Sharmini Ann Jacob’s large kitchen hosts a treasure trove of heirloom cookware and crockery, passed down from her grandmother and mother, both of whom hailed from the south Indian state of Kerala.
“We went to Kerala for Christmas one year and my mother said, ‘I need a claypot’. And Amachi (grandmother) went to her cupboard, took it out and said, ‘Will this do?’ And she wrapped it up and gave it to my mother. So that’s easily 40 years old. And if you pull out other things from the kitchen, chances are they are from India because everything you see in the kitchen, I’ve inherited from my mother,” she says.
Sharmini is a warm, articulate woman who grew up in the bosom of a large extended family in Klang, where she still lives. Her mother was an excellent cook who moved to Malaysia where she got married (Sharmini’s father must have really liked her because she was the 17th woman he saw before he agreed to get married!).
As a child, Sharmini had fond memories of people constantly popping in to sample her mother’s food.
“My mum was a really good cook. She was one of those people who would walk into a restaurant, taste the food and the next week, it would be on our table – she had really good taste buds,” she says.
Growing up, Sharmini went with her mother nearly ever year to visit her grandmother and other relatives in Kerala. There, she relished the many home-cooked dishes that were made especially for their arrival.
“My grandmother cooked anything we wanted. In hindsight, I thoroughly enjoyed it – I ate all the good food and my mother never scolded me when I was there because my grandmother would scold her if she scolded me!” she says, laughing.
Sharmini’s cookware consists of many old-fashioned pots and pans that she inherited from her mother. She enjoys cooking and cooks often despite holding down a full-time job.
When Sharmini and her siblings went abroad to university in the 1980s, her mother wrote down her recipes and passed them down to her children. She died a few years later and Sharmini has since taken on the mantle of cooking her mother’s Kerala staples.
“Since then, I have further developed my cooking skills by calling up various aunts. I’ll tell them ‘This recipe didn’t quite turn out well, the taste is not right – what did I do wrong?’ They’d give me instructions over the phone and I’d go and re-do it,” she says.
Some of the Kerala staples that Sharmini continues to make include meen vevitchu (fish curry) a slightly spicy, light curry that is a family favourite.
“This fish curry actually has only chilli powder and turmeric and puli, which is dried, smoked tamarind that you only get in Kerala. Typically if you think of a curry, it has coconut milk in it or some form of milk. This one has no milk in it, so that’s the main difference,” she says.
Sharmini says she has tried looking for puli in the Klang Valley but hasn’t been able to find it.
Thankfully, she has a regular “supplier” in Kerala who orders it for her in bulk every time she visits.
“Mummy’s brother is still there and he and his wife are my puli suppliers. When I call and say I’m coming to Kerala, they’ll have a kilo ready for me,” she says, laughing.
Normally, when Sharmini makes meen vevitchu, she also makes kappa, a starchy, grated-coconut laced tapioca dish to accompany it, as she says the two dishes pair well together.
“Kappa and fish curry are my eldest brother’s favourite. He always wants them for his birthday, because these are dishes that combine well,” says Sharmini.
Sharmini’s mother also used to make kacha morru (yoghurt curry) a smooth, almost drinkable curry that has that the tanginess of yoghurt alongside a spice-laden undercurrent. “This is a very Malayalee dish that is essentially just a yoghurt curry with turmeric and some tempered ingredients thrown in,” she says.
Sharmini’s father Jacob (middle) says that his daughters Kerala-style food is as good as his wife. On his left is Sharmini’s older brother Suchit John Jacob, who also says his sisters food is pretty close to what his mother used to make.
One of the mainstays that Sharmini also continues to make is the family favourite pork vindaloo, which actually originates from Goa, but has become a much loved staple in Sharmini’s family.
“The recipe is pretty much true to how mummy taught me to make it. This is one of the simplest dishes you can make, it looks very complicated, but if you read the recipe, it’s very simple. And that’s one of the reasons mummy taught us how to make pork vindaloo – because it’s fairly simple. You just basically dump everything in and let it cook down,” she says.
Although Sharmini works full-time as the director of people and change in KPMG Malaysia, she says she always makes time to cook because not only does she love cooking, it also sparks memories of her mother.
Every time I’m in the kitchen, I think of my mother. And I enjoy cooking and seeing the raw ingredients and end results. I don’t know why, but I find great satisfaction from that actually,” she says.
These days, Sharmini’s culinary talents are so sought after by family members that she even conducted a cooking class when the family was in Melbourne to attend a cousin’s wedding.
“I had a cooking session with my cousins there. They wanted to learn how to make kappa, fish curry and kacha morru. So we all went to one of my cousin’s houses in Melbourne – everyone was there and I showed them how to make these dishes and they wrote down the recipes,” she says.
But perhaps the greatest acknowledgement comes from Sharmini’s father, octogenarian Jacob Chacko whose eyes still sparkle when he speaks about his late wife.
“My wife was a good cook from day one. And I don’t know – somehow or rather, Sharmini got used to cooking and now her food tastes more or less like her mother’s food,” he says, smiling.
Serves 5 to 6
1 tsp turmeric powder 3 tbsp chilli powder 2 to 3 tbsp oil 1 tbsp gingelly oil (Indian sesame oil) ½ tsp mustard seeds 1 tsp fenugreek 3 sprigs curry leaves 200g shallots, chopped fine 2 inch ginger, chopped fine 5 to 6 cloves garlic, diced 2 cups water 2 pieces puli, soaked in a bowl of warm water (can be replaced with 1 tbsp lime juice from key lime) salt to taste 1kg tenggiri, cut into 2 inch pieces (can be replaced with red snapper)
In a bowl, combine turmeric powder and chilli powder with a little bit of water until it resembles a paste. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat oil(s) on medium heat. Add mustard seeds and fenugreek, and when mustard seeds start spluttering, add curry leaves, shallots, ginger and garlic and fry till lightly browned.
Add spice paste and fry till oil separates, the mixture should be a deep, dark red at this point. Add water and the bowl of puli and salt to taste. Bring to a boil.
Once boiling, lower heat and add fish pieces, one at a time in a circular fashion into pot. Cook till fish is tender – do not stir as this will break the fish pieces. Serve hot.
For pounding together in pestle and mortar 1 tsp fenugreek 1 tsp cumin ¼ inch ginger 1 clove garlic 2 shallots
For making the curry 2 tbsp oil ½ tsp mustard seeds 2 sprigs curry leaves 2 shallots, chopped fine 3 to 4 dried chillies, cut to 1/2 inch pieces 1½ cups hot water salt to taste 1 tsp turmeric powder 3 cups fresh plain yoghurt
Pound ingredients for pounding together and set aside.
In a frying pan, heat oil on medium heat and add mustard seeds. When seeds splutter, add curry leaves, shallots and dried chillies. Fry till light brown, then add pounded ingredients. Fry for a while, then remove from the heat.
In a bowl, mix hot water, salt and turmeric powder together.
Put yoghurt in another bowl or pot and slowly add the water mixture to the yoghurt. Stir constantly so that there are no lumps of yoghurt. Add the fried ingredients to the mixture and serve.
Serves 6 to 8
For blending together with a little water 4 large tomatoes (tomatoes should be firm and a little green) ½ inch ginger 4 to 5 cloves garlic 3 large red onions
For cooking 3 to 4 tsp oil 1 tsp mustard seeds 3 sprigs curry leaves ½ tbsp turmeric powder 2 tbsp chilli powder 1kg pork, diced to bite-size pieces (must have fat) salt to taste 1 litre water (more if necessary)
Blend together all the ingredients for blending with some water until you get a paste. Set aside.
In a large wok, heat oil on medium heat and add mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds start spluttering, add curry leaves and stir for a while. Add blended ingredients; once the mixture bubbles, add turmeric and chilli powder.
Cook for 5 minutes, then add pork and salt. Mix well, and add water. Once it bubbles, reduce heat to low and cover wok. Cook till meat is tender, stirring occasionally. This should take about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pork pieces. You may have to add more water if the water has reduced and the meat is not tender yet.
Once meat is tender, remove lid, increase heat and cook till water evaporates and the pork fat starts rendering. Remove from heat and serve hot.
Serves 4 to 5
To blend half a coconut, grated 2 cili padi 2 cloves garlic 5 to 6 shallots 1 tsp turmeric powder water, as needed
For cooking 1kg tapioca, skinned and cubed, stem in the centre removed 1½ tbsp ghee ½ tsp mustard seeds 2 sprigs curry leaves 2 to 3 shallots, chopped fine ½ cup grated coconut salt to taste
Blend together all the ingredients for blending with some water until it resembles a paste. Set aside.
In a pot, boil tapioca until soft but not too mushy. Drain excess water, make well in tapioca, put blended ingredients and cover the pot with a lid.
Cook on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a small pan, heat ghee and add mustard seeds. Once the seeds splutter, add curry leaves and shallots. When slightly browned, add grated coconut and cook till coconut is golden brown.
Add fried ingredients to pot with tapioca and add salt to taste. Mash tapioca and mix all the ingredients together until combined.
2018 marks the 40th anniversary of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), and at the recent Congress on Obstetrics & Gynaecology held in Malaysia, IVF pioneer and Care Fertility Group founder and president of R&D Prof Simon Brian Fishel and Obstetrical & Gynaecological Society of Malaysia (OGSM) president-elect Dr Eeson Sinthamoney gave their insights into the innovations that have taken place these 40 years.
In its early days, IVF was almost a taboo subject. The birth of Louise Brown, the ‘test tube’ baby, caused an ethical stir in 1978. What has changed over the last 40 years?
Prof Fischel: Technology has changed beyond recognition. When we first started, the technology was very primitive, and patients had to stay in the hospital for up to 10 days. Now, it’s a simple out-patient procedure.
Previously, we used to collect the woman’s eggs via surgery by laparoscopy. Today, the procedure is much less invasive, and we do it using ultrasound techniques.
The art of embryology has also progressed significantly. We didn’t have incubators then. And the days of test tubes in glass jars stored in a warming cabinet are a thing of the past.
Now, not only do we have sophisticated, time lapse incubators, but advances in technology also enable us to leave the embryos for five days without even touching them while allowing the embryologist to witness the progress every 10 minutes via their smartphone, tablet or computer.
This allows us to learn more about how human embryos evolve during the first five days after fertilisation.
Not only is IVF helping infertile couples, but today we have also introduced genetics into the field.
If you are a fertile couple, but either of you have a genetic condition that may affect your offspring, technology can now remove that genetic disorder from the embryo.
The breakthrough lies in the fact that the genetic disorder will not be passed on to the child and will have been eradicated from the family’s life.
So, if you have a genetic condition that has been running in the family, IVF can stop it in its tracks. One of the most magnificent things about IVF is that it redefines family life.
In many Western countries like the United Kingdom, as well as Japan, we have enormous problems with declining birth rates.
The UK has a birth rate of 1.7/1.8. To replace the population, the figure must stand at 2.4.
This dilemma has been compounded by women who are now getting older before they think of starting a family. Women are now not considering having a family until they are 33 or 34 years of age.
With this development, couples are ultimately having less children, if any at all.
So, society is experiencing a decline in birth rate, and yet, we are getting older and living longer, so who is going to fund the ageing population?
I believe we need to embrace IVF. Anyone who wants to bring a child lovingly into this world should be encouraged to do so and that is why we are moving into another domain where we offer to preserve fertility.
To achieve this, we need to empower both men and women.
A lot of people don’t recognise that men also have a biological clock. This issue is not that men can’t have children at a later age, but rather there is an increased risk the child will suffer from health conditions ranging from autism to leukaemia.
We should implement national programmes to preserve eggs and sperm while people are young.
It is no longer a passing comment that a couple should have children while they are young; with couples having children later in life, it creates significant challenges.
So, fertility preservation is becoming important and the only country that is recognising its significance is probably Japan.
As for corporate entities, Facebook and Apple are paying their female staff to freeze their eggs. Our organisation is actually designing a new programme to preserve eggs. The birth of Louise Brown has truly opened a new era.
Some of the equipment required for one cycle of IVF are seen on display as part of an exhibition ‘IVF: 6 Million Babies Later’ at the Science Museum in London.
How have people’s attitude changed over the years?
Prof Fishel: Attitudes are affected by society and the world in which you grow up. If I talk about where I come from, working in the field of IVF was an uphill struggle for many years.
At the time, many said we were going too far, we were doing too much and were too progressive. Yet, as time passed the issues disappeared and resulted in beauty, joy and happiness.
IVF has become mainstream in some parts of the world.
Dr Eeson: IVF is accepted as mainstream. One of the biggest constraints in Malaysia is cost because there are many patients who require IVF, but are unable to afford it.
There is an element of support from the government, but it is limited. Otherwise, it is very mainstream.
There are regulations in Malaysia that provide some guidelines as to what you can or cannot do as an IVF practitioner.
The current guidelines are not new and they are very brief.
There are new guidelines in the pipeline, and I suspect they will be framed according to the needs and aspirations of the local community. However, surrogacy will not be permitted.
Our best guess is that currently, there are about 5,000 IVF cycles in Malaysia each year.
Is there a role that artificial intelligence (AI) can play in IVF?
Prof Fishel: We know that only 35% of embryos will result in babies. We can use AI to determine which embryos have chances of conception.
The second approach will be clinical. AI will help us become objective about the way we manage clinical data.
What is the future of IVF in Malaysia?
Dr Eeson: Firstly, there are many IVF centres in Malaysia, but not all offer the same facilities.
The standard concept of embryo implantation during an IVF procedure does not guarantee fertilisation. The belief is that more of the embryos produced are genetically abnormal.
Due to this, a lot of time and effort devoted over the last few years has been focussed on embryo selection, which enables the identification and selection of the best embryos and put them up front and centre.
Many centres can conduct IVF procedures, but may not be able to conduct embryo selection.
From a realistic point of view, we are still very far behind in Malaysia, so at this stage, we are not looking at cutting-edge technology, but rather at moving to the next level, which is to get the labs up to speed and to provide better quality of care for their patients.
We can better use AI to look at the data we have in hand and make informed intelligent decisions.
The third facet would be to have ethical discussions: What are our beliefs? What are we happy to do and not to do? For now, we do not have that.
OGSM can play an advocacy role, but the initiative should be led by the Health Ministry.
My expectation is that the regulations should provide a framework and take all the stakeholders into consideration so that it will be robust.
Prof Fishel: It is crucial that any government doesn’t look at IVF as something small.
Governments naturally care how much an IVF procedure costs. However, they often look at IVF with a short-term view.
If you apply IVF in a long-term context, the benefits are huge. IVF can tackle declining populations, and we can use IVF procedures to reduce the healthcare costs of addressing genetic disorders.
IVF can truly have long-term economic and healthcare benefits that will help any nation.
When it comes to portraying an absolutely decadent and over-the-top glamorous lifestyle, there is one thing you just cannot ignore – fashion.
In Hollywood hit Crazy Rich Asians, it is the dresses and suits that often catch the eye. And among the ones that helped in dressing some of the characters are none other than our very own Malaysian designers.
While labels like Prada, Bottega Veneta and Dior played a big part in the film, it is the local names below that make us so proud.
Here’s what they have to say about having their creations featured in the film.
Carven Ong, renowned for creating clothes that personify elegance, was recruited by the film’s costume designer Mary Vogt to bring her designs to life. It was Ong who crafted the unforgettable wedding gown worn by Araminta Lee (played by Sonoya Mizuno).
“I’m honoured and surprised by this great opportunity given to me to execute the vision and inspiration by the costume designers. It was a golden moment for me to introduce my work to the world,” he states.
Ong points out that it is truly a journey of peserverance for Asian designers, as most Hollywood movies are dominated by Western names because of their market share in the world. Yet, he says this is changing.
“With the growing success of asian designers conquering the world stage such as Alexander Wang, Thakoon and Rei Kawakubo. I am pleased that our Eastern representation in fashion satiates the taste of the evergrowing globalisation.”
When it comes to feminine, ultra-luxe clothes, there is no one quite like Alia Bastamam. As put by former editor-in-chief of Elle Malaysia Andrea Wong, who Vogt enlisted for help, “her dresses are really romantic and feminine – drape-y silk and dreamy silhouettes”.
“When I was offered to have my designs appear in the film, I was already ecstatic. So to be able to catch glimpses of my clothes on the big screen was surreal,” Alia says. “A film like Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t happen regularly, so it’s such a great platform to have a Hollywood film promote Asian designers.”
She points out that fashion is so global these days. According to her, the differential lines are being blurred so much and it’s hard to say there’s anything different between Asian and Western fashion preference.
“Asian designers in the global fashion industry is increasing in numbers from a time when the only Asian designer anyone could name was Anna Sui. Now we have Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, the couturier Guo Pei as well as our Malaysians Han Chong (of Self-Portrait) and Farah Khan.”
For the men of Crazy Rich Asians, the dapper look is not “dresscode optional”. Local suiting brand Lord’s Tailor helped in this regard, whereby Charlie Wu (Harry Shum Jr.), Astrid Leong’s (Gemma Chan) ex-fiance, is seen wearing a sleek navy blue tux in one of the final scenes in the film.
“To be able to represent Malaysia for the menswear department has given us a courage to believe that Malaysia and Asian fashion can shine in the international arena. It shows that our quality and style can be on par with international designers,” notes creative director of Lord’s Tailor, Kenny Loh.
Loh adds that it is a watershed moment for not just Asians worldwide but also the fashion designers of Asia. He says a custom touch to fashion has always been a key component of Asian men’s fashion and this was definitely showcased in the film.
“It was such an honour to be invited to be part of this pivotal project not only for Hollywood, but it has stirred hearts worldwide. Seeing our clothes appear in the film makes us immensely proud of how far our brand has come in terms of tailoring heritage.”
For Khoon Hooi, Crazy Rich Asians is one way to address the lack of diversity and representation in Hollywood. He feels that the global fashion industry has to take heed, and not ignore the bright and wonderful Asian designers.
“Look at the talent and innovation displayed by the likes of Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Guo Pei and Chitose Abe of Sacai, as well as Rejina Pyo and Laura Kim – one half of the creative duo behind Monse and Oscar de la Renta!”
To him, Asian consumers often desire new things or ideas. However in terms of the designers, Westerners can be considered experimental in creativity, while Asian creativity is very rooted in cultural asthetics.
Most of Khoon Hooi’s pieces are seen during the film’s grand wedding reception, of which he says: “It is undoubtedly a big moment for us to be given an opportunity to showcase our Autumn 2017 collection on a big international screen.”
When you first walk into Copper Mansion, you can’t help but let out a low, appreciative whistle as you eyeball the space in all its decadent glory. This is a spot where there is no compulsion to dress up, but out of respect for the beauty around you, you’ll feel you simply have to.
The restaurant is a venture initiated by the LYL Group, founded by Tan Sri Lim Yew Loong. The group has experience in running F&B ventures, having been involved in Jaya Palace and East Lake Restaurant. With Copper Mansion, their Chinese restaurant streak continues.
“My family has a little knowledge running a few restaurants and we wanted to do a hybrid model of a good Chinese restaurant with an event space. With many restaurants, once you have a wedding, a lot of the walk-ins can’t have dinner. So we thought why not use this space to do something functional and on top of that, there is also food to eat in a restaurant base. So it combines both, which in KL is kind of lacking,” says Datuk Kent Lim, the director of Copper Mansion and the son of LYL’s founder.
As a space, Copper Mansion is massive – a whopping 3.4 acres – and it makes full use of its size. The space is sectioned into the main restaurant, private rooms as well as a large-scale ballroom that can accommodate up to 100 tables.
Copper Mansion has an elegant interior that will prove instantly appealing.
Kent and his brothers run Copper Mansion together – he handles the day-to-day operations while his brothers tackle other roles.
“We consult with each other but we also split our duties, although of course every change we make has to be agreed upon. As a family business, we have a little bit more leeway in terms of changing the menus – it’s not so rigid, I would say. But running a restaurant is tough, it’s not just about the food, we have to worry about the kitchen, the floor and customer service. Everything piles on top of each other,” says Kent.
Before the restaurant opened, Kent and his team travelled to Japan, Taiwan and China in pursuit of the best produce on offer. “We source a lot of our produce ourselves, we flew everywhere with our chef to test all the produce and see which ones are the best,” he says. The fruits of that labour are obvious in the menu, where you might find premium items like Boston lobster, Kiwi clams and South African abalone on offer.
You can opt to try a trio of appetisers like the (from left): duck wrapped with mango and cucumber, deep-fried aubergine and and tomato loaded with seafood and cheese.
In terms of the food, Copper Mansion aims for an elevated dining experience that capitalises on classic Chinese cuisine and expands it into something more high-brow. A dim sum selection is also on offer, and will be revised every three months in keeping with Kent’s frequent trips to dim sum hotspots like London which inspire new menu creations.
“We’re trying to go forward into a more refined style of dining while still keeping the concept of authentic Chinese food,” says Kent.
To begin your epicurean adventure at Copper Mansion, try a trio of appetisers (RM25). There is a variety of options to tempt your palate, but the duck wrapped with mango and cucumber is a stand-out. The flavours of the duck are accentuated by the freshness of the cucumber and sweetness of the mango in what proves to be a pleasurable marriage of flavours. The deep-fried aubergine with salt and pepper features little parcels of crispy aubergines that boast lush, tender insides (although the salt quotient could be upped a little). Then there is the tomatoes loaded with seafood and cheese, which intersperses the zesty, acidic flavours of a whole tomato with rich, gooey cheese. While it may not make an instantly discernible impression, it is certainly an interesting offering.
The crispy prawn served with kaffir lime sauce is really yummy.
Copper Mansion also runs monthly promotional menus, and from this, you could opt to try the crispy prawns served with kaffir lime sauce (RM38 per person). The large prawn is coated in a thick, crispy carapace which upon eating, yields to tender flesh inside. The kaffir lime sauce gives the entire concoction a burst of freshness that enhances the appeal of the meal. A salad of crystallised ice plants (a plant that grows on sand dunes and seaweed deposits) on the side prove equally delightful, offering texture-rich, bouncy mouthfuls of vegetables that promise to bewitch.
The steamed giant grouper fish with minced chilli and ginger paste (RM20 per person) is another temptation from the August menu that you should absolutely indulge in.
The steamed giant grouper fish with minced chilli and ginger paste is a seductive charmer guaranteed to knock your socks off.
The fish is incredibly fresh and its natural beauty is accentuated by the ginger paste, which is made with a combination of old and young ginger so it has a rich pungency that permeates every mouthful.
Then there is the abalone with seafood taufu (RM28 per person) which combines the velvety flavours of South African abalone with the silken softness of seafood taufu. Everything in this configuration is designed to incite pleasure and you’ll find yourself yearning for more, long after the plates have been cleared away.
The abalone with seafood taufu offers a wonderful exploration of flavours and textures.
Perhaps one of the highlights of Copper Mansion’s August menu is the Portuguese style roasted whole suckling pig (RM300 per table) which comes with homemade baos. The pig has been roasted to perfection and this is articulated in the crisp shards of skin that crackle at the slightest inclination and have just the right amount of fat underneat to gild it. You can also opt to concoct a makeshift sandwich using the bao, some pork belly from the pig and a little bit of sweet black caramel sauce provided on the side – and enjoy a pleasant textural experience.
Portuguese style whole roasted suckling pig with deliciously crispy skin.
To end your meal at Copper Mansion, have a sample of the house-made snow skin durian mooncake (price unavailable) which you should probably let sit on your plate for awhile, as it is really freezing cold. The mooncake is not bad (although probably not the best version of durian mooncake you are likely to have tried) and has a nice, if cold, durian filling in the middle.
End your meal with the durian mooncake which has lots of durian flavours.
Copper Mansion has proved incredibly popular since it first opened (the event space is booked for all weekends until February 2019!) so it isn’t surprising that Kent and his family are already looking at expanding.
“We will be having another expansion, but probably not for the next year and a half,” he says.
Copper Mansion 18B, Jalan 51A/223 Section 51A 46100 Petaling Jaya Tel: 03-7932 7777 Open Monday to Saturday: 11.30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10pm; Sunday: 10.30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10pm