Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Grandma Cooks Best

Is it true that grandmas always cook better than your mum? Is it due to fact that they had longer experience, more trial and errors with perfected dishes, as well as the whim and confidence of a seasoned cook? Or is it just because for my generation, our grandmas are the one who had been through real hardships in life, where in the end they persevered and channel their strength and love through food to their children, and their children’s children?

Both my grandmas, Ah Ma and Pho Pho, which I have so fondly talked about all the time, have gone through hardships in their own way. I had told a really extensive story before of Ah Ma, of how she a princess when she was young, thrown to hardship during the war times and then got into marriage and ended up raising 11 kids. For my Pho Pho is a whole new hardship of life, a whole new tale to spin. Ah well, that would be another post of another day, where I would be featuring a dish especially by her. A look at how she always put up a feast for every Chinese New Year shows what an experienced great cook she is. She just needs the morning, waking up at wee hours of 4am and then has the entire 10 course meal ready by lunch time for all. On the other hand, my Ah Ma cooks with her due time, cleaning every inch of the food, slicing everything to perfection and cooking each to the right time. Therefore Ah Ma need at least a day to laboriously churn out good food for the night. Both are entirely different, with entirely different taste of food, where my Ah Ma’s is usually simple and light Cantonese dishes while Pho Pho’s is thick, in depth and full of complex flavours Hakka dishes. For me Ah Ma’s food should always be for the no-nonsense everyday fare while Pho Pho’s food is for the elaborate all-out special occasions fare.

Anyway, far away from home, and lack of good grandma’s home-cooked food, I had to make do with outside food. Though it has been quite sometime since J and I went out in venture for food, due to work as well as more laidback life and cutback on our calories resolution, we found ourselves driving out one day in search of food without a direction. J had just got rewarded with Baskin Robbins (which is one of my icy treats indulgence) voucher for being a good employee, such a nice company right, and so we decided to head to Uptown where I know there is an independent BR outlet there. So we decided to have our dinner around that area and cruise around for the right shop to eat. Suddenly J spotted a restaurant, boasting of home cook food and dim sum choices. On the first trip we had really good dishes that even J, the renown food critic (only to me ha-ha) praises it. So promptly on that weekend itself, I met up with dad and uncle at the same restaurant for dinner, of course base on recommendation from J and me. The second trip was a bit of hit and miss, but overall it is still good enough for me to return for more tryouts.

First we had to have our fix of siu long bao, which came in 5 dumplings for one basket. For this I would say the skin was a little too thick for my liking, especially in compare to the Hong Kong ones I tried (look at the nearly translucent skin), yes I know it is unfair to compare, but the upside was the soup are all sealed in well here and was really well flavoured. For J, THE food critic, said this was even better than Dragon I’s as the one we had there last time leaked out all the wonderful soup, where from then he swore never to have it again at Dragon I, yes a really adamant critic. This one to his delight, when he bit into it, the juices shot out and got to me, luckily just my hands, yes, it was THAT soupy, so J gave it the thumbs up. Too bad they ran out of the big version where KY had, else we would really enjoy the ‘soup’ in the pao. Oh well, maybe next time.

Next up was the main dishes. J was already really hungry thus the bias review, but to me it was good as well, really with the home-cooked feel of grandma’s cooking. One I immediately have to call for was the Jiu Hu Char (stir fried yam bean with cuttlefish), which I say my Pho Pho makes a mean one, but this one was more of the lighter version, which my Ah Ma does cook minus the jiu hu (dried shredded cuttlefish) which we called chau mang kuang (stir fried yam bean), so this was like a cross version of my Ah Ma’s and Pho Pho’s, all the better. I am really missing them now. I found a recipe of this dish here, if any of you are brave enough to try.

Then J had to have his fix of egg, which was one of his favourite must-haves, he ordered the foo yong tan (fried egg with onion slices), which came like just out of a Chinese home kitchen. We love the simplicity!

Of course we then need meat in our fare, so J took the liberty and ordered butter curry leaves chicken. It was special, not really an everyday fare of grandma’s kitchen, but it was good. The chicken was first deep fried then poured on with butter and curry leaves thick sauce. Just describing it makes me want to eat again.

On the separate occasion with dad, we ordered chicken rendang, which came in Chinese-fied version, which tasted quite good as well. It reminds me of my Pho Pho’s curry chicken which was not too spicy yet very flavourful, but this one the drier version, hence rendang, which is cooked till dried.

Since twice our visit, the waitress recommended us to try the assam fish, therefore we give in on this time. Turn out, it was not so good. The fish was not so fresh, definitely a no-no in both my grandma’s kitchens, as well as it is not ‘assam’ (sour) enough and the soup was just bit too thick. Even my version of it was way better.

Last dish which we had different from our first trip was the lou tau foo (braised tofu in soy sauce) and eggs. This is a typical home cooked food, where it is a simple dish of braising the tofu and egg together with soy sauce, sugar and herbs.

Though we had a miss with the assam fish, we would definitely return again to have the thick-skin but soupy siu long bao, the cross version of both my grandmother’s jiu hu char and other dishes that I had noted down to try. I kept the receipt so that I have the address but somehow it got lost somewhere during my writing and finally my publishing of this post. Luckily, I found that KY did a review as well, so I just copied the address from his, thanks KY! As for the prices, it was really affordable, somewhere just smaller portion with same price as the usual Chinese cookout restaurants, but with a home cook taste.

Restoran Grandma Kitchen Cafe
6, Jalan SS21/39, D.U.,
PJ, 47400 Selangor
03-7722 1886

P/S: This review appeared in The Star (Malaysia leading English newspaper) Sundaymetro! I'm so happy, so if you're readers from there, welcome! The link is here (though I don't know how long before it will be archived).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Icy Treats

Living in Malaysia, where the whether is hot and humid, icy treats are a necessity to us, especially when we were kids. I remember, those times when I was still in my Primary school, a good friend and I used to buy the ice tube of frozen-flavoured-water, usually orange flavour. It is a crude and cheap treat for us then, costing only 10sen per tube, where I remember vividly which the uncle, who is really old but will stand diligently everyday at our school gate selling his home-made creations, will snip the knot at the top off for us. Then we would take it and pour into our mouth the sweet water that has melted and then proceed to suck on the ice. Ah, I remember feeling really cool and happy every time after the treat, and not to forget the frozen little fingers for holding on to the tube.

Then we got on to our secondary, and then it was those days of ice-cream on the stick, where there is one of my favourite, which has vanilla ice cream wrapped with very-green lime frozen ice. Definitely not the usual combination one would hear of but one that is loved by many of us. That is also when the emergence of more processed ice-creams in oppose to these home-made versions of yesteryears. Then there was also the occasional treat of McDonald’s sundae cone on top of the Value Meal, where every Saturday, after our society meet, we 1984s would walk there from our school.

Soon I came to KL, where eventually, my spending power increases bit by bit till I got into the rat race. So it is now more of indulgence in terms of calories and money for me, where I go for ice creams in Baskin Robbins. There was once, Y and I chance upon its 31% off promotion for every 31st of the month, where we both got a pint each and sat down on a bench nearby and finish it all in one sitting! Ah, those were our uni carefree indulgence days. Then I also go to Swensens’ a couple of times for their earthquake promotion only on Tuesdays, consisting of 8 scoops of ice cream of your choice, where J and I had managed to go a few times. Nowadays, when J and I just want a quick fix of icy treats, we will drop by Macdonald’s drive-thru’ and get ourselves the McFlurry sundae.

So since my histories and currents of ice creams or its like in my life, one of the special additions was my ice cream maker. It had been such a long time since my last post of my own-home-made icy treats. As I mentioned, I had tried many attempts before I fell in love with THE Chocolate Gelato, oh so smooth. Just quite-sometime-ago, I got struck again with the churning bug and churned out some really deceptively and surprisingly delicious

Banana Fro-yo
Inspired by Jaden’s Coconut Frozen Yoghurt

Jaden’s post of suggesting churning Greek yoghurt (strained yoghurt, hence more cheesy-like) to turn into one deceptively healthy icy treat got me really interested. I have been looking out for Greek yoghurt since then, and since I have been working at KLCC for the past few weeks, I had a chance upon it in Cold Storage supermarket, but was definitely put off by the price! It cost nearly four times more than the regular yoghurt! Oh well, it was never ‘cheaper’ for making one’s own ice cream/gelato/sorbet but it is definitely ‘healthier’ in the sense that you can choose what you put in it. If you ever have the time to read into those ice cream ingredients, I bet you can find hydrogenated oil as the main as well as much you-can’t-even-identify stuff even after all the science classes we put ourselves through high-school. Besides we can make all sorts of exotic flavours by harvesting on our local tropical fruits for various concoctions. Anyway, back to yoghurt, so since the Greek yoghurt is crazily expensive here, I decided to get the regular one and since I do not have the patience to strain it, I thought that banana would be a very good ‘thickener’. So I got a bunch of ripe-to-blacken banana that the seller is happily to let off for just RM1! Now we are talking ‘cheap’ and healthy!

300ml plain yoghurt (mine was slightly sweetened)
1 bunch of bananas (bout 6-8), sliced
1 tbsp of sugar (only needed if your banana is not sweet enough)
1 tbsp honey, melted

Blend the yoghurt and sliced bananas together till smooth.
Add in the sugar if needed and blend till incorporated.
Pour into a container and chill overnight. This part is crucial for the flavours to meld and develop, as well as for the banana to ‘thicken’ the yoghurt.

Next day, pour the thick ‘banana-yoghurt’ into an ice cream maker and churn for 40-45mins (or according to manufacturer’s instructions).
Then scoop, yes scoop because it will be very thick (looked like the mess in picture above) and level into a freezer-proof container.

Can be serve soft immediately (J’s sister and I had a huge spoonful each) or store in the freezer.
Before serving from the freezer, take it out for bout 5-10mins in room temperature or bout 30mins in the refrigerator.

Yields: approximately 1 quart

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One-nine-eight-four: Ra-ta-too-ee

Have I tell you about 1984? Oh I have, many times it seems. How have we been? I would say we have our ups and downs, our disparities and commonness, but still till now we are as we are, always 1984. I’m sure you readers now have your hair standing, ha-ha.

1984 is the year we are all born in. It is the year of the Golden Rat, for the Chinese. All of us actually got together during our teens, when somehow we find commonness among ourselves. As my grandmother taught me long time ago when I was just a little kid, “birds of a feather, flock together”; I did not know then that this quote would apply to me personally as well as anywhere in this world (read the news and you know what I’m talking about) so well. But after we graduated from high school, we all started to grow different feathers, inevitably moving towards very different directions. Out of sentiments I guess, up till now, we are all still trying our very best to keep in touch, maybe once a while flock together.

I had just deleted a paragraph that I wrote about us, our timelines and so forth. Why? I feel that it would bore you readers with too much detail. Then I remembered a story I written quite long ago, at the time when we were in the midst of nearly breaking apart, to metaphorically describe 1984’s and my journey thus far:

The One Behind

Walking down the road, she turned and stared at the distant. She shields her eyes from the glaring sun. She squinted to see it. She knew that it is there. After some time, her eyes adjusted, and she can see the beautiful house, seemingly shining among the sky. Her eyes watered from the strained, yet she continues to stare. Giving a final look, she turned and went on her way.

The road in front of her would be long. It would be certainly different from the comfort life in the house. But she knew she had to move on. She had to walk this path, in order to fulfill her destiny. It is inevitably part of her life’s scheme. But yet she knew the life she once had in the house will always be in her heart.

As she moved along the road, her perspective of it seemed to change. When she left the house, the road seems narrow, rocky and steep. It seemed really hard to tread it. Yet now as days go by, the road seems bigger, wider, leveled and smoother. Her feet, once dragging on had begun to start walking. As she walked on, it started to skip along. The road now seems very enjoyable.

As she was walking down the road, the house is still in sight right behind her. It is always there for if ever once, she stumbled and fell, and she can always turn back and see that support is there, just within reach. Once a while, she did tripped and she did fumbled on the rocks on the road. And every time, with knees and hands on the floor she would look back and be reassured by the sight of the house and then with renewed strength, she would once again stand up and resumed her walk.

As days goes by, she learnt to skip the rocks, she learn to look for holes and she learn to tread with care. She had found walking the road so much easier. Along the way, she found more things to do, other sights to behold, flowers to be picked, sceneries to be enjoyed and wonderful breeze to revel in. Thus, she was so caught up with all these pleasures in walking down the road, the house seemed like a distant fading picture.

But soon she realizes something is missing. She enjoyed the sights. She loved the smell of the flowers. She stood in awe of the sceneries and she got swept away by the cooling breeze. Yet she knows she would not be here enjoying all these if it wasn’t for the house. So she stopped in her tracks; and once again turn back to look at the house, this time not for assurance, but just because.

She smiled, as the house still stood looming there, shining before the bright sky. This time, the sun did not even seem to bother her. With the image in her mind, etched deep in her memories, she returns to continue down her path. This time, there is even more spring in her steps.

Alright, now this post is getting a little heavy for a food blog. I thank you for your patience if you are still reading, so let’s move on to the food! Recently, one 1984 had a housewarming, and we decided to have steamboat along with a side dish (definitely my idea), which I volunteered to cook up ratatouille for them. Why ratatouille? Besides the fact that this dish had just won the hearts of many in the famed movie featuring the tham jiak Remy, it is also the fact that the movie had at one point of the show that I felt most compelling is the part where the once tried Remy’s ratatouille, the cynic Anton Ego was snapped right back to his childhood where he came home to a dish of ratatouille lovingly prepared by his mum. That scene got right to my heart. This is how the best food should be appreciated. This is how I had tried very hard to describe my Ah Ma’s cooking long time ago. This is how no matter where we go, how far we traveled, how many food we taste, it is always back to the basics, the most simple and humble dish churn out lovingly by someone especially for you. So this is why I chose ratatouille, to churn out this dish with my heart for my fellow 1984s, after such a long time that we finally reconcile in a home, so that when many years down the road, if they ever taste one nice (let’s just assume mine is good now) ratatouille, they would be snapped back right to that night where all of us sat together at the table laughing and eating good food.

Ratatouille (ra-ta-too-ee)
Adapted from Flavours (Sept-Oct 07 Issue)

Since I was privileged as a cook, I had my friend to do the grocery shopping for me. I had sent them the needed ingredients prior to this. Imagine, halfway between their shopping they called me up and ask me what the heck is zucchini? I laughed and told them to skip it then if they can’t find it. They also asked where to get rosemary (I was thinking of the vacuum-packed fresh ones), I tried to explain where to get it in Tesco but finally they end up buying me bottled dried rosemary. Then besides, they overlook the ingredient of canned tomato puree which is essential to this recipe. Oh well, I have to make do with what I have and improvise.

Therefore I ration some of the fresh tomatoes out and made my own tomato puree. I found that do not need to simmer for 1 hour (as per original recipe) as I see that everything is well cooked and the eggplant is starting to turn black and soft. Maybe because I altered the amount of tomato puree, I’m not sure why though. So use your own judgment when you cook it. The recipes also states that it will develop taste overnight but we can’t wait eh, we are having party! It tastes great nevertheless, with convictions from my friends.

2 long purple eggplant
salt for sprinkling
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, cut into cubes
1 red capsicum, seeded and cubed
1 green capsicum, seeded and cubed
3 cloves garlic, chopped

150g tomatoes, peeled and cubed
1-2 tbsp dried rosemary
sugar to taste

handful of black olives, seeded and chopped

Tomato puree:
50g tomatoes chopped finely
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
3 tbsp of tomato sauce
Mixed herbs

Split the eggplant lengthwise and sprinkle with salt to draw out bitterness. Set aside for 30 minutes, drain and cut into 2cm cubes
Prepare the rest of the ingredients as per above
For the tomato puree:
Sauté the tomatoes till soft, adding in salt and sugar to taste.
Smash the tomatoes while cooking it.
Then add in tomato sauce and sprinkle liberally with mixed herbs
Cooked till semi-dry and remove from pan then set aside
For ratatouille:
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed or cast iron pan. Add the eggplant and cook until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan, cook the onion (add more oil if necessary) until translucent. Add the red and green capsicums and cook until tender; add garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomato and tomato puree. Cook for 1 minute.
Sprinkle in the dried rosemary liberally as well. Then add in the olives.
Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
Season to taste with sugar and salt, but I find it unnecessary since my home-made tomato puree is already very well seasoned.

Serve immediately to a table of 10 hungry girls

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

When life gives you Monday

you take it as a reason to pigged out. Now listen to me, if your wonderful weekend has just whiz passed you, if you had just started to go into the fun drive but got the handbrake pulled instead and if the week ahead looks like a long road down to Alabama (from where I don’t know, it just sounds good), you go out there and get yourself satiated, no make it bloated. I am serious. Forget the doctor, forget the therapist, forget the depression pills, all you need is a good chow down on what your body craves or whatever possibilities of food that you saw that appeals to you in a zealous successful advertising way.

Anyway, last Monday, my
good fren L, if you remember my dearest guest blogger, who once made quite a few reviews of food in Penang, is now working in KL, which gave us more chances to food hunt, thus she called on me to rescue her blue day. Monday had somehow always been a killer, thus coined with Monday Blues. I don’t know how that term (again) comes about but I just know once a while it does take over the day and everything seems bit gloomy and nothing seems to go right. So L, she called me at the end of the day, telling me that once again, she have some certain cravings, this time for chocolate cake to comfort her mood. Oh well, would this tham jiak resist her best friend invitation? Of course not, this tham jiak can have a chance to dig into food while being a good friend, it is like killing two birds with one stone.

Anyway, once L arrives in KLCC (the current new place that I work in, more on that in another post), we went out in search of
chocolate cake, as L does not want to go to the usual norm of Secret Recipe. So I came up with the idea to go Chilis, which does have a chocolate molten cake on the menu, serving a tham jiak’s memory of it, but I have yet to try it before. The idea came as I wanted to eat their bottomless tostadas chips (evil, evil moriesh stuff, will write up on this) as well as the one salad that I always crave for. When we got there, the man in front who decides who get fed and who are condemned to eternity of hunger, told us the place is full (we totally forgot that it is Buka Puasa time), and ask us to return only after 8! This is definitely outrageous for two girls on high with food cravings. We could have took out our high heels and start whacking him but, as a victim of conformity to the social world we would hold ourselves back, thus our eyes and nose start searching for alternatives.

So naturally, when we saw the
Vienna Bagels stall, right opposite of Chillis, we got attracted straightaway. L asked me what bagel is and out of my food blogs surfing and recipes reading (yes I am that food crazy), I told her roughly how it is done. A bagel is first boiled and then baked, much healthier than its look-alike doughnut, fluffy due to the boiling of the dough and crunchy outer crust due to finishing with baking. Perfecto!

Since we both have yet to try this specialty, we quickly go over to the cute little stall and bought the set of 3, for only RM7.50. Then, like two school-girls with bunch of sweets, we chuckle in delight and took our box of bagels down to KLCC Park to feast on it, all to ourselves.

We sat down at the steps opposite a lovely view of fountain; sorry we are too busy digging into the bagels to take picture of the fountain, so back to the limelight - bagels. We bought three flavours, and thanks to the picture of the menu by
Teckiee, I am able to name all the bagels correctly. From far left is Mexitaliano Bagel (boo’s favourite), the most common tried and true Sour Cream and Onion and finally for our sweet cravings, Dark Flakes, the best seller dark chocolate sprinkled with almond flakes bagel, my favourite, bias as I am a chocolate and almond lover.

Since dear L have not been writing on my food blog for quite some time, I decided to get her to give a short review on each of the yummy bagels:

L: surprises me with the little tinge of spiciness. It will be a great savory if you want to escape having something sweet

Sour Cream
L: is always the classic. It is absolutely delicious and it will not fail you

Chocolate Flakes
L: For the chocolate enthusiastic, the almond flaked bagel with dark chocolate is also very satisfying. I was literally licking my fingers clean!

I don’t know if this is the best bagel ever as both of us never had any before this. As babe reviewed, it is too dense and chewy to be like bagel (not fluffy as should be for boiled) and it is more like pretzels, which we found quite true. L also commented on the similiarity to Auntie Anne’s bagel when she first bit into it, and so I did a quick research on the difference and found that pretzel are first dipped in warm lye water for 15 – 30 seconds and then bake in oppose to bagels boil in medium hot water for bout 1 minute before baking. Oh well, not to bore you with all these techniques (unless I planned to make them, which someday I sure hope I will, but not in this post anyway), all in all it was good eats for L and me. It certainly did solve our kicking hormones and drove away the Monday blues.

Vienna Soft Fresh Bagels
Lot K35, Third Floor
Suria KLCC
Kuala Lumpur
03-9200 4933

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