Mangrove beaches on Langkawi island

There is a laconic routine to the days here: wake up late, bake in the sun, float in the warm aqua-marine waters, head inside for a shower during the late afternoon downpour, have a light dinner and go to sleep embarrassingly early. Repeat.

I included three days in Langkawi on my itinerary because it felt wrong to spend five weeks in Southeast Asia and not have a proper stay on the beach. The timing could not have been better because for once, I am completely sated with food, full at my very core, and in need of a little detox before plunging into the next spectacular leg of eating in Thailand.

Beaches are the perfect place to do this – ever since I was a kid visiting Rehoboth Beach, Deleware in the summer, we'd start the day by biking to Cosmic Bakery for a big breakfast and after a day of sun and surf, we wouldn't even realize we were hungry until our eyes started to droop closed from a long day in the sun. I am self enforcing the same sort of stay here – foregoing the many activities I could do on this tropical island in favor of simply sitting still and relaxing.

This is not something I'm especially good at. I always want to see and do everything, get the most out of a place for fear I won't be back and will have missed a life-enhancing experience. But sometimes being still is that experience. So that is what I am doing. Reading, reflecting, relaxing. And loving every minute of it.

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The architecture of Penang

I spent the hottest part of the day wading through the thick humidity of Georgetown on a walking tour of historic Penang. My guide, a Scotsman named Mark who has called Penang home for the last seven years, amiably sweated through the day with me as he taught me about why the city earned UNESCO World Heritage accreditation in 2008 and the positive impact the status has had on restoration and development.

The best part of the tour was learning about the different architectural styles of the Chinese “shophouses,” which have evolved over the decades from simple wooden fronts to elaborate columns and shutters. The shophouse architecture weaves together the multi-cultural and multi-faceted history of the island. We also stopped in a few of the Chinese kongsi, or clan temples and meeting houses which seem to pop up on every corner and boast elaborate glazed ceramic multi-colored dragons and floating red paper lanterns.

Chinese shophouse architecture

One of many Chinese kongsi

Inside another Chinese kongsi

Without a practiced eye to help me understand what I was seeing, the colorful buildings had simply been pretty. With context and history, I was able to begin to understand how the Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities have interacted across generations in this diverse city and how they have shaped the architecture accordingly.

Famous street art in Penang by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic

I think Los Angeles could benefit from this too!

Sexiest advertisement for construction gear that I've seen!

Additional information:
Walking tour guide: markdiscovermalaysia.blogspot.com
016.456.5374

 

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Dim Sum for dinner, Char Kway Teow for dessert

I only have to wander a block away from my hotel on Cintra street to be in the midst of Chinese shophouses, tailors, and preserved food stores. After attempting to get measured for a bridesmaid dress by a Chinese seamstress, I decided that I deserved dim sum from the bustling restaurant across the street.

Three steaming stainless steel carts wheeled their way around the restaurant in a circle: the first had steamed dumplings, the second desserts, and the third pao. Obviously, I had to try them all. I let the woman pushing the dumping cart choose my dishes for me and I’m not 100% sure what I ate but it was all delicious. I’m pretty sure I had some kind of mushroom dumpling with fermented beans in brown sauce, a squid shu mai wrapped in a bright green noodle, and a fried egg wrapped triangle shrimp dumpling. Next was a sweet barbecued pork pao bun, followed by fried glutinous rice sesame balls filled with red bean paste for dessert. The sesame balls were the best I’ve ever had, and I hate to admit it, but I ate the entire order of three. I tried to convince myself that they were lighter than what I can get at home but the main justification was that they were really really good.

So many dim sum options. So little idea what most of them are. How to choose?

The mix of dumplings the dim sum waitress picked out for me. The top is the fried egg shrimp, the green is filled with squid, and the bottom left has beans and cabbage in an unidentified but delish saucce

Delicious dessert – friend sesame glutinous rice balls filled with sweet red bean paste

After dinner I walked around the dark streets, which alternate between being bustling with hawker stalls and completely dead and dark. Just as I got to one of the bustling corners the skies opened and it felt like I had just walked into a shower with phenomenal water pressure. Obviously, I didn’t have an umbrella. It never rains when you do. So as the street began to flood, I had no choice but to eat again in order to get shelter. Am I forcing a justification for a second dinner? I guess a little.

Dinner #2 was Char Kway Teow from a hawker highlighted in the street food book I had read through in Kuala Lumpur. This noodle dish is a hawker staple, as well it should be. It is a sweet, salty, and spicy combination of flavors and seafood served with a fried egg and slippery flat rice noodles. I learned how to make it the next morning in my cooking class with Nazlina and while the steps are not difficult, it is almost impossible to replicate the charcoal richness that a hawker stall brings to the dish. Good thing I stopped to get a point of comparison.

Obviously there are many ways to transliterate the spelling of this popular and delicious noodle stir fry

Additional information:
Dim sum: Tai Tong Restoran
45, Lebuh Cintra, Penang
04 263 6625
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Traditional Malay cooking

Nazlina is the kind of person you want to be friends with. As we sat down for an early breakfast of roti canai and chatted about potential menu items for the day, it felt like we were planning a dinner party together. I had already learned some of the usual staples on her list and she happily got creative to figure out something different that we could make together. The results were unbelievably delicious – one of the best meals I’ve cooked or eaten in SE Asia.

The highlight of the meal was a dish that doesn’t really have a name. Naz (she told me to call her that – see, I told you we were friends!) said that it’s something she makes at home and that you wouldn’t really find it in a restaurant. My kind of dish. She described it as beef in a fresh chili sauce. We used an old fashioned batu giling, which literally translates as a mother and child, to slowly hand press the chilis. The “mother” is a giant rectangular stone imported from India and the “child” is a cylinder that you roll back and forth over small quantities of chilies until you have a fine paste. The advantage of this over a traditional mortar and pestle is that you can grind larger quantities of chili to a finer paste. Before this trip, I had not realized there were so many types of mortars and pestles.

Batu giling, or mother and child mortar and peste for creating chili paste

We braised the beef in water while we were grinding the chilies so that it was fully cooked – this made the actual assembly and cook time of the rest of the ingredients – chili, ginger, galangal, tamarind, palm sugar, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, cloves, lemongrass, curry leaves, onion, garlic, and coconut milk – very quick. The result was rich and sweet and delicious – when Nazlina went upstairs to check on something, I definitely ate straight spoonfuls of the sauce. I’m sure that is bad form here – it would be at home – but it was just so damn good and I couldn’t fit in any more of the beef.

Part 1 of assembling ingredients – all of these need to be mashed with mortar and pestle

Step 2 of assembling ingredients, post mashing up the ingredients above

This sauce is so good you don’t even need the meat – just a big spoon!

Along with the beef we also made Nasi Minyak, or wedding rice. Naz said that when someone wants to jibe a young person on when they are finally going to get married they ask, “When am I going to eat your nasi minyak?” Subtle. And not that different from my grandfather asking my husband, “Do you know how old I am? I have my dancing shoes polished for your wedding,” for the entire eight years we were dating before we did, in fact, get married. Nice to know that some things are the same across all cultures.

Flavorful seasoning of galic, onion, spices, and pandan leaf for the nasi minyak

Nasi minyak, or wedding rice, garnished with freshly fried shallots

The last dish we made was wing bean salad. Wing beans are pretty cool – they have four edges that come out like – you guessed it – wings, so that when you slice them, you have a four sided star. We sliced them at an angle and mixed them in with blanched shrimp, vibrantly pink ginger flower, minced lemongrass, toasted coconut and shallots. We made sambal belachan for the dressing, which is a characteristically Malay sauce made from toasting the ubiquitous shrimp paste (belachan) and mixing it with red chili, lime juice, sugar, and salt. The resulting salad was crisp and refreshing, perfect for a hot day.

Assembling all the ingredients for wing bean salad

Refreshing wing bean salad

Additional information:
Nazlina Hussin Pickles and Spices
http://www.pickles-and-spices.com/cooking-traditional-food-class.html
71 Stewart Lane, Penang
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Indian street food in Malaysia

I just had the best Indian food I've eaten since….well, since I lived in India. The street food scene in Penang is world famous and my first taste of it definitely lives up to the hype. I had read about the Line Clear stall in a street food book but as I wandered through the red light district and was propositioned by multiple hookers, I started to have my doubts. Just as the rain started coming down I began to smell the aromas of curry and saw a long line of people waiting under the tin roof. Bingo.

Line Clear stall for Nasi Kandar

There's only one option to order: Nasi Kandar. The dish has rice at its center and you can choose which type of protein you want to add: fish head, fried chicken, chicken curry, mutton, and probably one more that I'm forgetting. I went with the bright orange fried chicken and I think I finally understand the phrase “finger-lickin' good.” The cook added the standard flavorful accompaniments: a spiced omelet, okra in spicy sambal, cucumber salad, and turmeric cabbage. I ordered teh tarik on the side, a sweet and milky tea that is very close to Indian chai and served as both my beverage and my dessert. Oh, and the whole thing cost $3 USD.

Delicious nasi kandar with fried chicken, spiced omelet, turmeric cabbage, curried okra, and rice

During the heat of the afternoon earlier today, I tried another Indian influenced street food: ice kacing. This eclectic combination of flavors includes shaved ice, rose syrup, palm sugar syrup, creamed corn, red beans, condensed coconut milk, vanilla ice cream, and some kind of chewy white opaque fruit that I couldn't identify. It was pretty good when I got the right combination of flavors on the spoon but getting a big bite of iced creamed corn on its own wasn't as pleasant. I am still so amazed and impressed by the fact that I can safely order a water based dessert off the street that it makes everything taste even better.

Ice kacing with rose syrup, condensed milk, creamed corn, red beans, palm sugar syrup, and vanilla ice cream. What a combination!

Additional information:
Nasi Kandar
Line Clear Restaurant
Next to 177 Penang Road, Penang
04 261 4440
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Nyonya cuisine in Penang, Malaysia

Nyonya cuisine is famous across Malaysia, but particularly in Penang. Nyonya refers to the descendants of the original Chinese traders who came to Malaysia in the sixteenth century. These early Chinese immigrants brought their traditional Hokkien recipes but often couldn’t get the ingredients they were accustomed to at home. They began using the ingredients native to Malaysia, including ginger flower, galangal, and coconut, as substitutes in their dishes. As they got to know and build trust with their Malay neighbors the two communities began exchanging recipes, and the result is a fusion cuisine between Chinese and Malaysian dishes. Like the best cultural exchanges, the results respected the essence of the source cultures while subtly altering and evolving them into something unique, and in this case, delicious.

My Nyonya culinary guide was Pearly Kee, a fifth generation Penang Nyonya. Over two days together, we cooked an ambitious combination of Nyonya, Chinese, and Penang specialities.

Arguably the most famous dish from Penang is Assam Laksa. It is a spicy and sour fish soup made with thick round rice noodles and it uses tamarind liberally to create its characteristic sour flavor. The base of the soup comes from an elaborate spice paste which includes fresh and dried chilies, fresh turmeric root, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, garlic, and shrimp paste. The spice paste is boiled with tamarind water and once the broth is almost ready, whole mackerel are put into the soup to create the fish flavor in the broth. The fish are removed once they are cooked and the bone-free flesh is put back into the soup. The garnish is also a critical part of the dish – I filled my empty bowl with uncooked mint leaves, pineapple slices, onion, cucumber slices, fresh chili, sprouts, and lettuce and then poured the broth on top of this mixture. The result was distinctive and clearly of the best quality – sour, spicy, and sweet at the same time without being overly fishy.

Sour, sweet, and spicy assam laksa with mint leaves, ginger flower, onion, pineapple, lettuce, cucumber, and chili garnish

One of my other favorite recipes from Pearly was Nasi Ulam or jungle rice. This refreshing dish was essentially a richly flavored salad. While the assembly of the salad was fairly straightforward, the ingredients were pretty exotic and labor intensive to find and prepare by my standards. We fried a piece of salt toasted kurau (which is basically a dried steak-like fish) then ground up the fish with a mortar and pestle. We did the same with dried shrimp, with ground coconut, and with shrimp paste. When we eventually combined these ingredients with salt and pepper in our rice, it was already delicious, even before we added all the fresh greens. We finely sliced eight or nine different leafy greens, including “chicken poo leaf” (that’s a direct translation from Pearly – apparently there is not another English name for it since it doesn’t exist in Western countries), turmeric leaf, polygonum leaf (used in laksa), cekur (wild ginger) leaf, kaduk (wild pepper) leaf, kaffir lime leaf, thai basil leaf, mint, ginger flower, lemongrass, fresh turmeric, and shallots. Whew, I’m getting tired just thinking about all that chopping, much less trying to track down all these ingredients. But the result was truly fantastic and I will definitely try some bastardized variation of it at home, once I figure out what kinds of ingredients I can get my hands on.

Step 1 of jungle rice: chop up fresh turmeric root and mix it with the rice to create that nice yellow color. As an added bonus, your fingernails will now match your rice.

Up close with all the delicious ingredients in this elaborate rice salad

Since we cooked so many different dishes, each of them fairly elaborate – a hallmark of Nyonya cuisine – I’ll just give you a quick rundown on the others.

Chicken Curry Kapitan: This is a famous dish across cultures here, and both Nazlina (my Malay cooking teacher – more on that class soon) and Pearly told me similar versions of the story behind its name. Rulers were called captains back in the day, and the Chinese immigrants to Penang pronounced it as Kapitan. One day the captain’s Chinese chef tried a variation of a local Malay dish for dinner. Licking his whiskers with enjoyment, the captain asked what the dish was. The chef was at a loss – he had no idea what the local name was for his cross-cultural creation. So he replied, “Chicken curry, kapitan.” And so was born one of the most famous fusion dishes in Malaysia. The curry is thick and flavorful, using coconut milk, lemongrass, candlenut, chili, fresh turmeric, galangal, garlic, and lime juice.

Rich chicken curry kapitan, served with jungle rice

Sambal Goreng: Prawns cooked in a cashew nut and coconut milk sauce with a more subtle flavor than some of the other dishes.

Sambal goreng or shrimp with cashews and coconut milk

Tau Ewe Bak or dark sauce pork: A rich braised pork dish marinated in soy sauce, dark soy sauce (a slightly bitter reduction, different from the sweet Indonesian kecap manis), sugar, salt, and white peppercorn and served with fried tofu and a hard boiled egg.

Dark sauce pork with a hard boiled egg and fried tofu

Bar char rempah: Stir fried spicy pork with chilies, candlenut, shallots, and shrimp paste. The dish was flavorful and relatively light, compared to some of the other heavier sauces. According to Pearly, this dish is a bridge between the dark sauce pork, which is squarely Chinese, and the Sambal Goreng, which is squarely Nyonya because it starts to use local Malay ingredients but retains a strong Chinese influence.

Stir fried spicy pork with shallots

Curry Fish Tumis: A boiled fish with a spicy sauce, similar to Laksa but served with the whole fish and more of a sauce than a soup.

Curry fish tumis made with fresh pomfret

Kuih Koci Santan: This is the Nyonya variation on the Malay Kueh Koci that I made in KL. This dish is much heavier on the salty part of the sweet-salty combination and uses the glutinous rice flour in a sauce rather than as the core of the dish. It was good but the Malay version had the glutinous rice in its full glory, which in my book is hard to beat.

Kuih koci santan with glutinous rice, palm sugar, coconut, and pandan leaf coloring

Cooking Nyonya food was a fascinating introduction to the culture and the history of Penang. It also gave me an appreciation for the complexity of the dishes that the hawkers are whipping up on the side of the road.

Additional information:
Pearly Kee
http://www.my-island-penang.com/Penang-Homecooking-Class.html
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The. Best. Day. Of. Eating. Ever.

Over five hours, seven people ate twenty dishes at five restaurants for a total of $60 USD. $3 a dish or $9 a person. And each dish was absolutely phenomenal.

I’m spending the weekend with friends in Kuala Lumpur and they arranged our unbelievable food tour through friends of theirs, a local couple who seemed to know every hidden stall and back alley of the KL food scene.

With 48 hours of perspective, what I’ve found amazing about this city is that the food is clean, cheap, and diverse. Because Malaysia is a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures, you can eat the very best of each of those cuisines, tweaked with local flavor.

We started the day with breakfast at Kayu Nasi Kandar, an Indian Muslim “mamak” restaurant in the Petaling Jaya part of the city. Our fantastic guides Yvonne and KC ordered a round of sweet and milky teh tarik tea and three types of roti. Roti canai is the classic breakfast dish of a doughy, chewy, airy, and slightly oily bread that in our case was filled with egg and onions and which we dipped in yellow dal and fragrant red fish curry.

Roti canai with fish curry and dal

Delicious greasy airbubbles in roti canai dough waiting to be fried

Next was a paper dosa made from rice flour and typical of southern Indian cooking – we dipped this in a red sambal sauce, white coconut chutney, pink chili chutney, and yellow dal.

Papaer dosa with sambal and chutney

Last was the most impressive and delicious and is a speciality of the house: a four foot tall tissue roti glazed with a perfect mixture of sweet and salty oil. It really was tissue thin and the crunchy pieces melted in my mouth like candy. It took a lot of will power not to polish it off but I knew there were four more stops ahead.

Sweet, salty, and very tall tissue roti

Our second stop was at the Chinese Kedai Makanan O&S Restaurant, which is a big room with whirring fans crammed with plastic tables and chairs and filled with twenty or thirty different food stalls, each selling a single specialty. We went to town and tried seven dishes, all of which were delicious. My absolute favorite was char kway teow, a fried flat-rice noodle dish with seafood bursting with flavor. Apparently this dish is particularly famous in Penang and it’s the dish by which you judge how good a restaurant or food stall is. I plan to make many, many comparisons.

Chinese Kedai Makanan O&S Restaurant where you can get food from the many stalls set up there and order drinks from the house

Rightlfully famous char kway teow

We also tried chee cheong fun, a boiled rice noodle dish with a sweet and sour sauce. The name of the dish means pig intestines but luckily, that is only because that is what the shape of the noodles looks like.

Slipperly chee cheong fun

Wan tan mee had thin yellow noodles served with sweet barbecued pork slices on top and a small bowl of wonton soup on the side. The pieces of pork were delicious and the noodles were a totally different texture than the two other rice noodles.

Wan tan mee with gllazed pork and dumplings

Next we moved on to three different types of soup. My favorite was the curry laksa, a variation of the famous asam laska, which we also tried. Asam laksa is a tangy fish soup that uses tamarind to give it a sour flavor. According to my hosts, this was particularly fantastic laska because it was more flavorful than fishy. The curry laksa used coconut milk to adjust the flavor and included shredded chicken and airy fried tofu.

Tart and tangy asam laksa

Curry laksa, with smooth coconut milk

We also tried yong tao fu soup, a Hakka specialty with tofu and vegetables stuffed with minced fish and pork and boiled. The stuffed chilies were especially delicious.

Yong tau fu soup with stuffed vegetables

Popiah is a spring roll made from a wheat flour crepe stuffed with vegetables and rice and served with a sweet sauce drizzled on top. The flavors and ingredients reminded me of moo shu pork that I’ve had at Chinese restaurants in the US, although obviously this was way better.

Sweet and cruncy popiah

Did I mentioned that the total cost for all of these dishes, as well as a round of sour plum and lime juice for the table was $16 USD?! I could get used to this.

Our amazing $16 Chinese feast

Our next stop was Ah sang bak kut teh, a Chinese tea house that serves a pork soup from Klang, a port city north of Kuala Lumpur. Every single table at the restaurant was eating the pork soup, which had the richest broth I’ve ever tasted. The closest equivalent I can think of was the chicken stock I made in Brittany with roasted chicken. We cooked that chicken stock for hours and this bak kut teh soup had an even more concentrated flavor. It was served with pork that fell of the bone and was meant to be poured over bowls of rice. Our guide is from Klang and she brought her own tea for us to drink – this was a matter of pride, as the restaurant also served their own tea with the food. I learned that collecting tea is like collecting wine: it grows more valuable with age and can be kept for decades when stored properly.

Bak kut tea roast pork soup

Mini tea ceremony at the table,w ith our guide’s tea from home

As we tried to digest the food from our first three stops we drove Restoran Jaya, a Malay spot. We ordered the specialty ayam percik and watched them roast the chicken outside on an open charcoal flame before dousing it in a rich and flavorful red sauce. Along with the chicken we had chili roasted aubergine, fish curry sauce, and nasi dagang, a sweet and textured red rice.

Nasi dagang and roast eggplant

Ayan percik chicken in a rich gravy

Brightly colored rose syrup flavored drinks

Our final stop was to a rojak truck set on the edge of a children’s playground. Rojak is an Indian vegetable salad with peanut sauce on top, although I don’t think it actually exists as a dish in India. We also got an Indian dessert, ice cendol, which is a very sweet concoction of shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar, pandan leaf flavored green noodles, red beans, and sweet corn. It was pretty refreshing on a hot and sticky afternoon in the park and was the perfect sweet ending to a day of incredible culinary exploration.

Rojak truck, in a random kids playground

Rojak salad with peanut sauce

Coconutty sweet ice cendol with pandan leave colored rice noodles, creamed corn, and red beans

The amazing thing to me about all of the food, in addition to the fact that it was unbelievably delicious and super cheap, is that it was all safe to eat. You can drink water straight from the tap in KL and you can eat at the same food stalls that the locals do – after living in India and contracting every imaginable stomach bug while eating the fantastic food there – I find the cleanliness to be particularly impressive. The weekend made me even more excited for my week in Penang, which is supposed to have even better food than KL, although I literally can’t imagine how that is possible. Can’t wait to find out.

Additional information:

Food tour: http://www.foodtourmalaysia.com/

Posted in Chinese, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Malaysian, Nyonya | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beef Rendang in Kuala Lumpur

Beef rendang is the most complicated and elaborate dish I have attempted to make. It is a decadent and fragrant braised beef dish with a rich and thick gravy and it is one of the iconic dishes of Malaysia. What makes it complicated is that the ingredients are themselves complex recipes, including chili paste, rendang spice paste, and kerisik, which is grated, toasted, and mashed coconut. It is also a very sensitive dish and the thickness of the gravy, the degree of spice, and the richness of the flavor all depend on how you cook the dish. Each person in our class made their own rendang and everyone’s tasted different. Luckily, they were all absolutely fantastic.

Assembling our materials for beef rendang

Braising the beef in coconut milk and spices

I think there were two distinguishing factors of the class at Lazat: (1) the owner and teacher were friendly, funny, and knowledgable and (2) the food we made was among the best I’ve made across all my cooking classes. Each dish was a complete home run. The preparation also made me understand why my friends who live in Kuala Lumpur eat out most nights – you can buy incredible food for a couple dollars and making these dishes is time consuming and challenging. But given that I don’t live in Malaysia, I’m very excited to try to attempt these at home.

Our appetizer was cucur udang or prawn fritters. Unlike the corn fritters I made in Bali, which had the chili embedded in the fritter, for these we learned how to make an incredible sweet / spicy chili dipping sauce. I can think of about 100 other things it would be good on. The fritters were the most straightforward dish to make – we mixed flour with corn, prawns, bean sprouts, shallots, spring onions, and a dash of turmeric. We scooped tablespoons of the gooey mixture into boiling oil and simply waited for the batter to transform itself into crunchy, chewy, delicious fried fritters.

Ready to mix up those prawn fritters

Crispy golden brown prawn fritters, complete with sweet chili sauce and fancy garnish

We also made a salad called acar timun to accompany our beef rendang – it is a spicy cucumber and carrot mixture that brings a refreshing acidity to accompany the rich rendang. To make the salad we fried a spice mixture of mustard seeds, star anise, cinnamon, and clove and then added in a ground up combination of rehydrated dried shrimp, shallots, ginger, and garlic. We made a light dressing by adding in vinegar, sugar, and salt then tossed in our julienned veggies and chilies for a quick fry.

Ingredients at the ready for acar timun salad

Briefly giving our salad a quick fry. Because fried things are always better.

Delicious beef rendang and acar timun

Dessert was kueh koci, which is white glutinous rice filled with palm sugar and grated coconut. I absolutely love the texture of glutinous rice and will go out of my way to order dishes that have it if they are on a menu or if I see them in an Asian grocery store. I also have a steady supply of mochi in my freezer, which have a thin layer of the stuff surrounding ice cream. It was really cool to learn how to actually make the mysterious chewy, sticky, gooey mixture. It is basically just a dough made from glutinous rice flour and water and the flavor comes from the sweet filling and a salty coconut milk glaze. Despite stuffing myself with everything else, I managed to squeeze in a few of these and they also made a reappearance as a bedtime snack.

Coconut and palm sugar filling for the kueh koci

Kueh koci before steaming. White glutinous rice dough surrounds the coconut and palm sugar and a salty coconut milk sauce covers the top.

Steamed kueh koci wrapped in banana leaves.

It may not look all that exciting but this sticky, chewy, sweet-salty dessert is awesome.

I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the deliciousness and diversity that is Malaysian food.

Additional information:
LaZat
http://www.malaysia-klcookingclass.com/
Section 17, Petaling Jaya. Malaysia
019-2381198 or +6019 330 1312
lazatcooking@gmail.com
Posted in Classes, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Malaysian | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Photos from East Bali

I was having technical issues posting some of the photos from my time in East Bali so I wanted to share a few shots of this beautiful part of the island.

Rice paddy view from Bali Asli cooking school; Mount Agung shrouded in clouds in the background

Bali Asli cooking school

Walking along rice paddies

Beautiful afternoon view from the hotel

Amazing vista at dawn

Sunrise from the hotel’s yoga platform

My awesome outdoor bathroom

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Fishing: A failed attempt to catch my lunch

I’ve been getting up at 5:30 every morning to watch the sun rise over the water. As the gray sky brightens with orange, yellow, blue, pink, and gold small little fishing boats head out to the horizon. This morning I am going with them to try my hand at fishing.

Fishing boats at sunrise

Breakfast of champions

It turns out that if you are planning a meal around the fact that you are going fishing, it would be helpful to actually catch some fish. The fish did not get that memo on the morning I went out so I returned empty handed and slightly sunburned and salt crusted. I loved being out on the water, especially when our narrow little boat was cruising through the waves and passing dolphins. I have to say that the fishing itself was pretty boring. We stuck some squid on a hook and tossed a hand line down into the water and waited. And waited. And moved to try again. And waited some more. The fisherman taking me around felt so bad and kept cursing the lazy fish but I tried to assure him that I really wasn’t bent out of shape about our fish-less morning.

Failing to catch fish but succeeding at getting sunburned

My fishing boat for the morning

Luckily, I was not the first hapless tourist to come to class without a morning catch. Chef Penny picked up some fresh mackerel from the market that morning, where apparently they were quite plentiful. I guess the other fishermen are more skilled than I.

We started by making our fish dish, sate kablet, or a grilled sate of fish cubes wrapped in minced fish. We marinated the cubes in shrimp paste and chilies and mixed bumbu spices in with the minced fish, making for a very flavorful combination for the dense, steak-like fish.

Fish satay ingredients

Marinated fish cubes, ready to be wrapped in minced fish and grilled over coconut husk charcoal

Next was be celeng base manis, a slow cooked braised pork dish seasoned with cinnamon and star anise. Apparently this dish is more Indonesian than Balinese and you can taste a different richness in the spiced flavor of the dark sauce than most of the lighter, yellow or red Balinese sauces.

Slow braised pork in a rich spice sauce

We also made tumis jepang, or stir fried choko. I had never heard of choko before – it is a green knobby fruit that looks like a large guava and has a similar crunchy and dense texture but without the sweetness. We stir fried it with vegetables, soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce, and tamarind, giving the dish a sweet, salty, and sour combination of flavors that went well with the crunchy texture of the choko.

Stir fried choko

Nasi goreng, or fried rice, is a Balinese and Indonesian classic and it can be made with whatever vegetables you have around the house and whatever type of rice suites your fancy. It is flavored with a combination of soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, sesame oil, and the bumbu spice mixture and topped off with slices of fried egg. Although it is not a “wow” dish like some of the others, it is a tasty and quick staple that is easy to make.

Nasi goreng, made with red rice

Dessert was sumping tabu, a steamed banana leaf parcel filled with shredded pumpkin and coconut. We thickened the combination with a little bit of rice flour to help it stick together before wrapping up our banana leaves. The first bite is a pleasant surprise of sweet and salty and it is actually a pretty healthy dessert, in addition to being delicious.

Grated pumpkin, coconut, rice flour and sugar for dessert

Sweet and salty steamed sumping tabu for dessert

A feast for lunch

I really enjoyed the hands-on nature of the classes at Bali Asli and appreciated having a reason to head to the less developed eastern coast of the island. I would definitely recommend making a special trip to this unique cooking school.

Next stop: Malaysia. Very excited to explore another set of cuisines!

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