Saturday, 3 October 2015

A Week of Cooking and Eating Malaysia

One phrase comes to mind when I think of the rich curries, hearty noodles and fragrant soups we made this week, comfort food. This food is a long way from the flaming hot curries of Thailand, the fresh herbs of Vietnam or the smack you in the face spicy Sri Lankan food we recently cooked up. This stands alone, a cuisine that takes all the glorious Asian flavours of Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Coconut, Belachan, Tamarind, Galangal and old favourites like garlic and ginger and harmoniously blends them so not one taste alone assaults your senses, they are all equal. This harmonious meeting of flavours creates food that just makes you happy. It is like coming home to a warm bed on a frigid night or curling up in front of the warm fire, Malaysian food envelops you in warm comforting arms.

Our house has been immersed in Malaysian cuisine for an entire week. Cooking one cuisine night after night is a great way to really get to know a country and it's flavours and after a week of Malaysian cooking I feel so much closer to a culture I have not actually experienced first hand.

In choosing our menu for the week I had to be organised. There would be no popping into the supermarket mid week to pick up this or that because quite frankly the local supermarket does not stock a vast majority of the ingredients required for Malaysian cooking. This would mean a trip to China Town where obscure ingredients adorn the shelves and adventurous western cooks like me can only wonder at all the unusual jars, boxes, fruit and veg.

The diligent little planner and cook I am I sat down with all of my cookbooks that had a section on Malaysia. I went through each and every recipe to select a range of meals that would let us experience a wide range of techniques and tastes. There was one concession to authenticity I had to make. I understand Malaysian food is more often eaten in a shared banquet style with a number of dishes and sambals to choose from. With just the two of us in our household it was just not conducive to the budget to cook more than one dish per meal so we did eat in a more western style with one larger dish to share. Here was our weeks menu:

Billy Law's Laksa Lemak from Have You Eaten (below image)

Charmaine Soloman's Chicken Curry with Toasted Coconut from the Complete Asian Cookbook (below image)

Rita Zahara's Serunding Daging from the book Malay Heritage Cooking

Poh Ling Yeow's Cubic Char Kway Teow from the book Poh's Kitchen (below images)

A combined dish of Charmaine Soloman's Beef Satay Skewers and Billy Law's  Belachan Kankong from the above mentioned books

And lastly Beef Rendang from the new cookbook East by Leanne Kitchen & Antony Suvalko

The thought behind my choices was that I wanted to try my hand at some of my favourite Malaysian dishes like Char Kway Teow but I also wanted to try some dishes entirely foreign to me like the Serunding Daging.

Whilst utilising many of the same ingredients (which is convenient from a shopping perspective) each dish was very distinct and stood out in it's own right. There are things I would go back and change I felt the Laksa was a little heavy on Belachan (my fault not the recipe, I did not weigh that accurately and did not quite predict the consequences of that decision). The cubic noodles came out a little stodgy and I would re-do that recipe with store bought rice noodles and unfortunately we missed the last bunch of water spinach at the Asian Grocery store for the Belachan Kangkong so that recipe ended up on the chopping block (no pun intended).

Technique wise Malaysian cooking bought some new skills to my repertoire. It was my first attempt at home made noodles and whilst I was not entirely happy with the results it still gives me a grounding and a place to work from. The Char Kway Teow also gave me the experience of being a street stall vendor. The recipe advised to cook each serve individually to achieve the correct smoky flavour. So I divided all the ingredients into three piles and once that wok was going I was like a ninja. Ingredients were hitting that wok like nobody's business and I can tell you it was worth while. Each serve was hot, fresh and smoky. There was no time for anything to overcook or go soggy. It was a little tricky to sit down to a family meal when I was churning out individual serves but what the hell it was fun.

I think the photos of these dishes speak for themselves. Malaysian food is vibrant, packed full of flavour and has me all the more intrigued to Malaysia to try the real deal. I can highly recommend all books I used in the creation of these dishes and particularly loved working for the first time with Charmaine Solomans absolute classic from 1976. This chick is the original Asian cookery legend  you can still find many of her books in print today but if you can get your hands on an original then you will get the deluxe time travel experience to the days of burnt orange and brown crockery.

If you want some "straight from the horses mouth" recipes then you can't go past Poh or Billy both Australians with Malaysian heritage. Poh's cooking has a Nonya slant to it due to her roots and both offer a strong insight into the food and culture of Malaysia. Both books mentioned above are a mix of their Malaysian recipes and other cuisines which I think is a shame. They both have the knowledge to offer a stand alone Malaysian cookbook I don't think it should be watered down with a mish mash of recipes from all over the place.

Rita Zahara's book Malay Heritage Cooking I actually got for free at Singapore airport. Gotta love Singapore airlines for their free transit money! This is the most comprehensive Malaysian cookbook you are likely to find and combines traditional recipes with photos and stories from the authors childhood.

East is a cookbook I have not yet invested in. I have access to it through my Cooked membership. If you are a keen home cook I can highly recommend joining Cooked for access to hundreds of new cookbooks for a flat yearly fee.

There are so many places you can source great Malasyian recipes, just get out there and get cooking. Here is a comprehensive collection on the SBS food website to get you started. You won't regret connecting with this exciting culture.
Originally posted on Saturday, 3 October 2015 by


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