Tau Suan

Saturday, 27 August 2011



If you know what tau suan is, you probably know that 'tau' ('豆') means beans. What about 'suan'? What does 'suan' mean?

Kiam Chye Ark

Thursday, 25 August 2011

When I was looking at recipes for Itek Teem, I was surprised at the number of ingredients used for the Nyonya soup. Various Peranakan adaptations of Kiam Chye Ark had pig's trotters, assam skin, brandy, nutmeg, and even sea cucumber. These were on top of the kiam chye (pickled mustard greens), ark (duck), pickled plums, and tomatoes found in every recipe, Nyonya or Chinese. It all seemed a bit over-the-top to me, adding so much stuff.

Sayur Lodeh

Monday, 22 August 2011

It was Cook a Pot of Curry Day yesterday because, to cut a long story short, some mainland Chinese with a delicate nose had asked his Singaporean Indian to stop cooking curry. Indignant Singaporeans protested in unison when they heard the story. How dare they tell us not to cook curry! It was a wonderful excuse to tell the mainland Chinese where to shove it, all in the name of protecting the national identity. Before long, Curry Day was organized via Facebook.

There are curries, and there are curries. If it had been a Malay, Nyonya or local Chinese cooking curry next to the mainland Chinese, there probably would have been no dispute. But Indian curries are different when they're not adapted to suit the tastes of the Singaporean Chinese. They have a pungence that's far more powerful than Malay, Nyonya or Chinese-style curries. Chinese Singaporeans call it 'the Indian smell'. For those who don't mince their words, 'smell' may be replaced with 'stink' or 'pong'

Udang Masak Nanas

Saturday, 2 July 2011

It's another Mrs Wee Kim Wee recipe today: udang masak nanas. This is the fourth recipe I've tried from Cooking for the President. It's a classic Nyonya soup made with, as its name says, udang and nanas – or prawns and pineapple for those who don't speak Malay. It's great for whetting the appetite 'cause it's slightly tangy and a wee bit spicy. And prawns are, for me, always a treat.

Udang masak nanas is an easy soup whether you masak as in cook for real, or masak-masak as in play at cooking. Just gather all the ingredients in a pot and simmer away – kid stuff!

My mother made a dish very similar to Udang Masak Nanas but, instead of prawns, she used a small fish called kekek (ponyfish). The president's wife sometimes used the wonderfully tasty fish too. That's not surprising since the basic recipe is quite common and adaptable. You know what's surprising? Mrs Wee made omelettes with pig brains on Sundays as a treat, just like my mother! Her daughter, like me, had to clean the brains with toothpicks. And the two cooks' recipes were practically the same, not that one could vary a Chinese style omelette much.

Sambal Timun

Friday, 17 June 2011

LinkI like Mrs Wee Kim's sambal timun recipe in Cooking for the President. The magic of the Spicy Pork Cucumber Salad is in the dressing – isn't it always, with salads?

Opposites attract, so bland, tasteless timun (cucumber) and spicy, hot sambal (chilli paste) are the proverbial match made in Nyonya heaven. And when the matchmaker is Mrs Wee, you can be assured it's a particularly blissful match.

Besides the usual red chillies and belachan, the ex-First Lady also uses pounded kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced bungah kantan (torch ginger bud) and julienned calamansi lime peel. That's a lot of intense flavours already but there's more.

Steamed Fish Head

Saturday, 28 May 2011

What do char kway tiao, or luak, bak chor mee, and Teochew style steamed fish have in common, apart from being Teochew?

Don't know? What if I remove steamed fish from the list, and add or nee, chai tow kway and yam mooncakes? Is it obvious now?

Ladies and gentlemen, all these Teochew dishes have lard – lots and lots of glorious lard!

Marmite Ribs

Friday, 20 May 2011


I'd intended to buy a jar of Marmite to make Marmite Pork Ribs only after I finished some of the sauces and whatnots (which were threatening to spill out of the kitchen into the living room). But my self-discipline crumbled when I saw what a great sense of humour the makers of Marmite have, as the commercial shows.

Love it or hate it? I'd never had Marmite before, and I couldn't wait to find out. dldl dldld dldl ldl dldld

Herbal Mutton Soup

Thursday, 7 April 2011

My mother cooked just about everyday, and not once did she cook mutton, lamb or goat anything – not once. Hence, my knowledge of cooking anything that goes 'Meh-eh-heh!' or 'Baa-aaa!' is pretty paltry. I learn on the job which is, if you ask me, a fun way of learning.

I cooked some lamb chops once. Said chops were marinated with pineapple juice, fresh rosemary and salt, then pan-fried till medium-rare. The chops were delicious but I had a small problem. You know how lamb chops have bones that are curved? I couldn't brown the curved part which had no contact with the pan. Lamb chops served in restaurants are completely seared though, as far as I can remember. How do they do it? Grilling or roasting wouldn't work because the meat would be overcooked by the time the bit which curves inward is brown. The only way I can think of is with a blow torch! Or maybe frying with lots of oil, like almost deep-frying?

Steamed Garlic Pork Ribs

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Let's see . . . I've done pork ribs with orange, coffee, red yeast wine dregs, fermented black beans, teriyaki sauce, and pickled plums. That's quite a lot already but here's one more: Steamed Garlic Pork Ribs. Yup, tonnes and tonnes of garlic; heaps of garlic; garlic galore!

Compared to the other recipes, steamed garlic pork ribs is really simple, using garlic as its flavouring agent.

Hmm, a bit too simple, perhaps?

Nope, don't worry. As Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Don't underestimate the plant that sprouted from Satan's left foot as he was evicted by his landlord.

Steamed Pork Ribs with Pickled Plums

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Ribs again, after the last post on coffee pork ribs? Well, that's all I have in the fridge.

The last time I shopped was more than a week ago, before Chinese New Year. I tried to stock up last Sunday but there wasn't anything fresh at all. The market and supermart were all clearing their leftovers from before the holidays. I'm guessing they'd be clearing their old stocks till this weekend, so I'm following suit. No one's fobbing off stale stuff on me!

After feasting on "heaty" goodies like steamboat and bak kwa, it's time to rebalance the body by eating more "cooling" stuff like fruits and vegetables. And for meat devotees who must eat an animal part or two everyday, pork ribs steamed with pickled plums is a good option. According to traditional Chinese medicine principles, frying or roasting meat makes it "heaty" but steaming doesn't. And it's even better if the steamed meat is paired with pickled plums, which is a strong "cooling agent".

Steamed Prawns with Garlic

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Prawns make me happy. Nope, it's not because I'm a glutton, which I am. Nor is it because I love prawns, which I do. It's because prawns are chock-a-block full of vitamin B12, iron, tryptophan, vitamin D, protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which are all essential for keeping depression at bay. There's a physiological connection between food and mood . . . .  Hey, no wonder diets make me miserable!

What about the cholesterol? Prawns are full of nutrients but they're packed with cholesterol too. Three medium size prawns, 100 g or so, have about as much cholesterol as an egg yolk. Prawns are bad for you, right?

Tonnes of people believe they should limit the amount of cholesterol they eat, or face an early death from a heart attack or stroke. Everyone knows that, from doctors to the media, nutritionists, your friends, your mother, your dog, and your dog's fleas which suck only low cholesterol blood . . . . Everyone? Not quite. There's a small group of cholesterol skeptics who point out that:

Brain Food – For the Brave

Monday, 22 November 2010

Pig brains used to be a popular food for Chinese. The practice has died out more or less, but I thought it would be nice to have a record of how traditional Double-Boiled Pig Brain Soup is made. And also Pig Brain Omelette, which is the photo on the left. Doesn't look too bad, does it? The other photos, however, are a bit gruesome, to be honest. So, if you're squeamish, you should not read this post. Did you get that? Repeat:

GO AWAY IF YOU'RE SQUEAMISH!

This post is for those who are brave, or those who have a bit of Hannibal in them. If you think you're one of them, please continue reading. Or come back later if you just ate.

Soya Sauce Chicken – With Rose Essence Wine

Monday, 1 November 2010

Shucks, I just realized something.

I should have garnished the chicken with rose petals instead of spring onions since it was made with rose essence wine, 玫瑰露酒.

Well, it's too late now 'cause the chicken is all eaten up.  

Dang! Should have thought of it earlier . . . .

OK, please put your imagination cap on and imagine succulent soya sauce chicken with rose essence wine on a bed of rose petals . . . pink, of course . . . .

Authentic Cantonese 豉油鸡 must have 玫瑰露酒. Otherwise, it just doesn't have the floral fragrance that comes from the roses in the wine.

Lemon Tarts

Sunday, 10 October 2010

When life gives you lemons, make lemon tarts. They're much better than lemonade! And if you don't have free lemons from life, go buy some. Lemon tarts are worth it!

I gave one of my lemon tarts to a friend once. As I watched him eat, waiting for some compliments, he said, 'It's sour.' I was quite happy, thinking that he liked it, then I realized he meant the opposite. Duh? I'm proud of my lemon tarts precisely because they're sour . . . or rather tart, which sounds much nicer. There's about half a lemon in each small tart!

Poached Spinach with Salted and Century Eggs

Saturday, 2 October 2010

There're a couple of vegetables I refer to as Chinese spinach, and yin choi (苋菜) is one of them. I think the proper name is Amaranth or, more specifically, Amaranthus dubius. But please don't take my word for it 'cause I'm not very good with plant names. I just eat them . . . the plants, not the names. Oh yes, eating is my forte!

I love yin choi because the texture is smooth when I cook it with minimal oil, unlike other dark green veggies which can be gritty. It goes very well with dried anchovies, and yin choi in dried anchovy stock – with maybe some fishballs or pork meatballs – makes a quick, delicious soup. Or it can be stir fried with dried anchovies that have been fried till crispy. That's also quite nice.

When I'm tired of pairing yin choi with dried anchovies, I use a mix of century and salted eggs. And the veggies are poached, a nice change from soups and stir fries. I love the dish 'cause it's fresh tasting and there's hardly any oil. I first had it in Chinese restaurants and after ordering it several times, I decided to hack the recipe. I thought it should be an easy dish to make at home, and I was right. It's just poaching a few leaves. How difficult can that be? Sometimes, I use yin choi; other times, I use kow kei (枸杞, aka boxthorn and matrimony vine) like the restaurant version. Nothing to it at all.

Have I stopped ordering poached spinach in restaurants after poaching the recipe? Nope, 'cause I really like the dish. Besides, we should always eat lots of veggies whether we're eating in or out, right?

Recent posts:
Buddha's
Delight (罗汉
斋, 什菜)
Spicy Poached
Pears
Durian with
Sticky Rice
Roasted Cauliflower

Pork Maw Soup

Sunday, 26 September 2010



There're two schools of thought when it comes to cleaning the pig's stomach. You could use an acidic cleaning agent, such as lemon, lime, vinegar or even coke. This is the quicker and easier method, and one that my mother always sniffed at because the acid is usually too strong. It removes not only the yucky smell but also the good, making the maw rather tasteless. She always used the physical method which is somewhat like a . . . sort of facial, with exfoliation and a peel-off mask!

Durian Seeds, Anyone?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

PhotobucketWhilst browsing David Lebovitz's blog, I chanced on his comment that he had eaten durian seeds before. He didn't say whether the durian seeds were good though, not that I would trust him even if he had. I mean, what would an ang moh know about durians? According to him, durians – the pulp or, if you want to be technical, the aril – taste like "a ripe, almost rotting coconut". See? Told you!

Durians don't taste anything like coconuts, rotting, green or whatever. All durian experts – like me, ahem! – know that durians taste like . . . well, durians. Nothing else in the world that comes close.

I totally respect David's expertise in cakes and such. He used to be a pastry chef after all. But when it comes to durians, step aside, David!

Durian with Sticky Rice

Sunday, 5 September 2010

PhotobucketIf I were a durian, I would hide in a corner and cry my eyes out. All those hurtful comments! The king of fruits may be revered in Asia but elsewhere, it has been compared to public lavatories, human pee, bat pee, sulphur compounds, gas from a thousand asses, French kissing dead grandmothers, rotting cats, rotting onions, rotting fish, rotting pineapples in sewers, rotting flesh in custard, dirty socks, turpentine . . . .

Did I miss anything?

Oh yes, rotten eggs, clogged drains, garbage, cow dung and pig dung. Maybe that's why durians have a thick, spiky husk? To protect themselves from the cruel world?

Pork Belly Braised with Red Fermented Beancurd

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

If you like strong flavours, you'd like the Hakka way of cooking pork belly.

The fatty cut is marinated with red fermented beancurd and Shaoxing wine, deep-fried, then braised in the marinade along with fried ginger, shallots and ginger and wood ear fungus.

Don't forget to cook more rice when you make this Hakka dish!

Five-Spice Beancurd Skin – Best Ever Tau Kee

Thursday, 29 July 2010

'Go for it! It's free!' the HR manager said.

The word 'free' reverberated through my head. If I were a cartoon figure, my eyes would have popped out. The HR manager was giving me the ultimatum for the medical check-up under company expense: use it or lose it, by year-end. So I used it, the first ever medical exam in my life.

I did the check-up towards the end of the year, when I was home for the festive season whilst working overseas. Inbetween the endless rounds of eating, drinking and shopping, I managed to find time to see my doctor. The various tests took half a day or so, and I just gritted my teeth and went through all of them. Except the one which involved the doctor wearing gloves. Eww! No, thank you!

On Christmas eve, I woke up just before noon – exhausted from the eating, drinking, shopping plus jet lag – to find five missed calls from my doctor. I called the clinic and caught the doctor's assistant just before she went home for Christmas. 'There are shadows in your lung x-rays!' She sounded panic-stricken, which I thought was quite strange. Wasn't she used to delivering bad news since she was working in a clinic? Please don't scare me!

When I saw my doctor after Christmas, she calmly but gravely told me I had to consult a specialist. So I trotted off to the specialist she picked, who sent me trotting off to do a CT-scan. With the scan in hand on New Year's Eve, he said, 'You have only one kidney.'

Huh? What? I wasn't expecting anything wrong with my kidneys! 'What do you mean I have only one kidney? Where's the other one? You mean it's shrunken?' Obviously, 'one kidney' meant one kidney rather than one normal plus one shrunken kidney but I was, you know, in a state of shock, jet lagged and hung over from Christmas.

The doctor confirmed that 'one' meant one, then moved on to the more important stuff. The kidney I was born without was just a by-the-way digression. What worried him were the lungs, which had three possible diagnoses: sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, and lymphoma.

He explained that sarcoidosis, an infection of the lungs which usually had no symptoms and required no treatment, was unlikely because it mostly affected darker skinned people like Indians and Africans. He also ruled out tuberculosis.

I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach. 'How do you know it's not TB?' I asked after taking a deep breath.

'Experience. It doesn't look like TB,' said the expert in cardiothoracic stuff, who was also an associate professor. Of the three lovely possibilities, he reckoned I had lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes.

Lymphoma – gulp! Wasn't that what Lee Hsien Loong had? CANCER?! Oh sh¡t! Sh¡t!! Sh¡t!!!

The next step was to confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy. So I trotted off to the appointments counter, which told me the first working day in the new year was available. Wow, 2 January! The whole thing was hurtling along way too fast! Between Christmas and New Year, I saw my GP, did a CT scan, got the results, consulted a specialist, who said he was damn sure I had cancer . . . . Followed by a biopsy on 2 January, the eve of my birthday? Do I really want to do a biopsy the day before my birthday? Well, it was either that, my birthday or 7 January.

'Ok, I'll take 2 January.' I wanted to know, asap. It was good I took the first date available because after I walked out of the hospital, my entire world ground to a halt. I was in a daze whilst I waited for the surgeon's knife. I went to all the year-end get-togethers but they were meaningless. It would have been easier if I had told everyone I was having a biopsy after the holidays but I didn't want to spoil the party mood.

On 2 January, I checked into the hospital for my first ever surgery, all by my little self. Just before I passed out in the operating theatre, the surgeon popped round and said, 'Happy New Year!' Great sense of humour, eh? What could be happier than starting the new year with an operation? And if anything happened to me on the operating table, at least I was in the hands of a surgeon who was funny!

After the surgery, I was crying as I came out of the anaesthesia. It was a funny feeling, crying before I was fully conscious. I didn't even know that was possible. I guess I was more scared than I was willing to admit. The rest of the day was spent resting, begging the nurse for a cream cracker, and rehearsing how I was going to drop the bombshell on everyone. I fell asleep that night practising 'I have cancer/lymphoma!' in various tones, from downcast to upbeat, matter-of-fact, businesslike and various combinations of these possibilities. I thought 50% upbeat, 40% matter-of-fact and 10% downcast was a good, realistic balance.

The morning after – D-day! I got up bright and early to wait for the doctor, who came around half past seven. As he flipped through some papers which presumably contained the biopsy results, I almost stopped breathing. Out of the three possible diagnoses, he said, I had – drumroll please! – sarcoidosis! Phew! I was gunning for the consolation prize, TB, but I got the jackpot instead! I wish it was more dramatic but that was it. After all the hand wringing, it was over in two seconds. I didn't have cancer. I had an infection in the lungs which, if I hadn't gone for a medical check-up because it was free, would have been undetected.

Needless to say, after the emotional 10-day roller-coaster ride, I had the mother of all birthday celebrations. After that, I went on a massive shopping spree and maxed out two credit cards, the first and only time ever. I had a great time looking for necklaces to cover the surgery scar between my collar bones. I still have the necklaces but the scar is barely visible now, even when I look for it.

A couple of years after the cancer fiasco, I asked the specialist for a medical report because I was buying medical insurance. He sent me something that roughly said, 'Blah blah blah sarcoidosis was suspected, and confirmed after a biopsy.' What the hell! There was no mention at all of lymphoma, and the torment he had put me through! I know the details were irrelevant for the purpose of the report but still!

And where did the dish of beancurd skin or tau kee come in? That was what the hospital served for lunch while I waited for the check-out. It was the best meal in my whole life, bar none!

One last thing: Mom, Dad, if you're somehow reading this from up there (or down there, whatever the case might be) . . . .

YOU LEFT OUT ONE KIDNEY! HOW COULD YOU?!