A memorable 9-course vegetarian dinner at Happy Realm
Being a food paradise, Penang offers many avenues for full-fledged vegetarians to obtain scrumptious meals. From Indian vegetarian restaurants to Chinese outlets, there is a wider range of food available. During the Jade Emperor Festival (first to the ninth of the ninth month of the lunar calendar), more stalls mushroom all over Penang selling vegetarian delights from rice dishes to stir-fried noodles and from Chinese cakes to Italian pizzas. Furthermore with the creation of faux meats, some dishes are unbelievably "uncanny".
Auntie Jo's delightful jelly mooncakes
Taishi cakes, the predecessor of mooncakes, were present during the Shang Dynasty (c.1600-1046 BC) and Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). For a long time in history, mooncakes have been created as an offering during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Although traditional baked mooncakes have been around for thousands of years, this symbolic mooncake making tradition has not stopped evolving.
The versatile French toast that is easy to make
When my seven siblings and I were young, my late Dad would cook up a storm for breakfast, having many hungry mouths to feed. French toast was one of his popular breakfast dishes.
Ice kacang, Penang's all-time ubiquitous but favourite dessert
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).
The vibrant and colourful Nyonya kerabu bee hoon
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.
Nangka stuffed with pulut
Steaming pulut is easy. All you have to do is rinse and soak the pulut overnight. The following day, drain and steam the pulut with santan and pandan leaves. Enjoying pulut with nangka (a local term for jackfruit), mango or durian is truly delicious.
Tips on making really good Seri Muka
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.
Springy Nyonya Kuih Talam
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.
Bee Koh Moy, a healthy bowl of goodness
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.
The humble golden kee chang that are extraordinary
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.