Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kerabu, or Penang-style nonya salad

It has been some time since I featured a recipe on this blog, and thought it was time to revisit this theme with a post on kerabu. It is always interesting to see how people react when they see kerabu.  Many are not too familiar with Penang Nonya dishes as there are quite a few differences between Penang nonya food and the Malacca/Singapore variety. 

Kerabu is a nonya salad, it is very much influenced by Thai cuisine with its combination of sweet, sour, spicy favours all wrapped up in a good dose of umami.  There are many different types of kerabu - jellyfish, fungus, cucumber/pineapple, tau gay, etc.  For some reason or other, my family favourite seems to be kerabu made of kacang botol (or winged bean, or four-angled bean). More recently I tried making kerabu out of tunghoon (mung bean vermicelli).  Here's a quick recipe for both.

Dressing - Ingredients

The dressing for kerabu is always the same - sambal belacan, or chillis and toasted belacan (a dry shrimp paste) pounded together.  You can either make your own (adjusting for spiciness) or just buy a bottle from a reputable producer.  Roughly, the proportion is:

4-5 red chillis
1 tbsp of toasted belacan

Add salt, sugar and lime juice to taste (for kerabu, since it is a dressing, probably about 4-5 limes minimum).

Variation: If you don't have sambal belacan handy and are too lazy to make it, you can also try slicing up some red chillis and adding some Thai fish sauce to the dressing

Salad base
For kerabu kacang botol, ingredients would include :

Wingbeans/kacang botol (typically about 1 packet for 4 pax) - blanch in boiling water so that they retain that crispy texture, cut thinly (I like it  about half a centimetre), on a slant.
4-5 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dried prawn (haebee) -  soaked, pounded
1 tbsp toasted grated coconut (kerisik) - purists would include it, but it is a pain to toast the coconut so I would call it optional.

When the ingredients are ready, toss together in the dressing.

For kerabu tunghoon,  

100g dried tunghoon - soak in warm water and it will expand
300g prawns (shell, devein, cook quickly in boiling water or microwave them)
2 shredded carrots
8-10 shallots, thinly sliced
100g taugay or beansprouts
1/2 cucumber (shredded, pulp removed)
3 stalks lemon grass (thinly sliced)

Toss together in dressing, garnish with mint leaves or coriander leaves. Can also add other things, like the kerisik, as well.


Note: the kacang botol kerabu is our own home recipe, whilst the tunghoon kerabu is adapted from a recipe for kerabu beehoon found in Nonya flavours: A complete guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine.  Many other yummy kerabu recipes there!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

That Small Town Feeling

Originally uploaded by Taking5
One thing which struck me about Malacca was that the folks were friendly, in the sense that they sort of take an interest in you and your activities.

People want to know where you are going for dinner and like making food recommendations. Our hotelier started telling us where we should eat and one day as we were leaving the building for dinner, asked us where we were off to. Certainly in a big hotel you won't get this. It is not busy-bodyness but a genuine interest in what you are doing.  The jeweller we visited also asked the same questions. He recommended a small out-of-the-way restaurant and even offered to make a reservation for us. It was an attractive offer - when you make your reservation (a few hours in advance) you place your order. I liked that as it implies that the food is really genuine, the rempah prepared by hand just for you. But I didn't fancy his advice that we would need to tell the taxi to come back for us. Memories of the last time I was in Malacca came back to me, when we went to the Portuguese settlement for dinner not knowing that it would be half deserted and that we would need to get the restaurant owner to drive us back to our hotel. Which brings me back to my main point, that people in Malacca are friendly and helpful. (We did tip the restaurant owner for the taxi ride though).

We found that the shopkeepers were generally friendly. This picture was taken in a shop off Heeren Street, which was serving as an artist's (Stanley Ho's) studio-cum-gallery. The long low building suited him admirably, with the bright courtyards providing light for his painting.  He invited us to take more photos. 

We also visited two shops which made/sold beaded shoes, or kasut manek. One was just opposite our hotel and was run by a man, his wife and her sister. The two ladies sewed the beaded tops and he was the shoemaker who made the shoes. One sister showed us around the place. Once upon a time, their whole family had lived there. Today, the place is half in ruins, as it is too difficult to keep up and they live in the few rooms nearer the front of the house (which is the shop). But she was happy to tell us about her life there and show us her completed shoe tops. I was wondering about getting a pair made but then, it would be necessary to come back in a month or so to pick up the shoes. But would that be so terrible a thing to do? Hmmm....


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