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Malaysian home cook Raymond Ng serves up family-style Chinese meals

Malaysian home cook Raymond Ng serves up family-style Chinese meals

As you walk into Raymond Ng’s cavernous family home, you’ll quickly figure out that communal meals are very important to Ng and his family. Because the house has not one, not two, but three separate dining rooms dedicated to hosting the large family.

“My grandfather has 18 brothers and sisters, so when the entire extended family gets together for special occasions – well, we need the space,” says the personable Ng.

Thankfully, Ng has proven himself more than up to the challenge of cooking for his entire family. As a teenager, Ng’s passion for cooking was spurred by his experience as a foreign exchange student in Japan.

“I was transferred to a girls’ school in Japan where the extra-curricular classes involved sewing and cooking. At my first cooking class, they didn’t teach us about Japanese food, they taught us about Chinese food! So that is where I developed my passion for cooking,” he explains.

With time, Ng’s love of cooking has only become stronger. These days, he juggles many roles – working full-time at the family-run property development company his grandfather set up in 1959, helping run Tsukiji No 8 (the restaurant he co-founded with his friends) and cooking for his family.

Ng (extreme left) frequently cooks for his large extended family. Pictured here are his daughter Rayanne Deanna Ng, son Raydence Devean Ng and wife Chong.

Interestingly, Ng, his wife and their two young children share their home with his 85-year-old grandmother and 86-year-old grandfather, while Ng’s parents live next door.

“I am the eldest grandchild, so I always knew I was going to look after my grandparents. My father is the eldest son, so he lives just next door. In case of an emergency, there are always people around,” he says.

This amazing testament to filial piety also extends to food. Every Monday, Ng devotes an evening to cooking a meal for his entire family as well as relatives who are able to make it for the weekly event.

“My grandfather and grandmother want us to maintain the Chinese tradition of eating together, so every Monday is like a reunion dinner at my house because my grandparents, my uncle’s family and my family all eat together. We normally have about 15 to 20 people for the meal!” says Ng.

Ng’s devotion to his grandparents doesn’t stop there. Every Tuesday and Thursday, he also sets aside time to cook anything his grandparents’ desire.

“I will ask them what they want and they’ll say, ‘Today, I want this’ and I’ll cook that. If I’m not available, then my wife will help me cook for them,” says Ng, pointing at his gorgeous wife Denise Chong, who grins in response.

Many of the meals Ng whips up are the sort of traditional Chinese dishes favoured by his grandparents, like steamed chicken with Chinese wine, made up of tender chicken paired with a flavourful sauce.

“This is something my grandfather loves, because when he was younger, he could only eat chicken once a year, as he had so many siblings, so most of the time, the younger ones were given the better meals and the older ones ate what was left behind,” he says.

Another more traditional meal that Ng cooks for his grandparents is a nourishing, pepper-infused pork rib soup.

“This is also one of the my grandparents’ favourite dishes, because now that they are older, they get cold easily, so they like eating piping hot soups. And the white pepper and ginger in the soup is quite warming too,” Ng offers.

Ng developed a passion for cooking when he was an exchange student in Japan. Now that he is all grown up, he continues to cook, even hosting weekly family dinners for up to 20 people.

Some meals bear some resemblance to the food that Ng’s grandfather used to eat as a kid, but include some modern enhancements, in keeping with the family’s improved circumstances.

Like the dish of claypot pork belly and salted fish, for instance. Here, velvety strips of pork belly are juxtaposed against salted fish in an inspired marriage of flavours tied together by a rich, buoyant sauce.

“Previously, my family was not very well-off; my grandfather worked as a coolie at one point, so rice and salted fish were his main meals.

“When you are poor, that is the cheapest thing but now times have changed, so we’ve added pork belly so it is more flavourful, but it still reminds my grandparents’ of that old-fashioned taste,” he says.

Given Ng’s predilection for experimenting with food, inevitably he has come up with his own take on some classic Chinese dishes.

His meal of fat, fluffy, steamed river prawns, for example, also includes a sauce that he invented himself.

“If you just steam it normally, it’s tasteless, so I added some sauce to give it more flavour. Plus, my wife and kids love sauces, so I am always trying out new ones,” he says.

Another meal that has become a family staple is Ng’s abalone salad, a tangy, zesty salad filled with plump chunks of abalone. “It’s our family’s creation and is a fresh salad that can even be eaten as an appetiser,” he says.

Ng adds most of these meals can be whipped up quickly as he favours simple, uncomplicated meals.

“Once you have all the ingredients, it’s very easy. I can guarantee this because I like everything done fast,” he says laughing.

Ultimately, Ng says for him, the joy of cooking is closely intertwined with feeding the family that he so loves and is devoted to.

“What keeps us together and bonds us is the family gathering for food,” he says.


Serves 4

For the sauce

2 tbsp oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2cm ginger, chopped finely
1/2 cup water
1/2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp light soya sauce
1/2 tbsp cornstarch

For the prawns

2 large river prawns (600g per piece)
1 egg white, beaten with 2 tbsp water and 1 tsp vinegar
1 stalk sliced spring onions, for garnish

To make the sauce

In a pan, add oil. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry till it becomes golden brown. Add water, Shaoxing wine, sugar, vinegar, oyster sauce and light soya sauce and stir to combine. Add cornstarch and let simmer till the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat.

To prepare the prawns

Clean prawns and using a sharp pair of scissors, butterfly each prawn. Place prawns on a pie plate and season with a pinch of salt.

Pour egg white onto plate and steam prawns for 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from the steamer and pour sauce on top. Garnish with spring onions and serve hot.


Serves 4

For the chicken

1/2 a whole chicken
1 tbsp light soya sauce1 tsp Chinese cooking wine
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp shredded ginger
1 tbsp shredded spring onion, white part only
1 tbsp chopped spring onions

For the sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 tbsp chopped spring onions
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp light soya sauce
4 tbsp water

To prepare the chicken

Clean chicken and marinate evenly with light soya sauce, Chinese cooking wine and salt. Top with ginger and green onion shreds. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes.

Once done, steam chicken for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Remove from the steamer and cut chicken into pieces. Garnish with spring onions.

To make the sauce

In a sauce pan, heat up sesame oil and fry chopped garlic and green onion until aromatic. Add oyster sauce, light soya sauce and water. Mix well and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, let cool a little and serve with steamed chicken.


Serves 4 to 5

For marinating pork

300g pork belly
1/2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp dark soya sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp light soya sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 1/2 tsp cornstarchFor cooking4 tbsp oil
40g salted fish, sliced
20g garlic, sliced
1 large red onion, sliced
30g ginger, sliced
8 dried chillies, de-seeded and cut into 3cm lengths1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
150ml water
2 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 stalk spring onion, cut into 3cm lengths

Thinly slice pork belly. Marinate pork slices with oyster sauce, dark soya sauce, sesame oil, light soya sauce, sugar, white pepper and cornflour for at least 30 minutes.

In a pan, heat oil on medium heat and fry salted fish until crispy and golden brown. Drain and set aside.

In a claypot, heat 2 tbsp of the oil used to fry salted fish and stir-fry garlic, onions, ginger and dried chillies until fragrant. Add marinated pork belly and sear the meat for 2 minutes. Add Shaoxing wine, water and dark soya sauce. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in 3/4 of the salted fish and simmer for another minute.

Remove from the heat, garnish with spring onions and the remainder of the salted fish. Serve hot.


Serves 4 to 5

For the sauce

oil, for cooking
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/4 cup waterFor the salad1 can abalone, cut into
bite-sized pieces
1 cucumber, diced
1 large red onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 stalk spring onions, cut into 4cm lengths
2 to 3 cili padi (optional)
5 to 6 limes, juiced

To make the sauce

In a pan, heat up oil and fry garlic till golden brown. Add in light soya sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, Shaoxing wine and water. Let cook for awhile, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

To assemble salad

Arrange all the salad ingredients, except lime juice in a salad bowl or large serving plate. Drizzle the lime juice and sauce on the salad and serve.

Serves 4 to 6

1kg pork ribs
1 pig’s stomach, cleaned
5cm ginger, skinned and smashed
15g cracked white pepper
1.8 litre water
6 to 8 gingko
sea salt to taste

Clean pork ribs, boil for 10 minutes, then leave to cool for 5 minutes.

In a pot, add pig’s stomach, ginger, white pepper and water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.

Add pork ribs and gingko, crank heat to high and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and leave soup to simmer for 2 hours.

Discard scum floating on top of the soup and remove stomach from the soup. Chop into pieces and put stomach pieces back in the soup. Season with salt to taste, remove from the heat and serve hot.

His Sri Lankan dishes bring all the friends to his home

His Sri Lankan dishes bring all the friends to his home

As I’m about to walk into Dyllon Ekanayake’s bright, sunny apartment, someone else saunters in ahead of me. That someone turns out to be Dyllon’s neighbour Jae See, who has come to try his famed coconut roti. “He told me he was making coconut roti today, so I kepoh-kepoh (like a busybody) popped by, because I come here often to eat,” says Jae, smiling.

In many ways, it is incredibly easy to see how Dyllon makes friends so effortlessly (he met Jae in the elevator and they have become fast friends since). Dyllon’s warmth is palpable almost as soon as you meet him – he exudes sincerity and generosity and is the consummate host. Dyllon also happens to be a phenomenal home cook, who makes the food of his Sri Lankan homeland nearly every single day, which is often the reason people come to visit him.

“I have this gang of local friends who love spicy food, so they always call and tell me, ‘We are coming the weekend, so please make something’, so I end up making Sri Lankan food every day now, because my group of friends is getting bigger,” he says, grinning.

Dyllon is a former radio deejay and TV personality from Sri Lanka (yes, he was a bit of a celebrity there) who met and married his Malaysian wife Bibi Rohani Abdullah eight years ago and has since made Malaysia his home. Although he never cooked nor was even a foodie as a child, all this changed when he moved to Malaysia.

“I started missing the (Sri Lankan) food, then I thought, ‘Why not start cooking and learn?’ So I used to call my mum and ask her to send me recipes. And often, I would video call her and ask, ‘How do I do this?’ And she would give me instructions. So that really helped me a lot and by 2012 or 2013, I just mastered the food,” he says.

sri lankan recipes

Dyllon Ekanayake (left) met and married his wife Bibi Rohani Abdullah (right) and has lived in Malaysia since. He often cooks authentic Sri Lankan food for friends like Jae See (back).

Interestingly, Dyllon confesses that although Sri Lankan meals have a lot of vegetable options, he actually didn’t eat vegetables until he was in his mid-30s.

“I’m very picky when it comes to food, so I would only eat chicken, potatoes and dhal when I was younger. The turning point was when I was a little obese and my cholesterol level was high. I thought, ‘I need to change the way I eat, I need more nutrition and a lot of vegetables’,” he says.

These days, Dyllon works hard to incorporate more vegetables into his diet and also to tweak Sri Lankan recipes in order to make them healthier but still very, very authentic.

Like his recipe for deep-fried bitter gourd, which is crunchy with a zesty undertone and is strangely devoid of the vegetable’s much maligned bitter properties. Dyllon says there is a secret to getting rid of the bitterness.

“After you marinate it, you need to sun-dry it. This way, the moisture will evaporate and the bitterness will go too. This is a good substitute for crackers and whatever you feel like munching on,” he says.

Dyllon’s spicy devilled potato dish is a wholesome meal that he says is common in Sri Lankan cuisine. “Devilled potato is a simple recipe that is like a day-to-day dish for us, but it is also prepared for birthday parties and other special occasions,” he says.

sri lankan recipes

Dyllon only learnt how to make Sri Lankan food eight years ago after moving to Malaysia. But he has since become so good that he cooks every single day.

Then there is the flavour-packed Sri Lankan chicken curry or kukul mas, which makes use of a homemade roasted curry powder.

“In Sri Lanka, there are two types of curry powders – one is unroasted curry powder, which is mainly used to create vegetable and fish dishes, and the other one is roasted curry powder, which is more intense and holds up well to meat.

“The difference between many chicken curries that I have tasted and the Sri Lankan chicken curry is the roasted curry powder – that opens up all the essence in the chicken,” he says.

Pol roti or coconut roti is another Sri Lankan staple – a lovely, doughy bread stuffed with chillies and onions that Dyllon makes exceptionally well. The roti is typically accompanied by a fiery katta sambol, or spicy sambal with Maldivian dried fish, which Dyllon says can easily be replaced with ikan bilis instead.

“Coconut roti is something that we eat mainly for breakfast. To make the roti, it is better to use grated coconut from young coconut. I also use coconut water instead of water to make the dough, as this gives the bread a nicer flavour,” he says.

Because he misses food from home so much, Dyllon often goes back to Sri Lanka a few times a year, and brings back spices and other ingredients essential to his cooking.

“No matter how much I cook, it can never beat the food I get there. And when I’m in Sri Lanka, I spend a lot of time watching my mother cook, and often just take videos of her cooking, so I can come back and watch them again!” he says, laughing.

Dyllon says cooking has now become deeply ingrained in his bones, as it is a passion that he says helps people understand who he is and where he comes from.

“I love Sri Lanka and I love Sri Lankan food. How am I to let people know who I am? With my food. And I think that’s the main reason I love cooking,” he says.

Pol roti


Serves 4 to 6

2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt or as needed
1 cup grated coconut
1 to 2 onions, sliced
1 to 2 green chillies, finely sliced
1/2 cup coconut water (can be replaced with water)
oil, for cooking rotis

In a mixing bowl, sift flour and salt. Add the grated coconut, onions and finely sliced green chillies, incorporating the ingredients into the flour thoroughly. Season with more salt if necessary. Gradually add coconut water to form a sticky dough. Continue kneading and form a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl. This should take less than 5 minutes.

Apply oil to your hands and oil the dough. Separate the dough into balls. On a lightly oiled surface, shape the dough into circles and form roti that are not too thin (or else they will break).

Lightly oil a skillet over medium heat. Place roti on the pan and cook, 2-3 minutes on each side. Repeat with all the roti. Serve hot with katta sambol.

Katta sambol


Serves 2 to 4

10 shallots
a handful of ikan bilis that has been
washed, dried and pan-roasted till golden brown
2 green chillies
salt to taste
lime juice to taste
3/4 tsp chilli powder

Add all the ingredients, except lime juice and chilli powder, to a grinder and grind until smooth. Add lime juice and chilli powder, and stir to combine. Serve with pol roti.

Sri Lankan deviled potatoes


Serves 4

4 large potatoes
2 tbsp oil
1 large onion, sliced into rings
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
3 green chillies, sliced or whole
1/2 tsp chilli powder
8 curry leaves
salt to taste

Place potatoes in a pot filled with water and bring to the boil. Cook until just starting to become tender, then peel and quarter potatoes.

Heat oil in a large frying pan and add onions. Stir-fry over medium heat until they turn translucent. Add mustard seeds, turmeric powder, green chillies, chilli powder, fresh curry leaves and a sprinkle of salt. Add cooked potatoes and stir through till evenly coated. Fry for a few more minutes until the surface of the potatoes are golden brown. Remove from the heat and serve hot.

Kukul mas


Serves 6

For the roasted curry powder
200g coriander seeds
100g cumin seeds
50g fennel seeds
4 cinnamon sticks
1 pandan leaf
20 fresh curry leaves

For the curry
2 to 3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, minced
2 1/2 tbsp roasted Sri Lankan curry powder
1 tsp chilli powder (less if you like it less spicy)
1 tsp black pepper
10 curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
3 green chillies, sliced
1/2 tsp salt plus more to taste
1 tomato, cubed
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp vinegar

To make the roasted curry powder

Wash and rinse the ingredients. Strain and sun-dry them for one whole day.

Set a frying pan over low heat, and dry-roast the coriander, cumin and fennel separately until golden brown. Shake the pan to avoid burning, Set aside in a bowl.

In the same pan, dry-roast the cinnamon sticks for about a minute. Add the pandan leaf and roast for about 40 seconds, and then add the curry leaves and roast together for another 40 seconds until beginning to colour. Add to the other roasted ingredients in the bowl.

Put all the ingredients in a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Store in an air-tight container and keep for a maximum of 30 days.

To cook curry

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and ginger and cook until softened. Add curry powder, chilli powder, black pepper, curry leaves and cinnamon and mix to combine. Cook for a few minutes until aromatic.

Add the chicken, green chilli, salt and tomato and mix to coat. Cook for 10 minutes with the lid off, on medium high heat. Stir frequently to make sure the chicken or the spices don’t burn.

Add coconut milk, water and vinegar and bring the curry to a boil. Lower the heat and let simmer with the lid closed, 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The chicken should be completely cooked at this point. Remove from the heat and serve hot with rice.

Karavila sambol


Serves 4 to 6

250g bitter gourd, sliced thinly
salt to taste
½ a lime, juiced
¼ tsp turmeric powder
oil, for deep frying
1 onion, sliced
4 green chillies, chopped
salt to taste
1 tbsp black pepper powder
lime juice to taste

Soak the bitter gourd in a bowl of water with salt, lime juice and turmeric, 15-20 minutes. Squeeze the water out of the bitter gourd and leave to sun-dry for 2 hours or until totally dry.

In a frying pan, heat enough oil for deep-frying and deep-fry bitter gourd till crisp. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine onion, green chillies and salt to taste. Add bitter gourd and mix well with your hands. Sprinkle pepper powder and mix again until evenly coated. Serve on its own as a snack or with rice.

Taishan Chinese dishes are her culinary heritage

Taishan Chinese dishes are her culinary heritage

Taishan is a city in south-western Guangdong, China, that is famous for exporting people, which is why it is often called the “first home of the overseas Chinese”. In America alone, over 500,000 Chinese Americans are said to be of Taishanese descent.

In fact, dig a little deeper and you’ll find quite a starry line-up of people who descend from Taishan, including Hollywood silent movie actress Anna May Wong, Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen and Australian chef Kylie Kwong.

I learnt all this while speaking to home cook Nicole Ann Ho Choon Fah, a 52-year-old second generation Malaysian whose eyes still gleam with pride when she talks about the homeland of her ancestors.

Ho grew up in a kampung in Butterworth, Penang, where many of her elders originated from China. This fostered a culture of constant culinary exchange that spurred the safe-keeping of many heritage recipes. In fact, her own mother, 78-year-old Liang Kim Bee, learnt how to cook authentic traditional Taishan food from her grandmother, who hailed from Taishan.

Nicole Ho, Taishan food

Ho is passionate about Taishanese food and has made sure to teach her three daughters how to make it too.

“The elders made a lot of traditional cookies and dishes from China during festive seasons or even for everyday meals. So that’s how my mum learnt. And I spent a lot of time with her. Whatever she cooked, I observed and followed. Most of the time, she cooked traditional Taishanese food,” says Ho.

Which is how Ho grew up surrounded by the food of her forebears, an immersion process that has imbued her with a lot of pride in her culture and heritage. In a strange twist of fate, Ho married a man who also originates from Taishan and is just as passionate as she is about their roots. Which is why all three of Ho’s daughters can speak the Taishanese dialect (a dialect she says few Taishanese have preserved in Malaysia) and are able to cook the family’s traditional food.

“Now that my daughters have grown up, we make an effort to pass down the traditions so they are proud of their ancestors’ homeland. I have taught them all the heritage dishes, so they are able to make them independently,” she says.

Taishan food

Ho learnt how to make traditional Taishan dishes from her mother Liang who learnt how to make it from her own grandmother.

Ho visited Taishan 10 years ago and was pleased to find that many of the dishes she makes here are similar to what can be found in Taishan. Like braised chicken with dried mandarin peel, which features a lightly nuanced but zesty sauce.

“This is normally our Chinese New Year dish, but now we cook it whenever we feel like it,” says Ho.

Dried mandarin peel is an element that Ho says is popular in Taishanese cuisine, but she always thought it came from normal oranges. Instead, on her trip to Taishan, she discovered that the skins of an inedible orange were used for this dish.

Then there is the rich and sumptuous dish of stewed lamb with sugar cane. Ho says people in Taishan often eat this warming meal at the start of winter. Although fresh sugar cane is a Taishan specialty, it’s harder to find it here, which is why Ho uses dried sugar cane instead.

“Our ancestors used to eat this meal during winter to warm their bodies. But because lamb is very heaty and the herbs are very heaty, they used a bit of sugar cane to tame it and also to add sweetness, so you don’t have to add sugar,” says Ho.

Glutinous rice balls and Chinese sausage soup features Taishan’s famed dried oysters. The dish is light and flavourful, and best served piping hot as it is another winter favourite. “Many years ago in Taishan, they used to serve this with spare parts like intestines and stomach. When times were better, they added more premium ingredients – my mum puts in prawns,” says Ho.

Ho often makes Taishan food for her family, whether its for festivals or everyday meals. Pictured here clockwise from top left: husband Ng Yew Huang, Ho, second daughter Ng Xue Mae, eldest daughter Rachel Ng Li Yan, Liang and youngest daughter Ng Qiu Yan.

Another Taishan dish with glutinous rice is a dessert that Ho and her mother love to make and have perfected to a fine art.

“We normally make this for the first day of Chinese New Year because it is sweet and has a lot of auspicious elements. It is not difficult to make, but you must have a lot of patience to stir-fry the rice. Whether it’s nice or not all depends on the rice. In my kampung, we used to cook this over a wood fire, and it had such a nice smell,” says Ho, smiling

According to Ho, hardly anyone makes this dessert anymore. “My mother said that in the old days, when married daughters went back to their hometowns, they would make a lot of this dessert because it represented their gifts to their family. But now, I don’t see anybody doing this at all and people don’t seem to want to eat it anymore,” she says.

It is this element of tradition being wiped out over the years that has motivated Ho to press ahead and continue to cook heritage Taishanese dishes and encourage her daughters to do the same.

“I feel that very few people know about Taishanese food but I am very proud that I have had the chance to learn it. So I want more people to know how to do it, because it’s a dying art here,” she says.

braised chicken with dried mandarin peel


Serves 5

500g chicken, cut into pieces
10 mushrooms, soaked till soft, drain water
5 water chestnuts, peeled and cut into small pieces
6 red dates
5 cloves garlic, peeled
5g dried mandarin peel
1 tbsp fermented soya bean paste
600ml water
1 piece dried bean curd skin
dash of salt
light soya sauce to taste

Put all the ingredients except bean curd skin, salt and soya sauce in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add bean curd skin and seasoning and simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve hot with rice.

glutinous rice ball and Chinese sausage soup


Serves 5 to 6

Glutinous rice balls
120g glutinous rice flour
60ml water

Soup base
800ml water
8 medium sized dried oysters, soaked
30g dried scallops
4 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked and sliced
200g pork liver
20g dong cai (pickled vegetables), washed and squeezed dry
1 radish, sliced
2 tsp sesame oil
dash of pepper
1 piece Chinese sausage, thinly sliced
a few celery leaves, for garnishing

For the glutinous rice balls

Mix glutinous rice flour with water until it forms a dough. Pinch off a small portion and roll into a rice ball. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

In a pot of boiling water, cook the rice balls. When they float to the surface, scoop them out and drain excess water. Set aside.

For the soup base

In a pot, bring water to boil and add dried oysters, dried scallops, mushrooms, liver, dong cai, radish, sesame oil and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add Chinese sausage and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

To serve

Put rice balls in bowls. Pour soup into bowls and garnish with celery. Serve hot.

stewed lamb with dried sugarcane


Serves 5 to 6

500g lamb chops
3 tbsp oil
4cm ginger
4 cloves garlic, peeled
200g dried sugar cane
3 pieces dong guai
1 piece nutmeg
3 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp fermented bean curd
soya sauce to taste

In a pot filled with boiling water, blanch lamb until the meat no longer smells. Drain the lamb.

In a clean wok, dry-fry lamb until water evaporates from the meat. Remove from the heat and set aside. Heat oil in another wok. Add ginger and garlic and stir until softened. Add the remaining ingredients and the lamb and stew for 30 minutes or until the meat is tender. Serve hot.

glutinous rice ball dessert


Serves 5 to 6

50g sugar
100ml water

200g glutinous rice, washed and drained
5 pieces candied winter melon, finely chopped
5 red dates, seeded and finely chopped

To make syrup

In a pot, cook sugar and water till sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.

To cook rice

In a clean wok, dry-fry rice on low heat until golden brown and aromatic. This should take 30 minutes or more. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Blend rice in a food processor till fine. Transfer to a bowl and add chopped candied winter melon and red dates (reserve some red dates for decoration).

Slowly pour in syrup and mix well to form a dough. Divide dough into small portions and shape by hand into balls. Arrange on a plate, stud with red dates and serve.

Creative one-dish meals for two from home cook Elaine Chiou

Creative one-dish meals for two from home cook Elaine Chiou

If you think about it, hardly anyone cooks for two. There’s so much effort that goes into making a meal – the shopping, prep work, cooking and cleaning up, that it only seems worth the time if there are at least four people consuming the food. Which is also why most couples opt to eat out rather than go through all that trouble.

But for home cook Elaine Chiou, this goes against everything she believes in. Chiou is a media buyer who loves cooking and cooks every single day for herself and her husband. She thinks this daily ritual is much quicker and easier than most people are led to believe.

“You may think it’s not worth the effort, but that’s not true. So many times, I have thought about calling McDonald’s to deliver food, but that would take about an hour. So instead, I’d look in my pantry and say, ‘Okay, I have noodles, I have prawns in the freezer, I have seaweed, I can just combine it.’ Within 20 to 30 minutes, you have a simple meal and you know you have controlled the flavour and the sodium and you feel good after eating it,” she says.

Ironically, Chiou never cooked at all until she was in her late 20s, as there was no culture of cooking in her family.

“I didn’t come from a tradition of people cooking at home, because my mum was very busy. So every time, we would just eat out. But I was very interested in trying my hand at cooking, because I love eating!” she says.

Elaine Chiou only started learning how to cook in her late 20s but is so hooked on cooking that she whips up all sorts of creative meals for her and her husband every day.

Since then, Chiou has gone on to experiment with recipes, starting out with Indian food because she married an Indian man who loves curries.

“I wanted to make tasty, authentic Indian curries, so I bought a lot of Indian recipes books and learnt those principles and applied them to other cuisines as well,” she says.

Chiou’s meals for two are one-dish wonders designed around invention – whatever strikes her fancy in the supermarket or whatever happens to be in her pantry or fridge. Like her saffron prawn pasta, which is made up of ingredients she had available at the time. The pasta is delicious, with fat, tender prawns, bursts of edamame, spinach lurking in the foreground and an opulent undercurrent of saffron to tie it all together.

Chiou’s meals for two revolve around invention and creativity, which is why she often makes use of whats in her pantry to come up with new creations. Clockwise from bottom left: butter fish & seaweed porridge, lamb dalcha pasta, poached silken chicken noodles and saffron prawn pasta.

“It came about because I was experimenting with prawns and pasta. One day, I just had this crazy idea to add saffron in it. And then I realised it needed something more, so I added chopped spinach because I had it in the fridge. And it’s the bomb! The spinach gives it an earthy flavour which is integral to this dish,” she says.

Chiou also loves noodles and says she cannot go two days in a row without eating it, which is why a lot of her dishes have been improvised to include noodles. Like her poached chicken in silken noodles, which was adapted from a friend’s poached chicken rice recipe. The tender chicken and noodles are accompanied by a light, flavourful broth.

Chiou says cooking has changed her and helped her grow as a person, which is why she feels more people should cook meals at home.

“I love my friend’s poached chicken rice so much, but I also love noodles, so I tweaked it, added my own twist to it, and also perfected the technique of poaching the chicken, because that’s how I like it,” she says.

While many of Chiou’s meals revolve around pasta and noodles, her butterfish porridge is also a treasured favourite. The porridge is a silken, creamy affair accentuated by the aquatic flavours of fish and seaweed.

“I started making plain porridge for my parents. Then I saw butterfish in the supermarket and thought it might be an interesting addition. When I put it in the porridge, I realised it worked really well,” she says excitedly.

Some of her recipes also pay homage to her husband’s roots, like her lamb dalcha pasta which actually came about by accident. “I had heard of dalcha, but I didn’t know what it was and had never really tried it. But one day, I tried making lamb and added spices and dhal. And then I was thinking ‘There must be this dish in existence.’ So I started researching and found out that it was called dalcha. But I didn’t seek out the recipe, it came to me,” she says, laughing.

Ultimately, Chiou says she has been able to come up with all sorts of creative meals for her and her husband because the more she cooks, the more she understands flavour pairings and how to mix and match ingredients.

“I think you can go about doing this when you know combinations. Then you can play around with ingredients,” she says.

In the past two years, Chiou’s arsenal of recipes has grown so vast that she started a blog, www.ciou yourfood.com, solely to document her growing collection.

“I thought I should just write down my recipes, so at least I can refer to it later. And that’s what happened because now when I cook, I refer to my blog for recipes,” she says.

In many ways, Chiou says cooking has changed her life and made her a different person.

“I stopped going out to eat and took joy in producing food, not just consuming it. It’s been a very personal journey and I can see myself growing. That’s why I feel like more people should do it because it’s very easy to cook meals for two every day,” she says.


Serves 2 to 4

For marination
5 jumbo prawns
salt to taste
white pepper to taste
ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp English mustard

For cooking
100g linguine
oil, for cooking
4 to 5 cloves garlic
50g butter
100ml cream
a few saffron strands
1-2 tsp English mustard
6 tbsp peeled edamame
2 cups chopped spinach

To make

Marinate the prawns in marination ingredients and set aside for 1 to 2 hours.

In a pan on medium-low heat, add some oil and sear prawns for 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a pot of boiling water, cook pasta until it is 90% done. Drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan, add oil. When oil is hot, add garlic cloves and saute until garlic starts to brown. Then add butter, cream and saffron and stir well until incorporated.

Add English mustard 1 teaspoon at a time and taste before adding more. Add edamame and spinach and cook till spinach is wilted. Add pasta to the pan and stir to coat everything evenly. Remove from the heat, add prawns on top and serve hot.


Serves 2

For the broth
1½ tbsp oil, for browning chicken feet
350g chicken feet
1 litre water

For cooking
2 chicken legs, fat trimmed (keep fat for later)
2-3 stalks of lemongrass
6-7 garlic cloves, bruised
3 bird eye chillies, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp ginger paste
4 tbsp Shaoxing wine
salt and pepper to taste
3 stalks scallions, halved
2 tbsp goji berries
140g cream noodles, cooked
8 stalks of baby kailan, blanched

To make

In a large pot, add oil and brown the chicken feet. Add water to the pot and boil for 1 hour. Once done, remove chicken feet and pour broth into a bowl.

In a pot over medium high heat, render fat trimmed from the legs. When the fat browns and releases oil, remove the fat. Add lemongrass and garlic. When the garlic browns, add chillies. Increase the heat and add chopped onion. When the onion becomes translucent, add ginger paste, followed by Shaoxing wine and some water to deglaze the pot. Then add salt and pepper to taste.

Lay chicken legs in pot and add water to just about cover them. Top up with the broth and scallions. Leave to cook on high heat for 7 minutes, then switch to low heat and simmer for another 23 minutes. Add goji berries in the last 10 minutes before the dish is done. Serve hot with cooked noodles and kailan.


Serves 2

300g butterfish, marinated in soy sauce and white pepper to taste
¾ cup Calrose or Arborio rice
1½ litres water
½ dried squid
3 tbsp dried anchovies, washed and soaked
4 red dates
5 to 6 tbsp Shaoxing wine
3 tbsp of dashi soy sauce
a few dashes of white pepper
½ cup dried seaweed, soaked and cut to bite-sized chunks
2 large white fungus, soaked and cut to bite-sized chunks
1 cup dried wood ear fungus, soaked and cut into bite-sized chunks

To cook

Marinate fish with soy sauce and white pepper and set aside.

Wash rice until the water becomes clear, then add water into the pot. Add squid, anchovies and red dates and cook on high heat for a while. Switch to low heat when the water boils to avoid the rice burning.

Cook for 90 minutes on low heat, checking water level often. Keep adding water to liquefy porridge until you get a creamy consistency. Add Shaoxing wine, dashi soy sauce and white pepper. When the porridge is bubbling, add seaweed and fungi. Leave to bubble for another 5 minutes.

Turn off fire and add butterfish. Keep stirring the fish into the hot porridge, letting the residual heat cook the fish. Remove from the heat once done and eat hot.

lamb dalcha pasta


Serves 2

For marination
500gm lamb, cubed
1 lamb shank
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp curry powder

For cooking
3 tbsp oil
2 star anise
8 cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cumin seeds, dry toasted
2 tsp fennel seeds, dry toasted
4 shallots, chopped1 red onion, halved
2-3 stalks of lemongrass (bruised)
5 sprigs of curry leaves
2 tsp ginger garlic paste
1½ tomatoes or 8 cherry tomatoes
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp cayenne powder (or chilli powder)
1 tsp turmeric powder
¼ cup split peas/chana dal, soaked for 30 mins
750ml water
salt and sugar to taste
½ cup seashell pasta, cooked

To cook

Marinate lamb cubes and shank in salt, pepper and curry powder for 3 hours.

Add oil in pot and fry star anise, cardamom pods and bay leaf. Then add cumin and fennel seeds and stir for 30 seconds.

On high heat, add shallots, red onion, lemongrass, curry leaves and ginger garlic paste. As the heat builds up and onions start to caramelise, add tomatoes followed by all the powders. Add a little water to dilute.

Finally add split peas and cover the contents with water. Cook for 2 to 3 hours on low heat or for 30 minutes in a pressure cooker, adding salt and sugar to taste in the middle of the cook. Serve hot with pasta.

Traditional Indian dishes cooked from the heart by septuagenarian Betty Vincent

Traditional Indian dishes cooked from the heart by septuagenarian Betty Vincent

Betty Vincent bustles about her kitchen with boundless energy and a sense of purpose, stirring the ghee rice she has cooked and opening well-stocked cupboards to pick out her favourite crockery – some of her tableware dates back to 1958, the year she got married.

At one point, she heads out to the little herb garden at the back of her house and carefully cuts off a sprig of mint leaves to adorn a dish she has made.

This vigour is all the more impressive given that Betty is nearly 78 years old.

But to family and friends who know the warm-hearted, generous Betty, this is just a regular day for the woman who has spent her life taking care of and feeding the people she loves.

Although Betty is now widely acknowledged to be a fabulous home cook, she actually had no working knowledge of the kitchen until she got married at 18, fresh out of school. It was the norm for women of her generation.

“My mother was a good cook, but we always had maids in the house. And I got married straight out of school, so she didn’t really teach me how to cook,” says Betty.

After her marriage, Betty and her husband M.J. Vincent moved into his family home, where nearly 20 people shared the same living space.

Betty Vincent, home cook, Everyone Can Cook, Indian food

Although she is nearly 78, Betty still cooks all the traditional Indian dishes she learnt dating back to the 1950s, as her family loves her food.

“There were 19 of us in my mother-in-law’s house but we had fun. My mother-in-law did the marketing and my sisters-in-law did the cooking. I just watched and observed whatever they were cooking,” she says.

In 1964, Betty and her family moved into their own home, and all her observational skills were put to good use when she started cooking for own little family, gradually developing a carefully curated repertoire of recipes.

These days, Betty is a dab hand in the kitchen and continues to cook the traditional Indian recipes she picked up from years of constant learning.

One of her signature dishes is her ghee rice, which is buoyed by spices like cloves and cinnammon, and rich with coconut milk and ghee. It is a dish she picked up from her mother-in-law, who often made it on Sundays when Betty and her family went to visit her.

“My son Jerry likes this rice. When he was little, on days when we went to visit my mother-in-law and she didn’t cook it, he would say, ‘Aiyoh mummy, Aima (grandma) didn’t make the rice!’” she recalls, chuckling.

Although the rice has ghee in it, it isn’t too oily as Betty is careful not to put too much. “If you want, you can add more oil, but I don’t like it too oily – it’s too rich and people are all very health-conscious now,” she says.

Betty’s most well known for her fish pickle, a recipe she inherited from her mother that has become the stuff of family legend.

The sumptuous, intoxicatingly good pickle is filled with chunks of fish and has delicate vinegary undertones suffusing each mouthful.

Betty Vincent, M.J. Vincent, home cook

Betty and her husband Vincent have been married for 60 years and he says he really likes her food.

It is often requested by her many relatives. So, Betty often makes it and packs it in bottles for her children (two of whom live overseas), nephews and nieces to take home.

The recipients of Betty’s fish pickle are extremely possessive of it and a refusal to share with others is a recurring theme.

Even holy men have been known to get greedy whilst under the spell of her pickle!

“My godson is a priest and I made him some fish pickle when he went to Rome. When he was there, the other Malaysian priests wanted to try some of his pickle and he said ‘No, this is mine!’”she says, laughing mischievously.

Another family favourite is Betty’s Kerala-style dried prawn sambal, which she learnt to make from a friend whose mother originated from the south Indian state.

The sambal is a dry, robustly-flavoured affair punctuated by chewy bursts of dried prawns and a spicy undercurrent that proves immensely satisfying.

“This one is nice with bread, you butter your bread and add this, and it’s good!” says Betty.

Although most of her recipe repository is made up of meals that she watched her elders preparing, Betty’s tomato chutney is something she came up with herself. “I just tried it and it turned out nice,” she says, ever humble.

The chutney is a hedonistic delight – creamy, with spice-laden nuances and a tanginess from the tomatoes.

Although Betty could easily slow down now, she remains enthusiastic about cooking and still cooks for her husband every day. When asked if he likes her food, she quips, “He never says no to my food,” and smiles at her husband.

In response, 87-year-old Vincent (they’ve been married for 60 years now) beams back at his wife and says, “Yeah, yeah, I like her food.”


Serves 6

2 heaped tbsp ghee
100g cashewnut
300g onion, sliced
5 cloves
5 cardamom pods
2 cinnammon sticks
400g Basmati rice, cleaned
4 bay leaves
2 pandan leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
200ml coconut milk
water, to cook rice

To make

In a pan, add ghee and fry cashewnuts until slightly browned. Remove cashewnuts from ghee.

In the same pan, use remaining ghee to fry onions. Add cloves, cardamom and cinnamon and saute for awhile. Remove from the heat.

Put rice in rice cooker, add fried ingredients, bay leaves, pandan leaves, turmeric, salt and cashew nuts. Add coconut milk and some water to cook. The liquid level should be slightly above the rice. Leave to cook in rice cooker and once done, stir and serve hot.

fish pickle


Serves 6

For blending into a paste
300g ginger
300g garlic

For mixing together
1 heaped tbsp tamarind
2 cups vinegar

For marinating
4 pcs tenggiri fillets
1 tsp chilli powder
salt to taste

For cooking
1 1/2 cups oil
2 tsbp mustard seeds, pounded slightly
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp chilli powder
salt to taste
a large handful curry leaves

To make

Blend garlic and ginger into a paste and set aside.

In a bowl, mix the tamarind and vinegar until absorbed. Strain mixture, reserving remaining tamarind-vinegar juice.

Marinate fish with chilli powder and salt.

In a wok, add oil and fry fish till tender but not crispy. Remove from the heat and cut fish into bite-sized pieces.

In the same wok, use the remaining oil to fry ginger and garlic until cooked well (about 15 minutes). Add mustard seeds, sugar, chilli powder, tamarind-vinegar juice, salt and curry leaves. Fry for 10 to 15 minutes until aromatic. Add fish and coat evenly in mixture. Serve hot or leave to cool and eat later.

dried prawn sambal


Serves 6

200g dried prawn
1 cup oil
400g onion, chopped finely
100g garlic, chopped finely
5 tbsp chilli powder
4 to 5 tbsp sugar
salt to taste

To make

Soak the dried prawns in water. Drain and grind in a dry blender.

In a pan on medium heat, add oil and fry the onions, garlic, chilli powder, sugar and salt for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add dried prawns and on low heat, fry mixture for about 15 to 20 minutes until it is completely dry. Serve on bread or with rice.

tomato chutney


Serves 6

For dry toasting and pounding
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper

For cooking
oil, for cooking
3 large onions, chopped finely
1 red chilli, cut finely
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
3 to 4 tbsp Greek yoghurt

To make

In a pan, dry toast cumin and pepper. Remove from the heat and pound to a powder in a pestle and mortar.

In a large pan, add oil and fry onions and chilli till onions are tender. Add tomatoes, chilli powder, turmeric, cumin, pepper and salt. Fry mixture for awhile.

When tomatoes are soft and mushy, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Once cooled, stir in yoghurt and serve as is, or refrigerate until ready to eat.

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