Sunday, June 29, 2008

Babi Pongteh says Welcome Home

It’s funny what you miss when you’re out of Singapore. We all miss food, but somehow what I miss is green vegetables. There’s no kangkong or kailan in France, where I was for two weeks last month. French cooking relies heavily on seasonal foods, and obviously they never believed in growing the green leafy vegetables which we here in Singapore take for granted.

So when I got back to Singapore, I had a good time eating green leafy vegetables. But I was especially pleased when my mother whipped up a pot of Babi Pongteh for me. Babi Pongteh is made of a cut of pork called twee bak, the pork shoulder. It has a generous amount of pork fat laced through it which makes it really tender and juicy. But the distinguishing feature of Babi Pongteh is that the pork is cooked with taucheo, or preserved soya beans, with sugar, cloves and cinnamon. The gravy is absolutely delicious. I can eat any amount of rice so long as I can spoon the gravy over it.

Babi Pongteh is a standard recipe in most nonya cookbooks, as long as it is not a Penang cookbook. It is definitely more a Malacca/Singapore nonya dish, but I love it anyway. My mother uses a simplified version of the recipe in “A Singapore Family Cookbook”, by Violet Oon. Here is her recipe:


600g twee bak, cut into chunks
150g sliced bamboo shoots
15 or so dried Chinese mushrooms - soak and cut into half.
1 tablespoon of taucheo
8 cloves of garlic
5 shallots
2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 cups water
2 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon

  1. Pound the garlic and shallots, stir fry till fragrant.
  2. Add the taucheo, fry till fragrant.
  3. Add the pork and cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the bamboo shoots and mushrooms, cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Add the soy sauce, water, sugar, cloves and cinnamon.
  6. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 2 hours till the gravy is thick. Alternatively, pressure cook for 20 minutes or so (add more water if needed, and reduce after pressure cooking).
  7. Garnish with green chillis (cut chillis into 2-3 pieces).
Serve with sambal belacan and rice. And sambal kangkong. :-)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day at PeraMakan

Well, it's been a year and Father's Day has swung around again. So I asked my father where he'd like to go. I suggested a few places and met with pretty lukewarm responses. Then I mentioned PeraMakan (where we went to on his birthday) and the response was immediate. "That's quite good", he said.

So we arrived at PeraMakan (again) for lunch, and ordered their beef rendang, sambal lady's fingers, otak-otak, ikan kuah nanas (lemak) and the Father's Day special, nasi ulam. Of course we had to take care not to eat too much of the main courses or else there would be no place left for their yummy desserts.

All too soon it was over. PeraMakan's quality control is high and all the dishes come out just right. It was a bonus getting the nasi ulam, as this dish is not commonly found in peranakan restaurants. I do recall however that the Princess Terrace buffet also includes nasi ulam. Other than that, the only one which regularly put nasi ulam on the menu was the now-defunct Yuen restaurant on Upper East Coast Road. Even there it was available only on Fridays. The reason why this is so is probably because this dish is very labour intensive to make, with the many herbs which must be located and chopped up really small in order to make the dish.

There are also many different recipes for nasi ulam, with each family having its own combination of herbs. It is really a good opportunity to get to know and use more Asian herbs. Tasting PeraMakan's version of nasi ulam, the main flavours which came to mind were the laksa leaves (daun kesom), lime leaves, and the bunga kantan (ginger flower). The cooked rice is mixed with fried fish, hae bee (dried shrimp), toasted grated coconut, finely cut long beans, belacan, and the herb mixture. PeraMakan tops it off with some shredded omelette and prawns but that is purely optional. It is eaten cold and I like eating it with sambal belacan on the side (Yuen's version, if I recall correctly, had a little more belacan flavour).

u n a m i actually has posted a recipe for nasi ulam from "Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine" - with photos of the herbs used. I was pleased to see that I correctly identified three of the main herbs, but there were so many more - lemongrass, basil, mint, cekur leaves (type of ginger), kadok (wild pepper) and tumeric leaves. I have found two other recipes, one from "Cooking with Asian Leaves" by Devagi Sanmugam and Christopher Tan (does this name sound familiar?). In their recipe, there are slightly fewer types of herbs but the key ones - daun kesom, lime leaf are there. Plus some green chilies for extra kick! The other is in Sylvia Tan's cookbook, "Mad About Food" where she confesses to using a food processor to cut up and blend the herbs. She too has a slightly different herb mixture and her focus is different - she emphasises the lime leaf whilst others emphasise the laksa leaf.
So the idea, I suppose, is to experiment a little when making your own nasi ulam. Maybe I too will give it a try.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

First Episode of Sayang Sayang

Well, last night I caught the first episode of Mediacorp's new series, Sayang Sayang. Must admit that I was not too impressed, but am willing to give it more time to develop.

I was a little late (about 5 minutes). But that must have been enough for me to miss the vital family relationships which underly the rest of the episode. Took me some time to subsequently work these out. The storyline is also a little too improbable for a tv series - the grandfather's will requires his grandson to marry before 30 or he loses his inheritance, which then goes to a daughter? Grandson proposes to total stranger who is complete opposite of what his mother wants as a result? Strange. But let's give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

In terms of the performance, I thought Tan Kheng Hwa showed promise. She gave the most memorable moment of the episode when defending her decision to fire a pregnant woman from the workplace. But the potential daughter in law was just clownish. And her henpecked husband had more implausible lines like not remembering he had a son (?!). Certainly, the scriptwriting has some way to go.

Well, who knows. It could be one of those shows which improves with time.


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