[Penang, Malaysia] Home-cooking during the COVID-19 Lockdown

Probably the most unusual post from me here: As all eateries in Penang are closed to dining-in, and only take-outs are available, I’d resorted to home-cooking for the past 6 weeks. Just sharing pictures of some of my home-cooked dishes here:

  1. Penang-Nyonya nasi lemak - Penang Nyonya-style will have fish which had been marinated in tamarind juice, then fried, resulting in a “blackened fish” that tasted quite tart.
    Then, one must have the “sambal udang” - shrimps cooked with minced onions, chilis, turmeric and lemongrass, then tamarind juice and sugar were added.
    Other standard add-ons are hard-boiled eggs, fresh cucumber and toasted groundnuts.

  1. Hainanese chicken and mushroom soup - this is another traditional Penang dish. Most households would only use the chicken gizzards but not the meat. In my family, we use both the meat and the gizzards. Other standard ingredients are potatoes, carrots, onions and button mushrooms, all finely-diced. The consommé gets its flavour from Worcestershire sauce, Glass noodles are dropped into soften the consommé, and brought up to a simmer again, just before serving.

  1. Hainanese chicken chop - a much-loved dish introduced to Malaysia’s culinary repertoire by Hainanese immigrants from Southern China: batter-fried chicken blanketed in a thick brown sauce with replete with onions and mushrooms. Fried potato wedges and green peas are the standard sides.

  1. Indomie Aceh instant noodles - this was a quick meal made from out-of-the-packet Indomie Aceh. But I paired it with curried chicken-and-potatoes which I made from the previous evening.

  2. Chicken-and-potato curry - this Penang-Nyonya version is my favourite chicken curry of all time. It gets its spice aroma from a Southern Indian-Tamil masala mix, the sweetness from minced onions, and heat from a combination of fresh and sun-dried chilis and fresh ginger. Coconut milk will be added in to give the curry its richness. The local Penangites loved adding in hard-boiled eggs for added texture in the curry.

  1. "Bak" steak - this is another Penang-Chinese comfort food: Hamburg pork patties, dressed in a soy sauce-accented, eggy brown gravy, with sweet onions, potato wedges and peas. Best served with steamed rice - I chose fragrant Thai hom mali brown rice here.

  1. Ayam pongteh - this is a traditional Southern Nyonya chicken stew, flavoured with fermented brown soybeans. Southern Nyonya cooking encompassed Malaccan and Singaporean Nyonya cooking styles. One can incorporate mushrooms or bamboo shoots into the stew, but I only used potatoes, which would absorb the flavours of the sauce as the stew simmered.

  2. Ayam buah keluak - another Southern Nyonya dish: this one uses the “buah keluaK”, large walnut-sized nuts which yielded a truffle-like scent and an assertive, addictive flavour. Preparation of the nuts required a 3-5 day soaking, to get rid of its mild toxicity. The nuts are then cracked open and the flesh removed, mixed with spices and stuffed back in.
    The nuts will be used in a spiced chicken dish, with chilis, lemongrass, galangal, tamarind, ginger and belacan/fermented shrimp paste. Tamarind juice will be added in to give the gravy a slight sour accent which juxtaposed beautifully with the chili-spice mix and the “buah keluak” flavour.

  1. Chinese fried rice with roasted pork, vegetable and egg

  2. Penang Hokkien instant noodles - another out-of-the-packet instant noodles, though I garnished it with minced pork meatballs, and carved carrots, the way traditional Nyonya women like my grandmother liked to carve root vegetables into flower, phoenix or butterfly shapes.

  1. Scotch haggis - made from canned Scotch haggis I got from Glasgow during my visit last year. Baked for 30 minutes, then paired with mashed potatoes and boiled carrots & peas.

  1. Chicken pie - very similar to English-style pies, but over here, the diced chicken-meat filling is cooked in a creamy sauce flavoured with a hint of soy sauce and Chinese 5-spice. We also added sweet corn kernels, peas and sliced button mushrooms into the filling.

Most of us are settling into this “new normal”. The lockdown is due to end in Malaysia on May 14, and in Singapore on June 2, but much depends on the COVID-19 new case figures. Let’s wait and see - until a vaccine is found, it’ll be more home-cooking as we bunker down at home. Stay safe, all Hungry Onioners out there!

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Good to see you’re not wasting away, Peter. :grinning:

By the by, I was surprised to see the fried potatoes and peas with the chicken chop. Is that traditional or a European influence?

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Your home cooking game is strong!

Seeing the haggis was unexpected. Hmmm, I might need a strong cocktail or two first if I were to try haggis myself. :wink:

Cheers and stay safe.

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All look delicious and beautifully presented. Would be hard for me to choose a favourite dish! But if I must choose then it would have to be #7 (ayam pongteh) and #1 (Nonya nasi lemak) with extra sambal udang!

It’s European-influenced, but had been absorbed into Malaysian/Singaporean culinary tradition and became our own in the past two centuries or so. Malaya was under colonial rule for over 500 years, first by the Portuguese for more than a century, then the Dutch for nearly two centuries, and finally by the British from the time the first outpost was set-up in Penang in 1786 until Malaya was given independence (and renamed Malaysia) in 1957. Portuguese, Dutch and English cooking styles and traditions have been incorporated, just as Chinese, Indian, Thai and Indonesian cooking influences were, to form what is known as Malaysian food today.

One of the earliest known fusion cooking style has to be the Nyonya cuisine, unique to the three original Straits Settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore. Here, native Malay cooking styles using Chinese ingredients gave rise to a wholly-indigenised culinary tradition.

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I’m in love with haggis. Something about the sheep offal parts which appealed to the Chinese part of my DNA. We love offal to bits. :laughing:

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When all this COVID-19 madness is over - maybe in a year or two, you must come to Singapore and Malaysia, and gorge. :grin:

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We are terrified of the heat and humidity in SG and MY. That’s probably the only thing that prevents us from returning. Would love to eat our way through MY (one trip at a time)!

BUT, we have already agreed on going to Miaoli*, Taiwan to eat Hakka food every day. :joy: In combination with a brief return to Hsinchu just to eat goose and clams at this fantastic local place across from the hotel where we stayed. Still haunted by the goose there and I often say we must go to Hsinchu again for that.

(*Miaoli has the highest concentration of Hakkas in Taiwan)

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Oh yes, always a challenge when it comes to the weather here.

Me too. Very easy, of course, to find fresh in the UK. It’s commonly in the supermarkets. I remember once having a cooked breakfast (Scotland?) which included haggis, black pudding and white pudding, along with the usual bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomato, fried bread. Delish!

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By co-incidence, I was watching a very old wartime film last night - A Town Like Alice - and I immediately thought of you. It starts in Penang, where I know you live, and ends in Australia, where I know you lived when younger.

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You must be referring to the old Peter Finch/Virginia McKenna version. I’d never seen that one.

“A Town Like Alice” was also made into a TV series in Australia back in 1981. It starred Bryan Brown and Helen Morse, who were huge stars at the time - that’s the version that I saw, and would come to my mind whenever the title was mentioned. :grin:

That’s the one. I’ve just looked it up to see when it was made (1956) and realise my mistake earlier. The film starts in KL not Penang which briefly comes into play shortly after. It’s very much a film of its time and, of course, was made only a few years after the end of the war, when the public consciousness would have still been very raw. I remember when I started work in 1966, my boss was very bitter about anything Japanese, although made it clear that he didnt want to talk about anything. He will have been old enough to have served in the forces, so I always presumed he had had bad experiences.

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My mother’s family had quite an experience during the war - my grandfather was a plantation manager for a British company in Johore, southern Malaya, and his family lived in Singapore itself, which is separated from Johore by a 1 km causeway. When the Japanese army started advancing down Malaya towards Singapore, the British army blew up the causeway, but failed to stop the invasion of Singapore.

My mum was only 5 years old at the time, and she had 2 brothers who were 7 and 3. My grandfather knew that the Japanese would come for him as he worked for the British, so he had to escape with his whole family. My mum recalled one night when her family had to hide inside a chicken coop in Tiong Bahru (which today is a bohemian part of Singapore with lots of good eats). She and her brothers were told not to move so much, for fear that the chickens might get excited and cackle, attracting the attention of the Japanese soldiers patrolling the farms. The family then took a boat which smuggled them out of Singapore and to the east coast of Johore, where they then spent 3 months trekking 450 miles up to Kota Bharu. My grandfather had 3 loyal servants who went with them, sometimes taking turns carrying the children when they were too tired to walk.

The Japanese army were unbelievably cruel during their occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945. Out of a Chinese population of about 450,000 at the time, they executed about 50,000. Many Singaporeans of the older generation have not forgiven the Japanese till today.

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Very understandable. There are things in recent history that we should not forgive and forget. Thanks for sharing this, Peter.

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The food are fantastic, but I would like to comment also on the great food photos, with always a nice composition between the foreground and background, and different angles. Very lovely porcelain dinnerwares (photo #5, 7 & 9). If you didn’t say it was home cooking, they looked like restaurant food.

I always like the chicken pie, yours looked delicious.

Good to know you are enjoying cooking as well. We know your restaurant side than the homey side. Thanks for sharing. Stay safe, stay hungry as well.

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It seems Singapore isn’t doing well with a lot of new cases, I’ve heard it is due to the foreign labour force in poor housing conditions.

I looked at the ingredients for this dish. I’m not sure if it is easy to find pandan leaves here. What will you recommend as a substitution? Thanks.

I tried to make the Thai mango sticky rice, it asked for pandan leaves as well when heating up the coconut milk.

Thanks, @naf! Being locked down at home just meant so much more time “free time” to spend cooking!

The dinnerware I used are family heirloom: two-centuries-old Straits Chinese porcelainware which I inherited from my great-great-great-grandfather’s household. I only use them on special occasions these days. :grin:

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Unfortunately, no. It’ll be great even if you can find frozen pandan leaves.

When I was in Indonesia, I quite liked their nasi uduk, which is also coconut milk-enriched rice, but scented with lemongrass, ginger, cloves & star anise. You can do without pandan leaves for nasi uduk, which is just as tasty. Remember to also add salt during cooking, so it can bring out the rich savouriness of the coconut milk in the rice.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold