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

Some are, but barely. I estimate a 60% attrition in Penang - it may be as high, if not higher in Kuala Lumpur and Malacca.

The Malaysian Prime Minister just resigned yesterday - as the pandemic crisis had exacerbated the political turmoil in the country.

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It’ll be a real shame to lose some of those multigenerational restaurants that have been around for decades.


Indeed. It’s especially bad in Kuala Lumpur, where many, many old names are disappearing every other week.


Day 519 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020, and Day 99 of the current MCO 3.0 which has kept most shops and businesses closed.

Lunch today is homecooked 𝙥𝙖𝙫 𝙗𝙝𝙖𝙟𝙞, a Mumbai street food which owed its existence to the American Civil War.

I was just reading about the history of the 𝙥𝙖𝙫 𝙗𝙝𝙖𝙟𝙞 the other day in an article entitled “What Mumbaikars owe to the American Civil War: Pav Bhaji” in a Delhi-based Indian e-paper, Mint.

It talked about Gujarati cotton traders in Mumbai back in the mid-19th-century, and how they stepped into a supply vacuum when the Union naval blockade of the Confederate ports disrupted trade with the Manchester cotton mills.

Mumbai’s cotton industry upped its game to fulfill Manchester’s needs, and its textile workers, working long into the nights, required sustenance. That was when the street stalls in that district invented the 𝙥𝙖𝙫 𝙗𝙝𝙖𝙟𝙞, a spicy mélange of mashed potatoes, beans and vegetables in a tomato-inflected curry gravy, served alongside soft buttered buns (an adaptation of the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries’ Pão de Deus).

The soft buns are slit in half and pan-fried in butter.

One can find 𝙥𝙖𝙫 𝙗𝙝𝙖𝙟𝙞 practically everywhere in India these days. Although the north-west Indian metropolis, Mumbai, supposedly has the best ones, my first encounter with pav bhaji was in Bangalore back in 2004. Never looked back since.


I love pav bhaji. Our favourite Indian restaurant serves mainly Mumbai street food. I had no idea of its history and, in particular, how it touched our city. The effect of the war on our cotton mills is, of course, well recorded. It devastated the industry but the blockade was generally supported by both workers and mill owners. We have always been a politically left leaning city with many of the middles classes coming from a Methodist religious tradition that found slavery abhorrent.

The growth of textile production in India eventually caused the demise of it here but, again, I had no knowledge that the War was at the root of it.


So, it’s come full circle - the street food invented to feed Indian workers in 19th-century Mumbai servicing Manchester’s cotton industry back then, is now available in Indian restaurants in Manchester!

Neither did I, till I was reading up on the origins of the pav bhaji and came across this article:

It’s an interesting read, Peter. I love to learn about the history of food in a culture.

The mention of the Irani cafes was also interesting. The chap who owns the restaurant I mentioned has a business partner who is from Iran (she came to the UK to study opera). Once a year, they set aside a week to offer as “specials” dishes from the Mumbai community originally from Persia. Unfortunately, we’ve been away both times they’ve run it and, of course, it’s not run for the last couple of years.

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Like their Parsi cousins, the Iranis are Zoroastrians - they had to flee Persia to escape persecution by their Muslim conquerors. The Parsis had been around in India longer, since the 14th-century. Trekking across deserts, over mountains and traversed rivers whilst carrying with them their sacred eternal flames, which they had to keep burning since their first temples were built. They finally settled in Northwest India - the flames that they eventually placed in the Parsis’ newly-built “fire temples” (or agiaries) in Mumbai had been burning for over 1,500 years.

The Iranis came to India later - in the 19th-century. The Parsis and Iranis are very closely-knit as Zoroastrians are not allowed to marry outside their religion, so there’re quite a bit of inter-marriages between the two communities in India, and anywhere else in the world where they both are.

I’d have loved to try Irani dishes anywhere they’re offered - because they are so very rare! I think there are only up to 200,000 Zoroastrians worldwide, and Britain has probably the 5th or 6th largest community (about 50,000).

We have a tiny Parsi community in Singapore (around 500), but I don’t know about the Iranis. I have a book on the Singaporean Parsis that I referred to when I was once commissioned to write an article about Singapore’s different communities and religions:

They are a very sociable and fun-loving group of people, and extremely charitable as that’s one of the foundations of Zoroastrianism.

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Next time you’re in London, you might want to check out Cafe Spice Namaste which is owned by a Parsee. I had a lamb dhansaak which was wonderful. The chef’s wife, who runs front of house, had described it to me as the Parsee equivalent to a British sunday roast. They are currently closed and between premises so they have nothing of interest on their website for me to link to just now. But they are doing meal boxes to finish at home inlcuding a Parsee one - https://www.mrtodiwalas.com/collections/mr-todiwala-at-home/products/the-parsee-box

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Oh yes, I’ve heard so much about Cafe Spice Namaste and must go there on my next trip to London. I’d been wanting to go there for years, but always ended up distracted by other Indian spots: Moti Mahal, Benares, Gymkhana, Tamarind, Trishna, Quilon, Veeraswamy, Amaya, Zaika, Indian Zing, etc.
Chutney Mary was another Indian spot I’d always wanted to visit, but never did.

My first time having that dish was at a Chowdown organised by ex-CH, Howler, at the Bombay Brasserie back in 2012. He’d even managed to persuade Bombay Brasserie’s executive chef to procure goat-meat for the dhansaak dish!

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I’ve wanted to go to Veeraswamy since I was in my early teens in the 1960s and still haven’t made it. My late cousin, much older than me, used to visit London for business reasons from time to time and would always have a meal there. His stories made it sound so exotic - food that hadnt yet reached northwest England and wouldnt do for at least another decade. And the sheer style of the place, right down to the turbanned doorman. I think it may have been listening to David that fired my interest in food, although that didnt really surface until a goodly number of years passed.

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I’d not been back to Veeraswamy for ages - the last time I was there was way back in Nov 2008, but it was a disappointment. I was giving a newly-wed London-based cousin and her Scottish husband a dinner treat one evening.

I’d carefully selected 4 types of curries which I was sure would have distinctively different flavours: a paneer one, a red meat (I think it was lamb), a chicken and a mixed vegetable one. But we ended up with 4 identical-looking and uniform-tasting curries on our table! I didn’t have a very good photo here:

I’m pretty sure Veeraswamy’s food would have improved drastically by now, since it’s still around and competing with the likes of excellent newbies like Gunpowder:

Day 531 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020.

My stay-home Sunday lunch is crisp-fried Indonesian tempe (fermented soybean cakes) with fried rice.

Tempe is one of my favourite food items in the world. It was first introduced to me by Indonesian classmates in university back in 1983. That year, I made soybean and its products my first-year environmental science project.

I like my tempe deep-fried till golden-crisp on the outside, but still moist inside.

Drain the crisp tempe batons on absorbent paper.

One can find tempe all over Indonesia today, but the best I’d ever tasted is from Malang, an East Javanese city 95 km from Surabaya.

Serve with fried rice/nasi goreng. I also liked to have tempe with a “kicap manis” (sweet soybean sauce) dip on the side.


Day 533 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020.

It’s the Malaysian independence day today, but I decided to stay in and cook one of my favorite childhood dishes: Tauhu Titek, a savory soup which consisted of shrimp-pork meatballs and tofu, in a salted fish-shrimp broth flavored with “rempah titek” spice blend.

All the ingredients needed to cook tauhu titek:

  1. De-shell the shrimps. Do not discard the shells and shrimp-heads - boil them to obtain the shrimp stock for the broth.

  2. Mince the shrimp-meat with pork. Form into small balls

  3. For the soup base, one needs to prepare the “rempah titek” spice blend - pound candlenuts (buah keras), toasted belachan, chilis and purple onions.
    Sauté (“tumis”) the “rempah” in oil till fragrant.
    Strain the shrimp stock and add to the pot. Bring to boil.

  4. Add the shrimp-pork meatballs, salted fish and tofu. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
    Add Chinese parsley and scallions, and cook for a couple of minutes more.

  5. Serve “tauhu titek” hot, with steamed white rice.

My go-to Nyonya cookbook is by Mrs Lee Chin Koon, the mother of Singapore’s late Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew. First published in 1974, I first used her “tauhu titek” recipe to cook this dish back in 1983, when I was still a student in Australia. Her cookbook was my life-saver back then.


Day 534 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020.

Since a disconcerting number of people (Singaporean Peranakans, i.e. people from my own community, no less) mistook my 𝗧𝗮𝘂𝗵𝘂 𝗧𝗶𝘁𝗲𝗸 dish yesterday for 𝗣𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗮𝘂𝗵𝘂, I decided to cook the latter today, just to illustrate the differences. :grin:

Some basic differences:

  • 𝗧𝗮𝘂𝗵𝘂 𝗧𝗶𝘁𝗲𝗸’s broth has a “rempah” spice mix, called “rempah titek” which consisted of chilis, candlenuts, shallots & belachan (fermented shrimp paste), plus salted fish. 𝗣𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗮𝘂𝗵𝘂’s broth, on the other hand, has “taucheo” (fermented soybean paste) & bamboo shoots. Very different taste profiles for the two broths.

  • 𝗧𝗮𝘂𝗵𝘂 𝗧𝗶𝘁𝗲𝗸’s meatballs consisted of minced pork & shrimps, whereas 𝗣𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗮𝘂𝗵𝘂’s meatballs has minced pork, shrimps, crisp-fried garlic, minced “tau-kwa” (hard tofu) & egg, and are hence also lighter in texture, and larger in size.

Ingredients for cooking pong tauhu: shrimps, minced pork, tau-kwa (hard tofu), bamboo shoots, golden-fried garlic and egg.

To make the minced pork and shrimp meatballs, one also needed to add crisp-fried garlic, egg, minced tau-kwa (hard tofu, minced and liquid squeezed out) & chopped spring onions.

Prepare the broth from simmering pork-bones or chicken pieces. Add “taucheo” (fermented bean paste), julienned bamboo shoots and bring to a boil. Add meatballs and cook for about 5 minutes - meatballs will float to the surface once they are cooked.


Breakfast this morning: egg fried rice, with Spam and stewed baby abalone.


surf n’ turf, gotta try that soon! :smile:

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Lunch today was a childhood favourite:
:small_orange_diamond: 𝗕𝗮𝗸𝘄𝗮𝗻 𝗸𝗲𝗽𝗶𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴, steamed crabmeat-minced pork-shrimp meatballs, in a bamboo shoots-fermented beanpaste soup.

My recipe:
1 chicken
1.5 litres water
𝘉𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘰𝘪𝘭, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘴𝘪𝘮𝘮𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘥 𝘪𝘴 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘵 1.2 𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘳𝘦𝘴. 𝘚𝘦𝘵 𝘢𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦.

2 Tbspns cooking oil
5-6 pips garlic, minced
150g minced pork (make sure about 30% fat)
150g minced shrimp-meat
300g crabmeat
1 egg
2 tspns white pepper
2 Tbpsns light soy sauce

(The recipe also calls for 1 Tbspn fish-paste/scraped fish-meat, but I omitted that - it has very little effect on the texture or overall flavor).

𝘛𝘰 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘴 - 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘵 𝘰𝘪𝘭 𝘪𝘯 𝘸𝘰𝘬 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘧𝘳𝘺 𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘤𝘦𝘥 𝘨𝘢𝘳𝘭𝘪𝘤 𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘭𝘺 𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘭𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘭𝘺-𝘣𝘳𝘰𝘸𝘯𝘦𝘥. 𝘋𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘢𝘥𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘱-𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘥 𝘨𝘢𝘳𝘭𝘪𝘤 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘳𝘦𝘥𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘴. 𝘔𝘪𝘹 𝘸𝘦𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘱𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘱𝘰𝘯𝘨-𝘴𝘪𝘻𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘴. 𝘐𝘧 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘶𝘴𝘦𝘥 𝘴𝘮𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘤𝘳𝘢𝘣𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘵, 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘴𝘵𝘶𝘧𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘵 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘳𝘢𝘣𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘴.

𝘐 𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘢𝘮 𝘮𝘺 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘴, 𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘳𝘦𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳.

To prepare the overall dish:
2 Tbspns cooking oil
4-5 pips garlic, minced
1 tspn taucheo, mashed
1 pack bamboo shoots, cut into strips
Coriander leaves

𝘏𝘦𝘢𝘵 𝘰𝘪𝘭 𝘪𝘯 𝘢 𝘤𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘦𝘳𝘰𝘭𝘦 𝘰𝘳 𝘭𝘢𝘳𝘨𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘱𝘰𝘵. 𝘚𝘵𝘪𝘳-𝘧𝘳𝘺 𝘨𝘢𝘳𝘭𝘪𝘤 𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘭𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘭𝘺 𝘣𝘳𝘰𝘸𝘯𝘦𝘥. 𝘈𝘥𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘢𝘶𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘰 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘭𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘳 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘢𝘶𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘰 𝘣𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨. 𝘈𝘥𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘬𝘦𝘯 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘤𝘬 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘰𝘵. 𝘉𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘰𝘪𝘭.
𝘈𝘥𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘴 & 𝘣𝘢𝘮𝘣𝘰𝘰 𝘴𝘵𝘳𝘪𝘱𝘴. 𝘛𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘢𝘥𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘴𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘴𝘢𝘭𝘵 𝘰𝘳 𝘴𝘰𝘺 𝘴𝘢𝘶𝘤𝘦. 𝘎𝘢𝘳𝘯𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘤𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘦𝘳𝘷𝘦 𝘩𝘰𝘵.

Our meal also included take-out lunch-sets from Hainan Town restaurant at its new Jalan Kajang location.
:small_orange_diamond: 𝗖𝗵𝗶𝗰𝗸𝗲𝗻 𝗰𝘂𝗿𝗿𝘆 𝗞𝗮𝗽𝗶𝘁𝗮𝗻, 𝗹𝗼𝗿 𝗯𝗮𝗸 & 𝗷𝗶𝘂 𝗵𝘂 𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗿 𝗹𝘂𝗻𝗰𝗵 𝘀𝗲𝘁
:small_orange_diamond: 𝗡𝗮𝘀𝗶 𝗹𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗸 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗯𝗲𝗲𝗳 𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗻𝗴 & 𝗮𝘀𝗮𝗺 𝗳𝗶𝘀𝗵
:small_orange_diamond: 𝗡𝗮𝘀𝗶 𝘂𝗹𝗮𝗺 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗮𝘀𝗮𝗺 𝗳𝗶𝘀𝗵

Dessert was an excellent:
:small_orange_diamond: 𝗦𝗮𝗴𝗼 𝗚𝘂𝗹𝗮 𝗠𝗲𝗹𝗮𝗸𝗮


Home-cooked pork curry for lunch today.

Madam Yew is an energetic 86-year-old patisserie chef extraordinaire, famous in Penang for her Indonesian layer cakes (also known as spekkoek or lapis legit), and a variety of butter cakes and fruit cakes. Besides her cakes, Madam Yew also prepares a selection of her own curry spice blends.

A KL friend who’s a serious gourmet once visited Madam Yew’s home-cum-workplace 2.5 years ago, and came away with an armful of her products. He gave me a packet of her special blend of curry powder, as a thank-you gesture for having recommended Madam Yew to him.

I forgot all about that packet of curry powder - until this morning, when I was plumbing the Stygian depths of my overstocked larder in search of an elusive pack of black pepper which a Bornean friend had sent to me last year. I couldn’t locate the black pepper, but decided to use the newly re-discovered Madam Yew’s curry powder to make a pork-and-potato curry for lunch.

Madam Yew’s curry spice mix has a licorice-like Hainanese curry flavor.


I love that flavor profile.

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