stir until it forms a smooth paste.
3. Set aside to cool in the fridge.
4. Whilst the black sesame filling is cooling in the fridge, prepare the glutinous rice balls. The method for this are similar to that described above.
5. Divide the tang yuan dough into 20 balls.
6. Flatten each ball in your palm, and place a pinch of black sesame paste in the middle of each flattened disc. Fold up the edges (towards the centre of the disc), and press to seal. Once you have done this, lightly roll it into a ball. Take care to not get too excited with the rolling, or you may end up with a burst tang yuan and lots of sesame paste in your hands!
7. Cook the tang yuan as above, in the boiling hot water.

For the sweet broth:

  • 4-5 cups water (how much water you use depends on how much broth you want)
  • 2 pandan (screwpine) leaves, knotted
  • 1/2 cup rock sugar/brown sugar/caster sugar
  • 2 inches of ginger

1. Boil the water in a pot until it starts to bubble.
2. Add the pandan leaves and ginger, and boil for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, turn the heat down, and simmer for 15-20minutes.

What is Malaysian food?

People often ask me what Malaysian food is like, and I’ve found that it’s not as easy to describe as I would have thought. I usually have to explain that Malaysia largely consists of the Malays, Chinese and Indians – and we each have our own types of food. This is an overgeneralisation, but I find that Malays are fond of using coconut milk in their food, the Chinese deep fry as many foods as possible, whilst the Indians love ghee. But as I said, this is me being generalised, and there is obviously more to each cusine that what I have mentioned above.

But of course, it’s not just these foods that make up the Malaysian food culture. There is a little (or big) something called hawker food. Hawker food is basically food you get from roadside stalls, and are usually fairly inexpensive. There is a wide variety of food available, and you can always find many kopitiams (directly translated as “coffee stalls” – or hawker centres/food courts (a place with a variety of stalls) all over the country.

As these stalls are usually set out in the open (with simple tables and stools), dining in a hawker stall is by no means Michelin star dining. My mum told me that when I went to a hawker centre for the first time (after living in England for about a year), I refused to sit down on the seats as I said “it’s dirty”. Now I doubt it was actually dirty, but when you’re not used to the setup of it all, I could potentially see how it might seem a bit icky… But if you look past the simplicity of it all, you will find that the food is usually a-ma-zing.

Penang prawn mee (or Hokkien mee as the Penangites call it) is a delicious noodle dish served with a prawn based soup which is one of my favourite dishes ever. The soup is made from boiling a large amount of prawn heads in water, much like making a chicken (or in this case, prawn) stock. It’s either served with noodles alone, or a mix of noodles and rice vermicelli.

Curry mee (also known as curry laksa/Singaporean laksa) is a spicy coconut milk based dish served with noodles. This is actually not one of my favourite dishes, which is rather surprising as I looove anything with coconut milk in it. My mum loves it though!

Lor bak is a dish that consists of a variety of snack-like foods – prawn fritters, bean curd wrapped sausages, fried tofu, century eggs, cucumbers… anything goes really. This is served with two sauces: the lor bak black sauce (a starchy and mildly sweet sauce with streaks of beaten egg whites) and a chilli sauce. You basically dip it in the black sauce, followed by the chilli sauce, and then eat. Believe me when I say it tastes like all sorts of wonderful.

Char koay teow is another one of those famous hawker foods that everyone wants to try when they visit Malaysia. It roughly translates into “fried rice noodle strips”, and is cooked in a steaming hot wok. There is one main characteristic of this dish – it is cooked with pork fat, and has little crunchy squares of pork lard. So for obvious reasons, this is not the world’s healthiest dish. But you know what, it tastes so good that it’s alright to make an exception, once in a while that is.

This particular stall is one of the more famous char koay teow stalls in Penang – we (or I anyway) call it the “goggle man stall”. The man in question wears a gigantic pair of goggles whilst cooking, which explains the name. He sells his char koay teow in one of the coffee shops along Lorong Selamat.

Ais kacang (directly translated as “ice beans”) is a dessert commonly served in hawker stalls. It essentially consists of shaved ice (which is made with a special machine) and red beans, and is topped with various (bright coloured) syrups. Nowadays, vendors make the ais kacang more interesting by using using a mix of red beans, cendol, agar-agar cubes, grass jelly and sweet corn to form the base of this dish. This is then topped with the shaved ice, syrups, and in this case – ice cream!

I managed to get a photo of the machine in action (much to the amusement of the vendor who must have thought I was completely crazy). The rate at which ice shavings are produced from the gigantic block of ice is truly amazing. And slightly scary – I do not want to imagine how sharp the blades/spikes are!

Joo Hoo Eng Chai (joo hoo = cuttlefish, eng chye = kangkung/water morning glory) is a dish I’ve never seen anywhere outside of Malaysia or Singapore. The dish itself is simple, and consists of boiled cuttlefish pieces, blanched kankung leaves, a savoury sweet sauce (similar to rojak sauce), chilli sauce, and a  chopped peanut topping.

Popiah is another popular snack back home, and is essentially a fresh spring roll (i.e. not deep fried). I prefer these fresh ones to the deep fried ones, but unfortunately these aren’t easy to find here in London! They’re made from a thin crepe (not the usual spring roll filling), and filled with a variety of ingredients – turnip, jicama, bean sprouts, prawns, crabmeat, egg. A hoisin-esque sauce (and sometimes a chilli sauce) is then added before the spring roll is rolled up. Some stalls also top the popiah with the same sauce. The popiah pictured above are the best I’ve had, found in the town centre of Bukit Mertajam (a town on the mainland side of Penang).

Chee cheong fun – similar to the cheung fun (rice noodle rolls) you find in dim sum restaurants everywhere. The one difference with this Malaysian version is that they are not filled with prawns/char siu and are served plain with a hae kor sauce (which is a sweet black sauce made from shrimp paste). I used to favour the Hong Kong prawn filled chee cheung fun when growing up, but have now switched allegiances to this version. A case of absence makes the heart grow fonder I think…

Ban jian kuih (Hokkien) or Mi jian kuih (Mandarin) – a fluffy peanut pancake that when eaten warm, can truly make you swoon with delight. The best way I can think of describing the texture of this pancake is that is is very similar to crumpets. So much so that on one of the days I had a major craving for these (when in London), I bought some crumpets, slathered them with butter, chopped peanuts and sugar, and baked them. :D Beggars can’t be choosers.

Tau foo fah (soft tofu pudding). This soft tofu is made from coagulated soya bean milk, and has a silky smooth custard consistency. It is served with either a light or dark sugar syrup – I prefer the dark sugar syrup, which is made from palm sugar infused with pandan leaves. Mmmm. I have been on a mission to find good tau foo fah in London to no avail – I’ve only found it on the menu of TPT in Chinatown, and it is not very good. Completely un-silky. If anyone out there knows where to get good tau foo fah in London, please let me know. (On a different note, you can however find good tau chui (i.e. fresh soya bean milk) in London – Leong’s Legends in Chinatown serves the best version in my opinion)

Chicken rendang, served with lemang. Chicken rendang is a dish that originated from Indonesia, and is slow cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and spices for several hours until the mixture dries up. This process results in tender and flavoursome meat. The usual spices used for this dish are ginger, galangal, tumeric, chillies, lemon grass, and kerisik (grated coconut). On the other hand, lemang is a traditional food of the Iban people in South East Asia, and is made from a mixture of glutinous rice and coconut milk. It is cooked in banana leaf lined bamboo sticks (that are hollowed out) – the bamboo sticks give the lemang it’s characteristic shape, whilst the banana leaf ensures the lemang is fragranced beautifully.

So there you have it – a quick glance into some of the foods that are integral to Malaysia. It is definitely not an exhaustive list, and there are many foods that I haven’t mentioned here (which I will hope to blog about in the future!). I shall leave you with this photo of what a table at a hawker stall looks like post-meal….