Reminiscence of Ah Ma’s Chinese Cooking

Pusiva had tag me on this Meme called ‘10 things I missed about mum’s cooking’. Yes, many people do have fond memories of their mother’s cooking. Everybody has their favourite dish, only achievable by their mum. As for me, yes I do remember vaguely of few times that my mother cooked for us, but if you ask me to name my childhood memories of missed home cooked food, I would have to talk about my Ah Ma’s (grandmother) cooking. She used to cook everyday when I was young, and I have many memories of her simple yet delicious cooking. As she is less fanciful, she usually cook most of the same simple Chinese home cook food, which we simply adore and would not trade it even for the best Chinese cuisines out there.

I remember days when I was in the morning school (we in Malaysia had two sessions of school in a day, depending on which year you are in), I would rush back in the afternoon waiting to see what is on the table. Then there are years when I was in the afternoon school, where I usually had to go to school earlier than lunch, thus I had to endure the time when I come back for dinner to eat the leftovers, usually listening to my sister (who always happens to be of the opposite school time) bragging about the finished favourite dish.

When I was near my teens, my Ah Ma’s children all chided her from cooking, as they want her to enjoy her life and relax. Thus begin the years that I had to cater for food (really bad food memories, but which should be the beginning of my interest in own cooking) and only occasional treats from my Ah Ma’s cooking. From then, we missed her cooking so much, once a while we would beg her to satisfy some of our cravings. As for now, let me list down the top 10 food (pictures here are my cooking for illustration only) that I missed dearly, though there are many more, I have to say my favourites are:

Chinese Fried Rice
Chinese Fried Rice

Chow Fan (Fried Rice)
Ah Ma’s chow fan is the best. Ok, this may seem like a cliché but it is true, for me at least. She can do the meanest ‘white’ chow fan, with no dark soy sauce, big succulent prawns (her secret) and sometimes chopped long beans, chicken or pork and that’s about it. Real simple but good eats definitely. I had yet to achieve her white chow fan level, usually succumbing to the dark ones as it is easier to flavour them. My Ah Ma’s chow fan is good to eat just on its own (though my sister and cousin like to eat with lots of tomato sauce) and I can never ever get enough of it. Sigh, I miss it so much. Before this, long time ago, she used to add in frozen mixed vegetables (green peas, cubed carrots and corns), which I would pick out one by one when I eat it. Frozen stuffs are just not good, the peas are too tough, the carrots are tasteless and the corns just don’t belong there). Then one day she knew about it and fried a separate chow fan for me without those, and oh boy, was I touched. She loves me, doesn’t she? Then finally she evolved to leave it out completely, which become to now her ultimate chow fan!

Chow Mang Kuang (Stir-fried yam bean)
My Ah Ma chow (stir-fry) the meanest mang kuang. The mang kuang will be sliced uniformly with mandolin then stack up neatly to slice into sticks. Her secret is that all the mang kuang is of about the same length and thickness so that it will cook together thoroughly. The same thing goes with the carrots, though she would put less of it. The carrots lend to more complex texture, colour and taste of course. Superb! She chow it with some minced pork, small prawns and lots of garlics! Yummy!

Chinese ABC Soup
Chinese ABC Soup

ABC tong (ABC soup)
Of course I love ALL of my Ah Ma’s cheng tong (clear soup). As a Cantonese, she boils soup frequently. Her usual soups are lou wong kwa (old cucumber), lotus roots with peanuts and yok choy kai (herbal chicken). All these soups deserve an individual post themselves, but oh well, when I cook it next time, I’ll talk about it. But if I had to choose between the soups, I would have the ABC soup. Why? Well, my Ah Ma just do this one best, her secret is the crushed peppercorns that she added in with the carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, big onions and of course pork ribs. She just know how much to add of each ingredient bringing in the right blend of the perfect soup. It serves well for cold and rainy days and also for the sick. But to me, it serves best whichever day or weather or condition.

Zhao Har (Prawn fritters)
Ah Ma had somehow perfected the method of zhao har (fry prawns). She uses the right mixes of flour, with enough seasoning (pepper and I forgot what else) and then the right amount of water and eggs to dilute it to the right consistency. She told me the process once long time ago but I forgot (shame on me)! Anyway, she would then dip the huge prawns into the mixes, holding by the tail, and submerged it into the hot oil. She said no overcrowding, the oil must be hot, and to lower the prawns slowly to avoid the dough spreading (and of course oil splattering). Thinking bout it makes my mouth water. Soon there would be big prawn fritters, with the crust all puff up leaving the prawns inside soft and succulent. When you bite into it, it tastes like heaven!

Fan Shu Chu Yok (Dark sauce Potato and pork)
This one is my personal favourite. Whenever my Ah Ma cooks this, half of it is usually finished by me alone. It was never enough for me. Even after I finished my rice, I would sit there and keep poking at more potato and more pork and devour it. I had to pull myself away from the table, telling myself to leave some for others. Ha-ha. Yes, it is that good. I craved for it a lot when I first came down to study. Ah Ma’s secrets are, first the potatoes must be sliced thinly and uniformly (her personal skills), then it is shallow fried in batches to perfection, crispy on the outside but still soft and crumbly inside. Then she would sliced the pork (she uses the loins) thinly and then marinate it first with soy sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Then she would stir fry it with the potatoes. Now though I had learn to make it, I can never achieve the same results (maybe I was too lazy to slice all the potatoes uniformly and fry it batch by batch diligently) and usually now, I would use the shorter way, just parboiling the potatoes and then chop it up and make my own fan shu chu yok. I kid myself it is healthier, thus less tasty than Ah Ma’s.

Hong Tau Sui @ Red Bean Dessert
Hong Tau Sui @ Red Bean Dessert

Hong Tao Sui (Red Bean Soup)
Why would I miss my Ah Ma’s hong tao sui? Well hers is usually different from the outside (not to say better, but different), as she would not boil all the beans to mush, usually leaving them with enough crunch and resulting in a clearer soup. Then she would add in dried mandarin oranges skins (her secret, she always have one doesn’t she) which would lend a citrusy taste to the else usual hong tao sui. Every time after Chinese New Year, I would see her diligently put the orange skins out to sun for few days in a row (yes she makes her own dried mandarin orange skins), usually keeping an eye for the rain (which is superbly frequent and unpredictable in Malaysia weather, worst yet, Taiping, which is well known for the name raintown). Then when the time is right (which means the skins are ready for use) and her mood is right, she would make us her ‘different’ hong tao sui.

Chow Pao Choy (Stir-fried cabbage)
This is one of the simplest dish that Ah Ma can make it so good that it tops any other complicated dish out there. This one might not have a secret. Ah Ma just chow (stir-fry) the sliced cabbages with lots of garlics. Maybe she can chow to the right softness yet still with crunch and enough taste but not too overpowering. I do not know why, but when she cooks this, I can’t stop eating it. Somehow, the outside ones does not taste as good, and I absolutely do not like those chow with har mai (dried prawns), which I felt it takes away the simple goodness of the dish.

Baked beans with cubed potato, cubed onions and minced pork
This one must be my Ah Ma’s creation. She came up with it one day and we all got hooked onto it, thus it became a household favourite. She would cube the potatoes and onions into tiny 1cm cubes, all of the same size (again, I do not know where she gets her skills and patients to do this). Then she would stir fry the pork with garlic then add in the cubes and in the end, pour in baked beans (from the can, yes semi-can food but I swear it is superb). It results in a dish only found in my Ah Ma’s house, which is absolutely delish!

Fu Kua Tan (Bittergourd Eggs)
Ah Ma cooks her fu kua tan, by first soak the bittergourd in water, then squeeze out water and then repeat process with new water for a few times to remove bitterness. After bout 3 times, she would then slice it thinly (and I mean really thin) and of about the same size (need I say more?). Then she would fry it briefly, and then add in beaten eggs to hold all of it together. The result is a really thin fu kua tan that are soft and eggy plus bitter and crunchy at the same time. This dish actually came later in my Ah Ma’s culinary years. Someone introduced it to her and from then on she made it all the time. At first, as a kid, I absolutely hate it. I do not like the bitter taste of the gourd. I would usually pick out the eggs from the side and middle or wherever and leave out the gourds. Though the eggs are already ‘stained’ with some bitterness, I still eat it anyway. Then, soon I got lazier and sometimes some gourd sneaked into my picked eggs, I still eat it anyway. Then soon, by some evolution theory, I got addicted to it and start eating it the way it is, with lots of bittergourds held together by the eggs. This is how I learnt to eat my bittergourds, which now I absolutely love, no matter how it is cooked.

Honey chicken
My Ah Ma cooks lovely honey chicken in her huge orange non-stick pot-pan. With this she would cook the chicken parts into perfection, after marinating it with dark soy sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce and so forth, and then add in the honey by taste. It would result in a honey chicken that is not too sweet, with distinct honey taste and enough soy sauce salty. I hope I’m making sense here. Besides, the chicken would be soft and juicy while soaking in a thick deglazed honey soy sauce.

So there goes my favourite list of my Ah Ma’s cooking. As for me, where have I been lately and why have I not been charging my culinary skills in my kitchen as I had promised? Well this is because I had just shifted! Oh yes, I’m in my new house now, and of course new kitchen! I am so excited to show you all but right now it is just all boxes lying around. The plus point of this kitchen is the extra extension at the back of the house which can be made into my wet kitchen! My dream came true. Besides that, I went around my neighbourhood and found that there is a whole day market nearby that caters to every need of a home cook enthusiast, that’s me! With that I have no more excuses for not cooking more often! Stay tune then for more of my culinary adventures.

What Blogging Did to Me

It made my day!

I was just going through the “blogs that link here” (you can see it at the bottom of this page on the right) through technorati, yes I am vain and want to see who links me up, and found that I had been linked up by FoodFreak, all the way from German, on his Meme. He had include me in along with a few Asian blogs on the question of a food blog located far from him. Quoted from him was:

“Tham Jiak – a fellow cooking enthusiast in Malaysia, I love to read about his/her Asian food experiences.”

I am so happy that there are people out there who enjoyed my humble writing on food and my experiences.

I have just notice the lacking in my project of “exploring my origins” and of course not to mention all the foodblogging events that I had missed out. I am keeping track (note the top of the side bar) of them but time just seem to slip by for a struggling soon-to-graduate student like me. If you all have notice, I have also added the part of “Weekly Drools” at the side bar, indicating recipes that had picked my interest which I might, just might try out and are good reads.

Food blogs had in many ways changed my perception on food; there are so many new things to learn everyday, so many real people out there that are passionate about the same thing as me, food. After lurking around many wonderful food blogs for months, bookmarking them, trying the recipes and get obsessed over reading them, I finally created my own food blog, a far cry from the bests I know, but yet, just a humble attempt to also share my passion, my thoughts and my experiences. By blogging, I had then begun making good food, experimenting, braving myself to try various recipes, and of course enjoying it. Then there are the snapping of food pictures like they are my precious that are going away too fast (into my tummy) and then writing about it which then leads to the nicest part, that is getting the feedback from the readers. Yes, you all are what blogging is all about.

So stay tune alright to my blog, and do keep coming back. I promise to cook more, eat more and blog more on, what else, FOOD!

Soup Pot on Charcoal Stove
Soup Pot on Charcoal Stove

Late Meme: You Are What You Eat

I had been late on this meme from Kalyn (bowing my head in shame), although I had been tagged since early this month. I am really sorry Kalyn, it just had been a busy month with Christmas and new year approaching. I had written it long time ago but have yet to complete it. I will update this post when I finally get the rest of the pictures together, which was the main source of this late post.

Now on to my top 10 favourite food:

Chocolate
Every woman’s secret vice. Chocolate is known as the food for Gods since ancient times and it is not a wonder why. Chocolate is one of my comfort food that bound to help most of the time. Whenever I’m down, chocolate is needed to lift me up and when I’m happy, chocolate is needed to share the joy. So, basically I need chocolate all the time. Naughty me! For me, the darker the chocolate, with richer cocoa taste the better! I eat chocolate anything, from plain chocolate to chocolate cookies to chocolate cakes to hot cocoa to anything! I just have yet to try mole, chocolate with meat, which one day I must!

Cheese
Need I elaborate more on this milky goodness? Yes I do. I had mentioned that it had been J’s weakness; well I must admit it does have quite an effect on me too. I love it in both sweets and savouries. I bow to cheesecakes; I love a thick carbonara anytime and whatever cheesy, you name it.

Milk
I would need a glass every morning (or the time I wake up) to start my day. I had been having it since my pre-school days up till now. Nothing beats fresh milk and now for me, fat-free milk.

Egg

Chinese Fried Egg with Long Beans
Chinese Fried Egg with Long Beans

It is the most versatile food I have ever known. If you’re lazy, just fry it and you will have a sunny side up. Or just whisk it around and fry it plain or with anything else that you want. One of my favourite ways is fry it with long beans. Not too sweet and with the right crunch compare to the eggy texture. You must try it if you get your hands on long beans, and I’m sure you have eggs at hand! Besides, eggs are the base for most delicious desserts isn’t it?

Vegetables
Oh, I do eat my greens. When I was young, I refuse to have anything green into my mouth but not anymore. I learn to love my veggies since quite sometime ago. Not only nutritious but it is actually really delectable. Cooking each veggies the right way would make it interesting. But somehow, I love the way we Chinese like to cook it; stir-fry it with some garlic, dashes of soy sauce and chicken/vegetable stock if you’re lucky or water if you’re not. Rest assured, it is one of the best way to enjoy your veggies!

Soup

Chinese ABC Soup
Chinese ABC Soup

Ah, one of our Chinese secrets! As I had mentioned, our Chinese soups are blends of the most natural tastes of the ingredients meld together into something really wonderful. One of my comfort food I might say. When I was young, I love to drown my rice in soup and then eat it with dishes; in fact it can even be a complete meal itself. It was Ah Ma that had brought the love of soup to me, and now I must pass it on! Do try out our various soups and indulge in the wonderful flavours.

Sushi

Sushi
Sushi

My housemates and I simply adore sushi! When we had the opportunity to eat out, we would pretend discussing where to eat but in the end, we would end up in a sushi bar. In Malaysia, it is either Genki Sushi or Sushi King for us. These are sushi cheap-eats for us but then again, who are we to complain. It still soothes our cravings for some raw salmon and some sweet rice.

‘Bun’ (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli)

‘Bun’ (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli)
‘Bun’ (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli)

It is not the usual buns but rather it is actually rice vermicelli. Bun is served cold with fresh vegetables, juicy meat and ‘cha gio’ (springrolls). I would always hop over to Vietnam Kitchen (One U) for my fix of bun when I’m looking for a wholesome and fulfilling meal. To know more about what bun is all about, hop over at Fine Cooking.

Mexican

Mexican Food @ Chili's
Mexican Food @ Chili's

I love Mexican food for its complex blends of spices and tastes. I loved chillis (which I did for my birthday, will share it one day), tortillas, egg rolls (simply adore these), fajitas, quesadillas and tacos with salsa! Now I am craving for some!

Seafood

Fresh Seafood!
Fresh Seafood!

Oh how can I leave out this wonderful food? When there are spreads of seafood around, I go week at my knees. This is no exaggeration! I absolutely adore crabs and shrimps. Then there are the fishes, plain ol’ fishes plus much much more ranging from mussels to squids to clams to oysters. What an indulgence.

For the Love of Food

My first food blog! I am so excited. I had been a serial lurker since beginning this year on various food blogs from all over the world and even locally from Malaysia. I had hold back a long time in food blogging due to the fact of the need of constant updates and of course, trying and sharing new recipes and reviews diligently.

I love to cook and love to write. What more is needed for me to convert into a foodblogger. But of course, photography is also a part of this. All I need is a decent camera. For due time, I had to make do with my PDA camera.

Please do continue to come back for more of my reviews on Malaysian food and also my trial and errors on cooking and baking.