For holidays in 2012, we went to Melbourne to the home of pastry chef Janet. When Janet was on holiday in Penang, she told her husband, I am going to relax and enjoy my holiday but I would love to have a cooking lunch with Pearly.
Her awesome husband made her wish come through. While I cooked, she watched and ask loads of question, how to, why not and what is the freshest and so on.
I think she must have been impressed with all my answers that at the end of the lessons, she told me. Come to my home on your next holidays and my friends will go all ga ga over you.
I never turned down an awesome time to meet great new friends. And my time spent cooking and demo were full of great memories. Even after 2 years, I am smiling thinking of that day, when Janet open the door and said, you finally made it.
But here are Jackie words. I served Roti Jala (Lacy pancake) with Curry chicken with potatoes, Sambal Goreng (prawns in cashew nuts sauce), Hong Bak (pork with sand ginger and nutmeg stew) and Bee Koe Moy. It was a successful night.
A Malaysian Cooking Class by Pearly Kee
It’s 7pm on Tuesday night and foodie group are all equipped for a culinary night in. I have never been to Malaysia but love Malaysian food and the prospect of learning some insider secrets from a local guru is enticing. I think it’s the mix of cultural diversity and its rich ethnic influences that make Malaysian food so special. It is redolent of India with its spices and coconut milk, of China with it fresh and crisp wok tossed dishes, and of Thailand with its lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.
Our food traditions and culture say much about who we are and the cultures that are steeped in food history offer us engaging insights into ancient beliefs and practices. A short but colourful encounter with Pearly Kee is an example. Pearly, a fifth generation Nyonya, shares her culinary wisdom and heritage in a warm and engaging way. Pearly is a natural teacher. One of our members, the beautiful Janet, herself a talented chef, had been to one of Pearly’s classes in Penang and loved the class so much that she extended an offer to Pearly to run a class for her the next time she was in Melbourne.
So our education in Nyonya cooking begins….We gather around a counter laden with ingredients – some of which are familiar – pork belly, lemongrass, coconut cream, chillies, cinnamon sticks…..and some exotic – dried longans, screwpine, chukur, belachan….The Penang Nyonya flavours are a colourful combination of Chinese and Malay and recipes have a long history, being handed down from generation to generation. And all with a story to tell. We start with Sambal Goreng, a heavenly prawn dish featuring one of the most important ingredients in Malay cooking – belachan or shrimp paste or, as Pearly calls it, ‘butter of the sea’. It’s smelly, it’s salty and, to those unused to it, rather revolting. But when cooked with lemongrass, tamarind, cashew nuts and coconut cream and served with deep fried shallots, red capsicum and market fresh prawns – wow!
We move on to Hong Bak or, according to Pearly, ‘Prestige Dish’. This is braised pork belly, cooked in the ground spice of coriander, chukur (sand ginger), white peppercorn and nutmeg with shallots, garlic and bean paste, it becomes soft, buttery and delicious. Simply served with steamed rice this is true comfort food for the Malay!
My favourite of the night is the Roti Jala with Chicken Curry. There is nothing better than a spicy curry to ward off the winter blues but I love it all year round and this one is a gem. Traditional methods are thrown out the window in favour of a food processor and Pearly makes the curry paste in minutes. It is an interesting combination of a wet and dry paste with all the usual flavours – chillies, lemongrass, onion, garlic, turmeric, coriander, cumin…..Cutting the onions Pearly tells us that you are very loyal to your parents if you cry! As a girl, pounding pastes in a mortar and pestle, she says that she would be hit on the head if she wasn’t doing it right. “Who will marry you if you can’t do this properly?’ she would be told. I love these stories and traditions around food. One day I will write a book about them!
The secret to the curry paste is to cook it really well and it can easily be preserved for later by cooking it off for at least half an hour and pouring into sterilised jars. Chicken and potatoes and coconut cream are added to the pan, resulting in a rich, creamy and divine curry. This is served with roti jala. Now we are all familiar with roti but the roti jala is a lacy pancake like bread. It is made from flour, eggs, oil and coconut milk and the batter poured into the hot pan through special cup which has perforations in the bottom. The end result is a beautiful lacy pancake which is perfect to mop up the hot juices of the curry. Wonderful!
We finish with a dessert that so completely complements the rest of the meal. Bee Koh Moy – a delicious black rice porridge made with glutinous rice and dried lychees with a topping of coconut cream. It looks so much like dark, melted chocolate that it is a surprise when you put the spoon in your mouth. Instead of that creamy richness of chocolate you get a mouthful of sticky, subtle sweetness.
In Penang when Bee Koh Moy is served it means that you are giving your family good things and saying “May all your wishes come true and may you be successful”. What a way to finish a meal! As Pearly says “Cook with love and eat with gratitude”. Well, Pearly certainly cooked with love and I don’t think we were short on gratitude that night!