Lemaklicious

Lemaklicious © Adrian Cheah

Lemaklicious illustrates my passion for good food. "Lemak" is a Malay word that means more than just "fat" or "rich in taste". It can be used in any context, always bring with it a luxurious feeling of creamy and rich indulgence that is equally satisfying and rewarding. Hence, it is most fitting that I fuse "lemak" with "licious" (from delicious) to sum up my love affair with food.

I grew up in Penang, surrounded by a large Peranakan family, so it is no wonder that I became passionate about food. The food we ate was very traditional – delicious Nyonya recipes based on fresh ingredients. Over the years, I recreated the taste of home or other delicious dishes which I have tasted around the world. I came to learn that preparing food is not just about the recipe itself but also its ingredients and awareness for choosing each element to create a dish. Enjoy and indulge!

Ice kacang, Penang's all-time ubiquitous but favourite dessert

ice kacang © Adrian Cheah

Ice kacang, the mother of all Malaysian desserts, is also known as ang tau s'ng (Hokkien for iced red beans) or ABC (ais batu campur in Malay). Although “kacang” means beans in Malay, this jubilant offering contains more than just ice and beans. Brimming in a bowl, the colourful concoction is made of a tower of shaved ice swirled with a mixture of red beans, leong fan (grass jelly or cincau in Malay), creamy sweet corn, chewy tapioca pearls and translucent attap chee (nipa palm fruit), smothered with at least two types of syrup and evaporated milk. You can further top it with a scoop of ice cream (especially durian, making it even more sinful).

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The vibrant and colourful Nyonya kerabu bee hoon

kerabu bee hoon © Adrian Cheah

When it comes to good food, the only one you have to really satisfy is yourself. When it comes to cooking (without deviating too far from the recipe), you can add whatever you like to your dish and omit all the ingredients that do not tickle your taste buds.

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Nangka stuffed with pulut

Mango sticky rice © Adrian Cheah

Mango sticky rice © Adrian Cheah

Mango sticky rice (“kao niew mamuang” in Thai) is among my favourite Thai desserts. The fresh, sweet mango is paired with rich, soft pulut (glutinous rice) smothered with a creamy santan (coconut milk) sauce. Sometimes the dessert is sprinkled with toasted mung beans, adding a little crunchy texture to the delicious treat.

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Tips on making really good Seri Muka

Seri Muka © Adrian Cheah

Seri Muka (literally means "radiant face" in Malay) or Kuih Salat is a dainty sweet cake that consists of two layers. The base is made from glutinous rice which is topped with a green custard layer, scented and coloured with pandan juice. Santan (coconut milk) is a key ingredient as it imparts the “lemak” (rich) taste to the glutinous rice as well as the custard layer.

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Springy Nyonya Kuih Talam

Kuih Talam © Adrian Cheah

Kuih Talam, a classic Nyonya cake, is still popular in Penang today. Its two signature colours are green and white. The sweetened green base layer is perfumed with pandan (screw pine) juice while the top white layer has a "lemak" (rich) indulgence of santan (coconut milk) that is mildly salty. It is dangerously addictive and a slice is never enough. Maybe that is why nowadays, Kuih Talam is cut and packed in two or three pieces. I also notice that the pieces are much smaller than what they used to be when I was growing up.

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Bee Koh Moy, a healthy bowl of goodness

Bee Koh Moy © Adrian Cheah

In Penang, Bee Koh Moy (Hokkien for black glutinous rice porridge, Bubur Pulut Hitam in Malay) is often served topped with fresh coconut milk. The yin-yang-looking combination of mildly sweetened black rice porridge drizzled with a slightly salty creamy white coconut milk sauce is a scrumptious treat. The rich and creamy dish, perfumed with aromatic pandan (screw pine) leaves, can be served warm or chilled. This offering is usually enjoyed for breakfast, at tea time or as a dessert after a meal; it is best savoured in small portions as it is hearty and filling.

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The humble golden kee chang that are extraordinary

kee chang © Adrian Cheah

Preparation for kee chang (alkaline dumplings) starts a week in advance. Picking the jasmine rice grains out from a heap of glutinous rice is time-consuming and requires patience. The laborious task is necessary in order to obtain a translucent finish for the dumplings. If rice grains are present, the kee chang will lose their translucent appeal. I vividly remember sorting through the grains of rice when young, or as Mum would call it, “pilih the pulut”. I failed to understand then why such a tedious undertaking was even necessary since everything would be gobbled up eventually. Mum refused to entertain our rationale and would not compromise on quality. Today, being a "product" of Mum, I too have learnt not to compromise on quality, finding it rather ironic that my daughter would utter the same arguments I once did.

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Learn how to make authentic Nyonya Jiu Hu Char

Jiu Hu Char © Adrian Cheah

“Jiu hu” is Hokkien for “cuttlefish” and “char” means “fry”. Thus, Jiu Hu Char means “fried cuttlefish”. Although the shredded cuttlefish is the star ingredient (providing a potent umami flavour), there is more in that dish than just cuttlefish. The ingredients for this popular Nyonya offering consist of jiu hu si (dried shredded cuttlefish), yambean, carrots, cabbage, pork belly, mushrooms, onions and garlic.

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All things cendol and more

cendol © Adrian Cheah

Cendol/chendul is an iced sweet dessert that contains strands of green jelly served with fresh coconut milk and fragrant gula Melaka (palm sugar) syrup. This humble-looking offering certainly has its irresistible charms. Cendol tastes even better under the sweltering tropical heat. The cool, refreshing concoction is commonly found throughout Penang. Some stalls offer additional toppings such as boiled kidney beans/red beans, pulut (steamed glutinous rice), sweet corn, sago pearls, diced jackfruit, ice cream and even durian.

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A sumptuous dinner at Kaze Japanese Restaurant, Penang

Kaze Japanese Restaurant © Adrian Cheah

Dining out to celebrate Mother's Day on 9 May 2021, the eve of the third Movement Control Order (MCO) in Penang, was more than a chanced opportunity. The MCO was later announced to have been extended to the entire country stretching till 7 June 2021. It has been a while since my family and I visited a restaurant in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. We felt it necessary to be rather safe than sorry. However on Mother's Day, although filled with trepidation, we went to Kaze Japanese Restaurant at Promenade for dinner.

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Lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo)

Lemang © Adrian Cheah

Although lemang is available all year round, it is nonetheless an exceptionally special dish during Hari Raya open house. Although the preparation seems simple enough, cooking lemang requires an open area with plenty of ventilation – which is why people just prefer to buy lemang rather than attempt to make it themselves.

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JiangHu Edo – an exquisite 10-course Japanese fine dining experience in George Town

JiangHu Edo © Adrian Cheah

JiangHu Edo offers a tantalising culinary experience using quality ingredients to accentuate flavours and textures that celebrate fine cuisine. The visual presentation of the courses was a masterful eye-arresting feast. Nothing was left to chance and everything was skilfully curated into an art form.

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The elegance of Japanese cuisine at Miraku

Miraku © Adrian Cheah

One country that truly elevates food to an art form is Japan. When dining at Miraku you would be able to encounter such an art form as soon as you are served, so much so that you are compelled to feast with your eyes first. Here, food preparation is such a delicate craft that it is pursued with passion and executed to perfect artistry.

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How easy it is to make creative sandwiches in Penang!

creative sandwiches © Adrian Cheah

Let us make some creative sandwiches celebrating Penang's diverse culinary culture. Well, there are no rules here except good food between two slices of bread, bun, mantou or even puff pastry. And being in Penang, the choices of fillings available are aplenty.

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Festive Kuih Ee – glutinous rice balls in syrup

Kuih Ee (Thong Yin) © Adrian Cheah

Traditionally, Kuih Ee ("Tong Yuen" in Cantonese) is served on special occasions such as during weddings and the Winter Solstice Festival (between 21-23 December, about a month or so before Chinese New Year). Nowadays, Kuih Ee is available daily in Penang from certain hawkers in the Pulau Tikus and Ayer Itam markets in the morning.

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Emperor Villa's "kochabi" set meals good for lunch or dinner

Emperor Villa © Adrian Cheah

Emperor Villa, a family-run business offering accommodation and dining first opened its doors to the public in September 2019. It took two years to complete the construction of its rustic villas complete with a spacious swimming pool, nestled among nine acres of greenery in the hills of Sungai Ara, Penang.

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Sublime omakase experience at Dozo Penang

Dozo Penang © Adrian Cheah

"Omakase" is the short term used for "omakase shimasu" which means "I will leave it to you (chef)". It gives creative freedom to the chef to conjure up an unforgettable culinary experience. This style of dining is best indulged with an open mind, a willingness to try new experiences, leaving all biases aside.

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Discover legendary handmade mooncakes by Chef Chong Kei

Mooncake © Adrian Cheah

Celebrated by the Chinese on the 15th day of the eighth lunar moon (between late September to October), the Mooncake Festival commemorates the overthrow of the Mongols, when the insurgent leaders, by way of smuggling secret messages in mooncakes, called the people to revolt.

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Le Venue revisited (many times over)

Le Venue © Adrian Cheah

When it comes to good food, Penangites are spoiled for choices, from hawker fare to fine dining cuisine. Having said that, to mark a memorable evening, one would still have to ponder and think of an appropriate venue. Some restaurants have introduced fusion food that does not make sense while others have to implement nouveau cuisine with hardly anything on the plate and everything on the bill. Being prudent with their spending, Penangites would feel disgusted if they leave half full, having to stop at a nearby coffeeshop thereafter for a plate of sar hor fun. I would always assume that such places would not survive the tough clientele on the island, nevertheless although many have fallen, there are those who have managed to thrive. There are also many restaurants that serve mediocre meals that are simply forgettable.

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Jia Siang Cafe, seafood at its freshest

Jia Siang Cafe © Adrian Cheah

Being more than half a century old, I have learned to watch with my own eyes and note down the "gloriousness" that is everywhere around me. As an artist and a photographer, this singular duty of being aware has helped me capture photographs that forge the narrative in my projects and creative endeavours.

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