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

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Me, Myself and My Food

I had been tagged last year (that sound like ages ago) by Jake from Lovely Malaysian Food by a meme called “7 random facts about myself”. Then I was re-tagged by Mochachocolata-Rita on "5 facts about me". I was thinking would anyone be interested in 5 facts about me what more 7? Maybe yes, maybe no, but oh well, as the rule of the game, tagged I am therefore I write:

1. Besides playing with kitchen appliances, I play guitar and drums. Yea, I was a cool teen; I used to have an all girl band name Addicted to Bliithe where I was the drummer. If you have been a long time reader, yes you can guessed it, it were consisted of my 1984s friends. We played in gigs, joined some competitions and even just 'jam' for fun. Does this make me similar to Jamie Oliver, the drummer who cooks?

2. Despite the fact that I am a Chinese, and my grandparents are from China, I do not even know how to read or write Chinese. Luckily I do know my dialects, such as Hokkien and Cantonese. So currently I am on a self learning journey in quest to learn Mandarin.

3. I have a bachelor degree in Business Information System, currently doing something with a mixture of business, finance and IT. I am happy with what I am doing, pretty challenging (the way I like it) yet it still feels like something is missing. This is because my ultimate dream is to have a business of my own, and of course it would be a food business. Food writing comes a close second.

4. I grew up in a lovely town call Taiping, up north in Perak, Malaysia. It is a place where people grew up and grow old. Somewhere in between are people like my mum and dad. Most of them are children and senior citizens. There is a really beautiful Lake Garden there, which was previously a tin ore mine, now made into a wonder garden of lushes trees and sparkling lakes.

5. Recently I had just bought an apartment with J in the heart of PJ, waiting eagerly to get the keys and start unloading all my kitchen gadgets into it and hopefully then, churn out more goodies for me, J, family and friends to enjoy and for you to drool on from this blog.

6. I secretly harbour the desire to knead and bake my own bread, but I have yet to get on with it. Once I bought a bottle of instant yeast and it was left in my shelves for ages and never got into bread making. I was never really a bread person, as in I do not take bread just because (with the exception of my morning breakfast of eggs and toast bread), and I am really picky about what makes a good bread, occasionally only manage to find it in posh restaurants or good bakeries. No, the usual roti canai, Malaysian’s favourite does not make it as one of those bread I desired to make. I want to bake rustic looking bread that would make good sandwiches, not those white bread sandwiching some sad looking lettuce and tuna.

7. I started a mini project in this blog called Exploring My Origin, where I am still very much interested to carry on. I want to learn and understand all there is to know about Chinese food origins, how it is to be made and what makes it so good that it lasted for generations. I am always so worried that these traditions would be lost in our era. If time and place permits it, I will definitely seek it out, practice and make it till it is right and then share all of it here.

There, five non-food-related facts about me and 2 tham jiak facts about me, to kill two birds with one stone. 7 is more than enough I'm sure, and I do hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Home is where the Best Feasts are

I am back! Just a long weekend off for my favourite celebration of the year, I felt as if I have left for an entire year! There was so much to catch up on, I felt as if I had an overrun marathon for the whole week that left me breathless.

Although I had eaten so much within that long weekend regardless that I had forewarned myself, I can vividly remember all the wonderful feasts. Few of them was taken outside in restaurants as we do not want to tire our dear grandmothers and mothers, but those few home made feasts was what I treasured most.

On my Ah Ma side, it had been many years since she cooked a feast for our Chinese New Year as all her children want her to rest and relax, while on my Pho Pho side, it would be the usual feast of my favourite dishes such as jiu hu char, which had me standing by the side of the bowl, nearly finishing off by wrapping it in fresh raw lettuce and popping it into my mouth again and again, ah bliss, and also the must have heart-attacking duck soup, I swear that it is more of duck ‘oil’, but nonetheless irresistible! These home cooked feasts will have me gobbling up as if there were no tomorrow while I just nibble on the restaurant food, which once I got so sick off I cheated my way out of dinner by saying I wanted to visit my Lai Ma (Nanny), which I did of course but with no food.

Speaking bout my Lai Ma, she is another wonder woman in kitchen, apart from being a wonder woman of raising kids, which would be another whole story I will share soon. Last year, when I got real lucky, she had me sit down and feasted on her food during my visit. At that time I was already full from lunch at Pho Pho’s but staring at her version of Chinese New Year home feasting; I could not resist and proceeded to have second lunch of the day! I cursed myself for eating too much beforehand while continued on feasting anyway. So this year, with the reminiscence of the wonderful feast I had with the tastes still vividly at the tip of my tongue, I smarted my way out from a lunch out with my relatives in a restaurant and ‘visited’ my Lai Ma on Chor Yat (first day of Chinese New Year) itself. Beside the fact that I was really yearning to see both my Lai Ma and Lai Pa (her husband) after a long time, I was also secretly yearning for her special dishes.

When I got there, many people were there visiting already, including U and her brother which grew up with me together under my Lai Ma’s care. I waited patiently while enjoying their company and once they leave, I casually asked if there is lunch. My Lai Ma was extremely surprised “What! You haven’t had your lunch? Why didn’t you say so just now?” Glancing at the clock which was showing only near to 3pm, it wasn’t that late from lunch but from my Lai Ma’s reaction, just like how a typical Chinese would react, it would had seemed like I had been starving for years. Quickly, she had me get the rice while she got me a big bowl of ham choy thong (salted vegetable soup). I stared at the spread in front of me and proceeded to enjoy the feast, this time with lots of room in my tham jiak stomach to fit in.


The ham choy thong is how I always remembered it would be, as she cooks it quite frequently, salty, slightly spicy and sourish, which serves real well as an appetizer. Then there was the must-have steamed chicken, eaten with her homemade green chili sauce. Another meat dish is the lor bak (deep fried marinated minced pork rolled in thin soybean sheets) which was home made by my Lai Ma’s sister was really good too. The chunky minced pork was really juicy and fragrant while the soybean sheets were perfectly crunchy. My Lai Ma made pickled cucumber to eat with it, which surprisingly pairs really well together and to me, it was better than the usual Loh sauce (dark sauce thicken with corn starch, usually served at the hawker stalls).


Then next is my favourite chow mangkuang (stir fried sliced yam bean) which tastes like my Ah Ma’s Cantonese version with added cuttlefish strips. This dish has similarity to my Pho Pho’s Hakka darker and much more sinful version, which is to be eaten best wrapped in fresh lettuces.

Finally, it was the star dish of the day, which was the first that came to my mind when I was reminiscing about her dishes of last year. It is the stir fried ngaku (arrowhead/arrowroots) with nam yue (fermented red beancurd) that despite looking weird with its pinkish hue, it was a real delight to the palate. Slight sweet yet salty and with just hints of nam yue (many people find this an acquired taste, but trust me it is just a slight complement here). This dish is also a darling to eat wrapped in fresh lettuce, but first slathered generously with tim cheong (sweet sauce). I once asked where to get the tim cheong and my Lai Ma said “Aiya, make it yourself. Very easy! Put this this and that that together, and ta-da – you got your ultimate tim cheong”. Sorry though I cannot remember those ‘easy’ steps, aih, they all make it sound so easy, time for me to buck up! I must start cooking and making more Chinese cuisines. This is definitely one better way to enjoy ngaku apart from the usual addictive fried ngaku crisps which are widely available (both homemade or store bought) at this time of the year.


I ate with such gluttony and tham jiak-ness that halfway through my feasting, Lai Pa took second helpings of rice and joined me together at the table. Now the real family feast has begun!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Too Much of Good Things

Been back to my home town as I said I would, where every year relatives from near and far try their best to return because of both my grandmothers, Ah Ma and Pho Pho. Just for the reunion day itself, I had already indulged in so much food, here is just a glimpse of some of them that I managed to captured:


Yes, and that is just for PRE-Chinese new year. I wonder if my tham jiak tummy can take more to come. Anyhow, this is one case where too much of good things is still good, great even!

I wish you all Happy Chinese New Year, 新年快樂. Till we meet again after all the feastings and gamblings!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Long Weekend

and so I sat down to blog, and nothing seem to come out. I wouldn’t say I got a writer’s block; I can only say I got a tham jiak block. Oh no! Not so tham jiak anymore? Don’t worry, not everywhere near there, ha-ha, just that J and I have less time to go out and try new food, as work had been quite exhausting for both of us. When lunch/dinner comes, all we want is just to go somewhere near or somewhere familiar to just sit down, relax and enjoy ourselves. Don’t even get me started on what about cooking. I am still very much waiting for my new apartment to become mine, legal matters that involves many parties can never be fast, I learnt this the hard way. So there, with not much of food exploration and none on cooking, what is there worthy to blog about?

Fortunately though, Chinese New Year is just around the corner and I am eagerly waiting in anticipation. Chinese New Year is the time where we are reunited with families and friends, enjoying good food together while catching up on the year that has passed. There would be non-stop feasting and munching as well as the gambling. Ah, these are typical traits of the Chinese, and we does it best and most during this time. I had been gambling with RM1 ever since high school, and it never went up even though judging from my increase spending power plus the inflation rates I should, but age has caught up with me and now gambling is more of just to pass time than to earn money. I still remember that my friends and I used to go house to house collecting ang pows and then sat right down to ‘earning money’. Some year I had huge profits, some losses but most years are neither, so I did quite enjoy this way of passing the time.

So as Chinese New Year is just next week, I will be sure to head home to my beloved home town Taiping. I can’t wait, seriously. So I thought it would be best to blog a little about my humble home town. I have mentioned about it several times, but have lacked terribly in blogging about the good food it possessed. I assure you, it is as good as you would expect from a place shield from urbanization thus still very much prepare food the way it does few generations ago.

There is this place in Taiping where it serves really good authentic Hainanese food. The restaurant still cooks and serves like how it used to way before I was born. The place still looked pretty much the same, except I remember it did some clean up once and built the cashier place bout 10 years ago.


One extra special thing about it is that it serves halal food. I did not notice this of my years in Taiping, until after I came here to study, where one day a friend mentioned she brought her Muslim friend to dine there, stating it is the only choice for Chinese food around Taiping which is halal. Since it is halal, we definitely would not be able to find the infamous Hainanese pork chop, but guess what, it did extremely well in subbing with chicken chop Hainanese style. Prepared the same way, just with different meat, and it is still real good. Definitely a must order at this shop.


The chicken is cooked to the right crispiness, and then doused with the thick deliciously salty sauce with peas, tomatoes and onions. The potatoes wedges are definitely worth mentioning too, for being so well fried, non greasy, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.


Then there is one special dish that I love to order when I am there, and have yet to find it anywhere else in Malaysia. It is called roti sayur (bread and vegetables). Whenever I call this in front of someone who have yet to try it, they would definitely raise an eyebrow. “You want to eat bread with vegetables???” must be going through their mind. That was how J reacted when I ordered it. Then it came, really different looking with sautéed vegetables lying over a thick toast bread with a sunny side up egg on top, bringing to whole dish to new heights, catching the eye of the raised eyebrow.


This dish certainly need some coaxing to people before they are wiling to try it, after all we Chinese/Asian are not that used to eating savoury vegetables with bread, but this one definitely converted many after just one try. J nodded in agreement to it when I passed it for him to try, while I devour his chicken chop. The vegetables were still pretty crunchy, yet soft enough along with the peas and onions are of great combinations. Mixed in with the slightly sweet yet savoury soft bread (from soaking the sauces), it wss certainly a good match. Not to forget smashing the egg yolks as you go, I don’t need to explain why, eh?


Lastly I finish off with my ever good ol’ cham(mixture of coffee and tea). The cham here is just as good as I can get as it is kau (thick) enough.

Alright, so now you know we have good Hainanese food in Taiping, so do drop by if you are ever in north Malaysia, maybe drive up a little from Ipoh, or make a pit-stop on the way to Penang. It is definitely not a bad place for good food.

Yut Sun Restoran
Jalan Pasar
Taiping
Perak, Malaysia

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