Hokkien Prawn Mee Recipe @ The Tale of Two Mothers

Hokkien Mee / Prawn Mee / Har Mee / Xia Mian / Hae Mee

Yes being of so many names (due to dialects), and not to be confused with the black stir-fried Hokkien thick noodles, it is actually a prawn noodle soup. Up north in Malaysia, Taiping included, we normally called it Hokkien Mee, so imagine my confusion when I moved down south to KL initially. From then on I have started to identify it as Har Mee (in Cantonese dialect that is widely use in KL), and so will this post for consistency.

The soup is a broth made of prawn shells broth that is boiled with pork ribs. Later on prior to serving, the soup will be added with belachan chili paste, which is an important ingredient to make it truly Malaysian. Though this dish may have originated from the Fujian province in China, the Hokkiens in Malaysia must have tweaked it with our famous belachan to make it more complex and intense in flavour. It is normally served with yellow noodles and/or mee hoon / bee hoon (rice vermicelli), and served with various condiments like fried pork lard (a personal must even though there are various health concerns about it, validated or not), taugeh (bean sprouts), kangkung (spinach), sliced tauhu (tofu) and of course prawns.

Tale of two mothers
Due to my mother’s lack of culinary inclination, the kitchen in my Taiping house have not seen much fire activities except the occasional boiling of eggs or cooking rice or quite scarily cooking instant noodles. Thus since a kid, I have the luxury to go out often and explore the street food and hawker stalls of Taiping. In fact my mother is not one who is tham jiak (I wonder where I get mine from, must be the Hokkien blood in me, my mother is Hakka by the way) but one who prefers familiarity and comfort. Therefore she would always go back for familiar Malaysian food. One of the food that she kept revisiting on our Saturday lunch rituals (she goes to work on weekdays so Saturday lunch is quite a precious mother-daughter thing), was the Har Mee in Tai Chien, Taiping. Sadly though the stall is no longer there as the proprietor had retired and there was no one to take his place, which unfortunately have also been the fate of most of the good food in Taiping.

My other mother, which is my nanny who had taken care of me in the first five years of my life, was totally different. Not only does she have a flair in culinary, she was also as tham jiak as me. We can see the similarity between us where she would seek out to try various food popping up in Taiping while she also loves to cook and bake at home. Besides, she have this good quality, which sadly I do not possess, was the determination to keep making something until it is right, so most of her signature dishes are to die for. She has her family and friends vouching for her, but most importantly, her husband who sing praises of it.

“You should ask Lai Ma to make Har Mee for you, hers is the best! You should definitely learn from her before its lost”

“Lai Ma, let’s make Har Mee, I want to learn”, I chirped.

Lai Ma rolled her eyes “There’s no ingredients…it’s troublesome….” and she continues with whatever grumbles she can come up with, as she knows, as much as I know, as much as also my Lai Pa knows, is that my Lai Pa himself wants to eat it. Of course I am sure his intention of me learning the trades are definitely there, but being tham jiak himself, he is obviously hankering for it. Despite my Lai Ma’s various excuses, she would next day wake up early to go marketing and even prepare all the necessary ingredients before calling me up, “You come over now, we are going to make Har Mee”, which is of no surprise to me and also much to my delight to be able to learn and eat it of course.

Ah, this is the power of love, and one that has been around for a long time. One hints, one understands, one gives excuses, one pretends and in the end both happy. One happy for the labour of love from the wife, another because her husband appreciates her labour of love.

Har Mee from a Taiping stall:
Taiping Har Mee have the flavour that is very similar to the Penang hokkien prawn mee but minus the char siew slices. I must say the Har Mee that I had in KL had always paled in comparison, so do try out Har Mee if you are up north in Malaysia. Else you can try to make one as below!

Malaysia Hokkien Prawn Mee
Hokkien Prawn Mee

Har Mee from a Taiping kitchen:
The difference of the Har Mee coming out from your own kitchen is the quality of ingredients that went into it. Here you will see big prawns and big chunks of pork ribs. Besides you can choose to have which ingredient more (or less) according to your palate. Just try not to be as tham jiak as me where it was overflowing with ‘lius’ (ingredients) till even the noodles were hidden. Then again, forget what I just said and liberally pile on your favourite stuffs!

The soup
1 big pot of prawn shells
800g to 1kg pork ribs
rock sugar
salt

Dry fry the prawn shells till fragrant
Then boil them in water to extract the flavours
Strain the liquid and discard the shells
Add extra water and then put in the pork ribs
Boil for about 2 hours or till meat is soft
Add rock sugar and salt to taste

Crispy lard and fried onions
Roughly a bowl of pork lard, chopped to small even cubes and then marinate with some salt
Big handful of small onions, sliced thinly

Add about 1/2 cup oil (depending how much pork lard) to wok and heat up
Deep fry pork lard till brown, pork lard will yield more oil in the end
(Lai Ma’s tip: normal oil is mixed with the pork lard so that it would not congeal after cool)
Scoop out the fried pork lard to a bowl, leaving bout 1/2 cup fat in the wok
Then fry the sliced onions in the fat
When almost brown, lower the fire and add a tablespoon of sugar to mix
(Another Lai Ma’s tip: sugar is added for the secrecy to crispy fried onions)
Scoop out to drain and then cool. Once cool keep in a bottle to keep it crispy

Chili paste and prawns
Blend belachan, onion, dry chili and fry till dry
1/2 cup small prawns, shell removed
3tbsp oils

Heat oil and fry 3 tbsp of the blended paste
Scoop out the paste leaving bout 2tsp behind
Fry it with the prawns till cook
Set aside both paste and prawns

Noodles and other toppings
1 bunch of Kangkung
Yellow mee
Bee hoon, pre-soaked till soft
1/2 cup big prawns

Bring water to boil
Blanch the kangkung, then remove
Then blanch the yellow mee
Then blanch the bihun mee
Finally right before serving, blanch the big prawns

To serve
Pile the noodles into the bowl
Pour the soup over the noodles till just covered and then pour it back into the pot (this is the secret to most noodle soups for the flavour to first coat the noodles)
Pour in the soup again with some pork ribs if desire
Top with the chili paste and little prawns
Then pile on remaining toppings as per preference

****

I am sending this story and delicious Malaysian dish hailed from Taiping to Babe in City KL‘s Merdeka Open House 2011 – Makan Through Malaysia. The first time that I joined was her first open house 5 years ago (how time flies!) with my Chiffon Cake recipe and story. Thank you babe for choosing one of my ideas for the theme again and I can’t wait for the rest of the virtual roundup for delicious food from all over Malaysia!

Update: Get all the juicy roundup here.

Hainanese Pork Chop : Newember

N is for November. N is for new.

How apt. Cause November is when I need to start anew. A good friend hybrid this name for me when I wrote that November = new, and then told me I should so write a post on it, which I totally agree. This would be the month of renewal for me, the month where I put back the scattered train coaches back onto the tracks. The rail is still going, the journey have not ended. The destination is important but after all, it is the journey that counts.

New is a very positive word. New signifies birth, like a new born child crying when it got to this world in shock and then marvel at all the sights, sounds and smells around him. From then on a child will grow with curiosity where everything is like anew, everything is exciting, everything seem like a big opportunity for exploration. When was the last time you see things from the eyes of a child?

November – autumn, fall, rainy and cooling, depending on where you are in this world. The old would have to go before the new can come in. November had always been a quiet month for me, it is neither the end yet, no that’s for December, but yet it is definitely neither the beginning of the last quarter of the year. It is normally the month where people take the last opportunity to mellow a little, slack a little and wait for the holidays to come. It is just like how in autumn the trees shed the leaves; here human will shed their burdens. As for me, I am throwing in spring for this autumn. I would shed the leaves and grow new flowers. Flowers bring joy.

Life is a long road of journey, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers.

****

There was a period of time when I had to take care of my dad after his heart operation and I must say cooking for him at that time is definitely mind-boggling. There are many food restrictions, some medically so and some motherly so. Yes my mother in all her Chinese ways manage to come up with lots of things that a person recovering from operation should not consume, never mind that I insist on a scientific explanation, her because-I-say-so shoots every logic into oblivion.

So armed with limited choices, and after rounds of cooking the usual home cooked Chinese food, I was thinking to cook something new, something that I totally pick out of the air for him. Yes new is the theme we are talking about here. Somehow, with whatever I can forage in my sister’s kitchen and what I had bought beforehand, I manage to whip up a Hainanese inspired pork chop.

I must say though this recipe is the typical example of Chinese cooking, it’s a little bit of this, a dash of that, a sprinkle of those and many, many finger dipping tasting into the hot sauce to come up with the right taste, so all the best if you are to attempt this and may you whip up a pork chop ala your own. So do read the following recipe as a gauge on how you may approach this and you go from there. Let your creative taste buds take charge!

Pork Chop ala Rokh

Ingredients
2-3 pork shoulder in slices
1 big onion
3-4 cloves of garlics

Sauce mix
Lots of splashes of soy sauce
Dash of sesame oil
Few dashes of rice wine
2-3 tbsps of tomato sauce
Mix water to taste

Punch the pork shoulder till soft and tender
Marinade with salt, pepper and mixed spice
Cut big yellow onion and few cloves of garlic into slices
Then mix for the sauce: Soy sauce and rice vinegar (few big splashes), sesame oil (few small splash) and tomato sauce (about 2 tbsps) and water add to taste
Pour in some olive oil and then pan fry the pork chop till no longer pink on both sides. Set aside
Using the same pan, throw in the sliced onions and cook till caramelize, add some olive oil if needed. (Do make sure it is nicely browned and caramelized as this would make or break the dish, google for some instructions if you’re unsure)
Next throw in the sliced garlic and stir fry some more till the aroma fills your nose
Then pour in the sauce mix and bring to boil, at same time start dipping, tasting and add on stuff if needed
Turn off the fire and pour the sauce over the cooked pork chop and voila!

****

Yes I know that newember have come and gone, but why is this post only up in January? Let’s just say in my time of recuperating and time of renewal, I kept this post aside as quite a sacred thought to myself. Now that I have been renewed, I find it liberating to post it up. Do not let my idea of renewal be constraint to November, as I believe many of us takes January for this wonderful ritual. We all need it once in a while, so what’s your renewal for 2011?

How to Stir Fry Chinese Potato and Pork

Chinese Potato and Pork
Chinese Potato and Pork

I have many times told stories on my grandmothershave I not? What about my grandfathers? Sadly I do not have much time with them as they both passed on when I was less than 5 years old. But anyhow, when it comes to food, especially in our Asian culture, it is almost mostly about our grandmothers. It would be them toiling away in the kitchen day in day out just to feed the family and as well as their dear husbands.

It had been a long time since I last join a food event, but this time it got me out of my cold storage box again, just because the theme really got me at my heart. This event is about, quoting african vanielje, celebrations of mothers and grandmothers and time spent with them in the kitchen, in dedication to Jeni’s mother. Apples and Thymes, it seems like the perfect name for the theme today, though I cannot explain why.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you would have read bout my stories about my Ah Ma (grandmother) in so many occasions. For Ah Ma, the ever diligent wife, mother and grandmother, the always seeking of self improvement, the only bind now to our big family tree, the reason we all should appreciate and celebrate life and the ties to our roots back to China itself. I bet these reasons are truly strong enough for a celebration, a big one at date. So let’s toast to my Ah Ma and all the mothers and grandmothers in the world. You all somehow make this world a better place.

Looking back, it seems that I did not spend enough time with my Ah ma in my earlier days. What a shame, I certainly could have learned a lot. It was not until I went to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, to study and now to work, that I learn what I have all these while been taking for granted – real food laboured with real love. Maybe it is also our Asian way of life, where kids are not allowed to play in the kitchen; too dangerous, too troublesome, going to cut self with knife, breakables would be broken, edibles made inedible and the list would go on. That is how then, this little Chinese kid got left out of her Ah Ma’s kitchen, much to her lament.

But I remember the festivals, the time where we (kids) just might have the reason, or rather the chance to help out in the kitchen. I remember once, during Tanglung (Lantern) festival, I don’t know why this event was etched firmly in my memory where I can picture it vividly in my mind, where my sister and I walked into the kitchen where there were hundreds of mini Tong Yuens (glutinuous rice dumplings balls) in plethora of pinks, whites, greens and yellows in a huge metal tray. Ah Ma’s version of Tong Yuen is more of the north Malaysia style, small and plain with no fillings. My sister and I would eagerly help to shape the balls. I still remember Ah Ma saying, “Aiya, not like that, one big one small. Aiya, not round enough, let me show you”. She then will show her spectacular skill of rolling Tong Yuen into a round ball at the right size at amazing speed, due to years of making of thousands of them. Although she would try her best to advise us, we end up with Tong Yuens of various sizes and some oval, some round, some flat. In the end, she would still smile, praise us for our help and then throw it all in boil and then add into the prepared sweet ginger soup. I found a video here at Malaysia Best, where there are two little boys helping out with making Tong Yuen.

Anyhow, after I went to the big world out there, I do also always try to return to my little hometown, where every time I would bombard my Ah Ma with various questions on how she make this or that dish. Just like every cook, especially the ones who enjoy it, she would go into a long and detail description from picking of the right vegetables to the right cut of meat, then to right preparations and the many seasonings up to the right way of cooking and down to the right time itself. I would sit there fixated, nodding occasionally and try to absorb everything. Sometimes when the list got too long, I might whip out my PDA or a paper to note things down. When I got home again, I would try to replicate some of dishes that I learned, mostly a success as Chinese cooking when once you understand its basics and have spent years in eating them, you can easily make it, but mostly it is never up to par to Ah Ma. Maybe in the future, after years of practice, I might make it as good as her.

Although there were many of her dishes that I loved, there was one dish that I hold really dearly to my heart personally. This one dish that I always beg her to make is ho lan shu chu yok (stir fry potato and pork in dark soy sauce). Whenever she cooks this dish is I would be eating and eating it way after I finish off my rice. I would have to pry myself from the table in risk of finishing it before anyone else can have the chance to eat it. Then, after a while off, I would then pester her again, “Ah Ma, when are you going to cook potato chu yok (this mixed term was coined since I was really young) again?”. She would then just smile and ask if I am ever bored at it, which I would shook my head vigorously. Even after long gone from home and back again, I once again request for this comfort dish of mine. I am so excited when we finally cook it together in her kitchen; after all I am not a kid anymore right, where I would be more of a help than a nuisance, then again, arming with camera in hand, I do seem worst off, but a food blogger got to do, what she got to do – shoot!

There would be no recipe this time, as I was busy shooting the video which I use to submit to a contest (which I did not win), so I did not note down the details of the recipe. I would not want to put in estimations here of it, as I want this perfect dish to be replicated successfully in another grandmother or mother’s kitchen, to serve a really happy kid, so I would put it up once I have it. Anyway, I hope you had enjoyed this short video of mine, if you have watched carefully, you might have catch a glimpse of my Ah Ma 🙂

Ratatouille : One-nine-eight-four: Ra-ta-too-ee

Have I tell you about 1984? Oh I have, many times it seems. How have we been? I would say we have our ups and downs, our disparities and commonness, but still till now we are as we are, always 1984. I’m sure you readers now have your hair standing, ha-ha.

1984 is the year we are all born in. It is the year of the Golden Rat, for the Chinese. All of us actually got together during our teens, when somehow we find commonness among ourselves. As my grandmother taught me long time ago when I was just a little kid, “birds of a feather, flock together”; I did not know then that this quote would apply to me personally as well as anywhere in this world (read the news and you know what I’m talking about) so well. But after we graduated from high school, we all started to grow different feathers, inevitably moving towards very different directions. Out of sentiments I guess, up till now, we are all still trying our very best to keep in touch, maybe once a while flock together.

I had just deleted a paragraph that I wrote about us, our timelines and so forth. Why? I feel that it would bore you readers with too much detail. Then I remembered a story I written quite long ago, at the time when we were in the midst of nearly breaking apart, to metaphorically describe 1984’s and my journey thus far:

The One Behind

Walking down the road, she turned and stared at the distant. She shields her eyes from the glaring sun. She squinted to see it. She knew that it is there. After some time, her eyes adjusted, and she can see the beautiful house, seemingly shining among the sky. Her eyes watered from the strained, yet she continues to stare. Giving a final look, she turned and went on her way.

The road in front of her would be long. It would be certainly different from the comfort life in the house. But she knew she had to move on. She had to walk this path, in order to fulfill her destiny. It is inevitably part of her life’s scheme. But yet she knew the life she once had in the house will always be in her heart.

As she moved along the road, her perspective of it seemed to change. When she left the house, the road seems narrow, rocky and steep. It seemed really hard to tread it. Yet now as days go by, the road seems bigger, wider, leveled and smoother. Her feet, once dragging on had begun to start walking. As she walked on, it started to skip along. The road now seems very enjoyable.

As she was walking down the road, the house is still in sight right behind her. It is always there for if ever once, she stumbled and fell, and she can always turn back and see that support is there, just within reach. Once a while, she did tripped and she did fumbled on the rocks on the road. And every time, with knees and hands on the floor she would look back and be reassured by the sight of the house and then with renewed strength, she would once again stand up and resumed her walk.

As days goes by, she learnt to skip the rocks, she learn to look for holes and she learn to tread with care. She had found walking the road so much easier. Along the way, she found more things to do, other sights to behold, flowers to be picked, sceneries to be enjoyed and wonderful breeze to revel in. Thus, she was so caught up with all these pleasures in walking down the road, the house seemed like a distant fading picture.

But soon she realizes something is missing. She enjoyed the sights. She loved the smell of the flowers. She stood in awe of the sceneries and she got swept away by the cooling breeze. Yet she knows she would not be here enjoying all these if it wasn’t for the house. So she stopped in her tracks; and once again turn back to look at the house, this time not for assurance, but just because.

She smiled, as the house still stood looming there, shining before the bright sky. This time, the sun did not even seem to bother her. With the image in her mind, etched deep in her memories, she returns to continue down her path. This time, there is even more spring in her steps.

Alright, now this post is getting a little heavy for a food blog. I thank you for your patience if you are still reading, so let’s move on to the food! Recently, one 1984 had a housewarming, and we decided to have steamboat along with a side dish (definitely my idea), which I volunteered to cook up ratatouille for them. Why ratatouille? Besides the fact that this dish had just won the hearts of many in the famed movie featuring the tham jiak Remy, it is also the fact that the movie had at one point of the show that I felt most compelling is the part where the once tried Remy’s ratatouille, the cynic Anton Ego was snapped right back to his childhood where he came home to a dish of ratatouille lovingly prepared by his mum. That scene got right to my heart. This is how the best food should be appreciated. This is how I had tried very hard to describe my Ah Ma’s cooking long time ago. This is how no matter where we go, how far we traveledhow many food we taste, it is always back to the basics, the most simple and humble dish churn out lovingly by someone especially for you. So this is why I chose ratatouille, to churn out this dish with my heart for my fellow 1984s, after such a long time that we finally reconcile in a home, so that when many years down the road, if they ever taste one nice (let’s just assume mine is good now) ratatouille, they would be snapped back right to that night where all of us sat together at the table laughing and eating good food.

Ratatouille Recipe
Ratatouille

Ratatouille (ra-ta-too-ee)

Adapted from Flavours (Sept-Oct 07 Issue)

Since I was privileged as a cook, I had my friend to do the grocery shopping for me. I had sent them the needed ingredients prior to this. Imagine, halfway between their shopping they called me up and ask me what the heck is zucchini? I laughed and told them to skip it then if they can’t find it. They also asked where to get rosemary (I was thinking of the vacuum-packed fresh ones), I tried to explain where to get it in Tesco but finally they end up buying me bottled dried rosemary. Then besides, they overlook the ingredient of canned tomato puree which is essential to this recipe. Oh well, I have to make do with what I have and improvise.

Therefore I ration some of the fresh tomatoes out and made my own tomato puree. I found that do not need to simmer for 1 hour (as per original recipe) as I see that everything is well cooked and the eggplant is starting to turn black and soft. Maybe because I altered the amount of tomato puree, I’m not sure why though. So use your own judgment when you cook it. The recipes also states that it will develop taste overnight but we can’t wait eh, we are having party! It tastes great nevertheless, with convictions from my friends.

2 long purple eggplant
salt for sprinkling
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, cut into cubes
1 red capsicum, seeded and cubed
1 green capsicum, seeded and cubed
3 cloves garlic, chopped

150g tomatoes, peeled and cubed
1-2 tbsp dried rosemary
sugar to taste
salt

handful of black olives, seeded and chopped

Tomato puree:
50g tomatoes chopped finely
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
3 tbsp of tomato sauce
Mixed herbs

Preparation:
Split the eggplant lengthwise and sprinkle with salt to draw out bitterness. Set aside for 30 minutes, drain and cut into 2cm cubes
Prepare the rest of the ingredients as per above
For the tomato puree:
Sauté the tomatoes till soft, adding in salt and sugar to taste.
Smash the tomatoes while cooking it.
Then add in tomato sauce and sprinkle liberally with mixed herbs
Cooked till semi-dry and remove from pan then set aside
For ratatouille:
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed or cast iron pan. Add the eggplant and cook until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan, cook the onion (add more oil if necessary) until translucent. Add the red and green capsicums and cook until tender; add garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomato and tomato puree. Cook for 1 minute.
Sprinkle in the dried rosemary liberally as well. Then add in the olives.
Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
Season to taste with sugar and salt, but I find it unnecessary since my home-made tomato puree is already very well seasoned.

Serve immediately to a table of 10 hungry girls