Why authentic food is not so authentic abroad
Posted 6-9 2015
In an earlier post which you can find here:https://dailyhomecookingh.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/char-kuay-teow-fried-flat-rice-noodles/ I spoke about Malaysian street food, this makes it obvious that either I am obsessed with Malaysian food or I live in that country. Well the latter has the truth; I live in Malaysia, for two decades and a bit now and have seen quite a bit of traditional food over the years
Local food hotel style, via my endeavors as a chef, local street food on my spare time off work and local food in publications and TV shows.
People say about the country where I am born (which is not Malaysia) that we are an outspoken lot, which is great, because it gives me a valid excuse to be so as well.
Local Malaysian food is great, whether you get it from roadside stalls, in restaurants or in hotels, one way or the other it tastes great. It is sweet, spicy, and full of aromatic flavors from the spices used. Millions around here are so proud of local food that they cannot stop to express the laureate they think Malaysian food deserves.
If there would be a Nobel Prize for street food, Malaysia would be a serious contender, seriously!
One of those traditional dishes is Rendang, a dish that Malaysians are so proud of that you cannot see Malaysian food featured in any form of media without it.
What is rendang?
The name rendang is somewhat confusing for starters, often referred to as being a curry, which it is in a way, it doesn’t taste like a curry. Rendang is both a verb and a noun, the method of cooking means ‘cook until dry’, while rendang is also the name of the dish.
Malay curries are cooked with coconut cream, coconut milk and curry paste unlike many Indian curries. Rendang has coconut cream, but no curry paste and looks much like Indian masala or vindaloo dishes, a few reasons why rendang is a special dish.
Rendang starts off like a curry and is further cooked until most of the water has evaporated and the oil has separated. It can be cooked to the stage that it is still wet or cooked further until it is completely dry and the oil is absorbed. The level of moisture depends on individual preference and the chef’s intend. Do they want to serve it early or keep it for later? The drier the rendang is, the better its ability to store the dish. Very dry rendang is also referred to as Rendang Tok.
Social and cultural significance
Rendang is about the most important dish associated with celebrations and festivities in the Malay culture. It never fails to make an appearance at weddings and religious celebrations. Every wedding must have a rendang dish and so does the end of the Muslim vasting month when rendang with sticky rice cooked in bamboo over open fire (Lemang) is common. Ketupat, another sticky rice dish cooked in special woven pouch of coconut palm leaves is also a close friend of rendang.
The end of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca is celebrated with the offering of goats,cows and buffaloes. The meat is distributed to attendees who use tender cuts of the slaughtered animals to grill and the tougher cuts are turned into rendang, a long stewing process, which goes for cooking of all the parts if you ask me. Breading cattle and aging meat after slaughter is alien territory in Malaysia and all local beef needs a long stewing process to make it edible. That for my native outspokenness!
Rendang is cooked in large quantities in large woks during celebrations and is therefore ideal to feed the masses that show up during open houses to celebrate weddings and religious festivities.
Cooking rendang is quite simple, some people may differ, but all you need is beef, a spice paste, coconut milk/cream and the undeniable ‘kerisik’, grinded, toasted shredded coconut.
Thing is that cooking rendang takes time, local Malaysian beef takes hours to cook so be patient if you live here. If you live in another country it will be difficult to find beef as tough as Malaysian local beef, Indian buffalo comes close, anything else will be ok, even shank. When you get inspired by this article and like to give rendang a try, change the beef for chicken, that will shorten your cooking time.
Kerisik can be bought in Asian stores, if you cannot get hold of it, you have no choice, no Kerisik no rendang. Toast grated coconut (the white meat from old coconuts) on low heat in a dry pan until browned and fragrant, if you are not sure, spread the grated coconut on an oven proof tray and brown it in a pre-heated oven on 180 C or 325 F for 10 minutes or so, keep an eye on it, the browning goes quick.
Next, pound the hot shredded coconut to a paste in a pestle with a mortar, sorry, but your food processor will not work.
Next is the spice mix.
For the true rendang cooks and lovers this is very important. What goes into the spice mix is very much dependent on family traditions and cultural affiliations. A typical rendang spice mix has, dried chilies, shallots, ginger, garlic, galangal (a ginger family root, but more pungent and woody), lemon grass, turmeric root, turmeric leaves and kaffir lime leaves. Tamarind in the form of dried peel is sometimes added to give more acidity to the dish and to temper the richness of the coconut and the heat of the chilies.
I mentioned earlier that preparing rendang is easy, so all you need to do is get the right proportions of the spice mix ingredients, place them in an up-right blender add a bit of water and blend all to a fine paste.
Some rendang varieties also have the addition of spices more commonly used in Indian cooking, like coriander seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds, but then again Malaysia has a population of 30 million people is multi- cultural and every family has its own recipe.
When you come across an ‘authentic’ dish outside its country of origin it may therefore not be or exactly have the authenticity you expect. Hard to say, as long as it is tasty enjoy good food. .
I leave you with a rendang recipe to try. Authentic? You bet!!
Malaysian Chicken Rendang
Ingredients: Serves 4
For the spice mix
- 30 gr dried chilies (soaked)
- 2 stalks lemon grass (sliced)
- 50 gr galangal (peeled and sliced)
- 15 gr turmeric root (peeled and sliced)
- 75 ml vegetable oil
- 150 gr shallots (sliced)
- 20 gr garlic (sliced)
- 1 whole chicken (about 1500 gr, cut into 12 pieces)
- 40 gr galangal (crushed)
- 1 stalk lemon grass (crushed)
- Kerisik made from 150 gr grated coconut
- 750 ml coconut cream
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste (soaked in 3 tbsp water and strained)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- Blend the spice mix ingredients in an up-right blender into a fine paste. Add some water so the blades pick up the solids.
- Heat the oil in a wok or Dutch oven over low heat, fry the shallots until translucent, add the garlic, fry for another minute.
- Add the blended spice mix and fry until fragrant.
- Add sugar and salt to the chicken pieces, mix, add to the pan and stir for a minute.
- Add the galangal and lemon grass, cook until the mixture bubbles.
- Add the coconut milk and strained tamarind juice. Stir occasionally and cook until the gravy has thickened and the chicken is fork tender.
- Add the kerisik and stir on low heat until the rendang is almost dry.
- Serve the rendang with rice
I told you it was easy. Enjoy!
The ‘almost’ forgotten Superfood
By: Marinus Hoogendoorn
Super foods are a daily occurrence on every website we browse on www???.com. Beautiful stories about kale, Brussels sprouts, blue berries, wild salmon and avocados, but hardly anybody talks about red cabbage. When you read a bit further you will quickly realize that red cabbage is a super food.
Paired with the right ingredients this crucifer with gorgeous colors becomes food to lust after
This beautiful vegetable, marbled with white and violet colors is rich in vitamins; it has 10 times more vitamin A than other cabbage varieties and twice as much iron as green cabbage. Vitamin C and E are in abundance, calcium and potassium are present in its raw form. Lengthy cooking tends to lower the nutrients considerably, hence the incredible nutrients available in pickled and fermented cabbage.
How to choose
Red cabbage has to be heavy and dense, with leaves that are shiny and compact. Avoid buying pre-cut red cabbage either halved or shredded, cabbage starts to lose its valuable vitamin C content once cut. Choose therefore medium sized cabbages that you can use in one go, if you cannot finish one piece don’t worry there are many ways to preserve the balance.
How to store
Red cabbage will keep fresh in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator for two weeks, It is a good idea to vacuum the part you like to store this will contain nutritional values and keep the vegetable in mint condition for a long time.
How to cook
Red cabbage is very versatile when it comes to cooking, it can be used cooked, fermented, pickled or raw.
Red cabbage goes well with a mixture of sweet, tangy and savory flavors.
When cooked red cabbage works well with apple and raisins, sugar, vinegar and cinnamon complement flavors, pair the vegetable with white meat like pork or chicken for an enchanting meal.
The addition of some cumin or anise seeds to the cooking water helps to digest the cabbage better in case you have issues with that part.
Raw red cabbage works in salads with for example blue cheese and lentils. Cranberries combine well also, with brother white cabbage as a complementing ingredient.
On cooking red cabbage will turn blue, to retain the red color you need to add a form of acidity, vinegar, lemon juice or an acidic fruit, the combination of green apple and vinegar works perfect.
The recommended classic way of cooking red cabbage requires therefore seven ingredients: vinegar, sugar, and cinnamon, bay leaf, salt, onion and cloves completing the range.
Other ways of preparing red cabbage is pickling and turning the vegetable into chutney, both ways are great toppings for sandwiches made with cold cuts or some left over roast.
Red cabbage deserves recognition as ‘super food’. More than worthwhile to rediscover!
Here’s a little recipe to try it out!
Red Cabbage with Raisins and Apple
1 pound thinly sliced red cabbage
1 medium sized apple (Granny Smith or Elstar work fine) cored, quartered and sliced
2 tbsp sultana raisins (soaked if needed)
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
- Add all ingredients except for the apple and the raisins in a cooking pot.
- Submerge with water and bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes.
- When the cabbage softens, check for taste, should be slightly more sweet than sour, but adjust to your preference.
- Add in the apple slice and raisins; cook until the cabbage is tender.
- As per preference you can drain the cabbage from the water and serve or thicken the cooking water with some cornstarch mixed with water.
Daily Home Cooking and
The unwritten Chefs duty
The Chefs Duty
Chefs have the unwritten duty to entice their audience with new products, new flavor combinations and new styles of cooking dishes. The duty is embedded in every individual chef and comes with passion for food, love for the job and then there is of course the commercial impact of attracting customers to the establishment they run or work for.
In the age of technology we live in, all deliveries are demanded by an ever better informed and critical public.
The big players in the food processing industry, large companies with huge marketing budgets, are running at a steady pace to bring more and more special designed products on the market for target groups with certain diets, weight loss plans and the like.
Chefs lack those resources, have no well-staffed and equipped test kitchens, but fulfill, their unprecedented desire to create makes them see a new concoction with every new ingredient presented to them.
So, where lies the future of innovation in the culinary world, more and more people populate the planet and if we may believe some reports we produce more food than there are people, problem is that the surplus does not reach people in the right places, where the hungry are; no, we throw it away! Yet the food processing industry comes with more products showing us how to save money, work more efficient with less staff, make life easier.
In China you can buy powder which diluted with water resembles meat, for the right meat (pork, chicken) just add flavoring and coloring. Chicken meat can be produced in incubators to save the birds from suffering, reduce greenhouse gasses and space to rear animals.
At the same time we see a back to basics trend, that is fighting to promote local produce, farmers markets, eat healthy, and perhaps Daily Home Cooking to keep a healthy cooking trend alive.
Is a chef in uniform enough to keep the marketing power of the big food producers at bay?
Many celebrity chefs promote healthy food with probably Jamie Oliver as a front runner; his efforts to change school lunches are more than consummate for the cause.
“We go to the source instead of the source coming to us, to create debate, with debate change will happen” are words from his mouth to get inspiration from.
He’s an ambassador, a voice that leads the way creating debate, we are the man in uniform, and we need to come with innovations to show the public that powder is not the way to go.
The ability to travel has enabled many to explore cultures and cuisines from practically all corners of the world, new opportunities arise every day to create, develop and invent.
Trends to Follow
One of the latest (I have seen) is the introduction of Jelly Fish; this product is quite common in Asia, but less in the Western world.
Usually found steamed and pre-cut into strips, Jelly Fish is mainly used as a component to a dish or as a dish complementing a meal that consists of a number of dishes as commonly food is served in Asia.
Jelly Fish is pretty tasteless, but absorbs flavors very well, has a nice texture and once marinated and stir fried it works well in combinations.
Fulfilling our duty as Chefs is noble, we need to work on it every day and drive the point home that healthy living starts with a healthy balanced diet.
If you agree, leave a comment, if you do not agree leave a comment also.
If you need any culinary assistence contact me at:
Are shrimps prawns or are prawns shrimps.
This could be one of those million dollar questions, but the answer is not a million miles away.
Truth is there are some similarities, both are crustaceans and have the same shape, both are aquatic animals with a hard shell over a fragmented body (the muscular part we look for when eating/ cooking shrimp or prawns), both have five pair of legs and a set of swimmerets at the end of that delicious muscular part of the body.
Interesting to know is that most Prawns and shrimps are born male and change sex after two years, once female a prawn produces approximately 25000 eggs two or three times a year.
Then there are some technical differences between the two species, these are best left to marine biologists who already seem to be having a hard time to understand precisely what these differences are.
Next are some language issues, a Shrimp in the US is a Prawn in Australia, keep that in mind when you travel.
For the picky eaters among us, the segments of a prawn tail overlaps the segment behind, like roof tiles, while shrimp tail segments overlap both the front and behind segment, so look out for that when shopping for any of these two crustaceans.
Choose your favorite
For the not so picky among us, the guideline that prawns are bigger than shrimp may apply, but then again, you have fresh water prawns, salt water prawns (not many, but there are) farmed prawns and the same goes for shrimp.
If that does not satisfy you as of yet, we also have banana prawns, tiger prawns, endeavor prawns. School prawns and red spot prawns.
In addition there are Asian giant tiger prawns, European prawns, known as scampi in Spain, Holland has a small grey variety, Norway has an orange/ brown variety and South America has White leg shrimp.
One thing these crustaceans have all in-common is that they are scrumptious delicious, very versatile when it comes to cooking, they pair with almost anything.
You can just boil them, peel and use the tail meat as sandwich filling or with a sauce in a prawn cocktail, you are free to call it shrimp cocktail, you can pan sear them, barbeque or use them as pizza topping.
Use prawns or shrimp in any seafood concoction and you will not be disappointed, find some dried prawns and prawn paste in an Asian store and use as flavoring in stir fried dishes, the sky is the limit.
Some connoisseurs regard prawn heads the most delicious part of the prawns/ shrimps, to which I must agree, coat the heads with some corn starch and fry them crispy, absolutely divine.
If you do not like the idea and peel fresh prawns/shrimp, use the shells and heads for stock and make a great seafood bouillabaisse.
Prawns are low in fat, bit high in cholesterol, but studies reveal that eating prawns hardly increases your body cholesterol, due to the healthy omega 3 fatty acids they contain. Saturated fat does, just to remind you.
Prawns are low in calories, high in Calcium, phosphor and copper for stronger bones.
Prawns also have a good level of vitamins (B 6) and iron.
On the menu
Many reasons to put some prawns on the menu, either for lunch, dinner or snack. You’ll love it!
Asian Street Food
If you ever plan a trip involving a visit to Malaysia, you may come across the many vendors operating on the roadside or inside semi-open coffee shops and hawker centers.
Street food vendors, called hawkers, are by origin peddlers selling local merchandise and food native to where they were born on the roadside, you can find them everywhere in Asia, so in Malaysia.
Since Chinese migrants settled in Malaysia, there have been hawkers, without having immediate jobs many migrants resorted to sell delicacies native to the parts of China they came from. The Cantonese came from Guangzhou, Hakka’s from southern China and people from Fujian are fondly called Hokkiens after their dialect. All have their own specialties.
The earliest of hawkers placed their merchandise in two bamboo baskets, each one on the edge of a bamboo stick, the bascule was then carried on the hawkers shoulder enabling him to cover certain areas by foot. They used to announce their arrival by shouting the name of the product on offer or by clacking a stick against a wooden block. Those selling noodle soups would often click two Chinese spoons against each other.
The fare on offer was amazing and ranged from sweets to spring rolls to steaming bowls of noodle soup.
Slowly the customers became more mobile and the need for the hawkers to reach out to them became less. This opened the opportunity for the hawkers to set up road side stalls, the variety of food increased; frying could be done in a road side stall unlike for items carried around in rattan baskets.
Fried glutinous rice cakes, fried noodles and steamed delicacies entered the hawker fare. One famous type of fried flat rice noodles, Char Kuay Teow is until today a huge favorite among the many people patronizing hawker stalls.
A hawker makes the procedure of frying a plate of tasty Kuay Teow look very easy; reality is quite different when you decide to give it a try yourself.
First there are the noodles, they are made with rice flour, some wheat flour and corn starch mixed with water into a very thin batter, then ladled on a bamboo mat covered with cheese cloth and steamed. After steaming the noodles are sliced into ¼ inch strips, the noodles must be fresh, dry varieties (if any) are not suitable.
Second is the lard, without lard the final plate of noodles will not taste as it should taste, third, but not least is the sequence of cooking, together with temperature control.
Mostly prawns or shrimp and cockles are used in the dish and fried on high heat in some melted lard, then kept aside, next chopped garlic is fried for a few seconds, noodles are added, fried and seasoned with light and dark soya sauce, salt and pepper, chives are added and the noodles are pushed to the side of the wok, an egg is broken in the space created, stirred until set, then mixed with the noodles, shrimp and cockles are returned to the noodles and lastly a handful of beansprouts goes in, the hawker will stir to make sure all is well combined.
The whole process takes maybe three minutes or so, the heat changes continuously from high to low and from low to high, making it very interesting to view and whether one plate is made or fifty, the process starts over and over again, step by step.
Hawkers deserve huge respect, the weather is hot, the wok is hot, the hawker continuous every day to make a living. Pretty impressive, try it and don’t forget to look how it’s made.