#chefbro recipe – kaya

I know some people live their whole lives without tasting kaya. It’s sad. 

Basically, kaya is a type of coconut jam –  an eggy, custardy, pandan-fragrant, delicious coconut jam. 

Kaya has big childhood resonance for me. My mother used to make it in the cramped kitchen of our family home in Brisbane, at night so the heat wasn’t usually too bad (says I, who never had to stay tethered to the hot-plate and double-boiler…).  Continue reading “#chefbro recipe – kaya”

#chefbro recipe – crumpet loaf

This blog is not a recipe blog, so it may seem odd that this post contains a recipe. Here’s why it’s here: I posted a couple of photos of my brother’s crumpet loaf on Twitter and the level of interest in it was remarkable.

Lots of people did not know such a thing existed – it is indeed a gift for humanity that it does – and quite a few were asking about a recipe. I thought this was the easiest way to share it as Twitter does not lend itself to sharing recipes, what with that 280 character limit and all.

The recipe and method is below, direct from my brother Kong Hian Khoo, the chef (aka #chefbro on my Twitterstream). Not only is he a fabulous chef, he’s also an excellent brother and human being. If I could emulate even half his generosity, good humour, and optimism, I would be a way better Tseen – and possibly someone you don’t recognise…

[Don’t worry, family, I’ll go back to sledging the dragon-seed soon]

Whole crumpet loaf | Photo by Tseen
Whole crumpet loaf | Photo by Tseen

Continue reading “#chefbro recipe – crumpet loaf”

Top 10 Asian Oz childhood foods

This post is inspired by this article on Foodbeast that floated my way through Facebook: 16 things that taste just like your Asian American childhood.

I browsed through it with glee, loving these kinds of walks down memory lane. Even if it wasn’t necessarily my memory lane.

Oddly enough, I encountered quite a few of the items in my adult life rather than my childhood.

I didn’t have my first Pocky stick, for example, till I was 27 years old. I was in Canada doing research for my PhD, visiting one my favourite Canadian authors, and she offered me a Pocky stick. It was the start of a long and fond relationship (for me and Pocky sticks, that is; the author’s pretty damn cool, too, it must be said).

Some of the food items did strike a chord, and reminded me of my Brisbane childhood, the trips to Fortitude Valley, and the evolving Asian grocery shops and malls through the 1980s and 1990s.

The items from the Foodbeast list that populated my childhood as well are: haw flakes, shrimp-flavoured chips, and pork floss (aka ‘pork sung’ in the Foodbeast listing). There were, however, many others that loomed large for our family. I’m not sure if they were unique to us, or whether they reflected a broader pattern of Malaysian-Chinese consumption.


Crowded kitchens

Mum's sayor lodeh (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Mum’s sayor lodeh (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

I take my family’s kitchen skills for granted.

I forget how much food and cooking knowledge I’ve gained purely through osmosis, and watching others do their thing.

Like many Malaysian Chinese families (or Asian families more generally?), we’ve always been big on feasting and special occasion meals. Wisely, my siblings and I also snagged partners who were similarly appreciative of sharing food and making meals meaningful.

My mum and dad have always been keen cooks, and my mum has taken formal cooking classes in a broad range of cuisines. She takes on the lion’s share of the household’s dinners, and we have a family dinner every Sunday night. Her collection of cookbooks is formidable, and it includes a lot of bilingual 1960s/70s books from Malaysia. Once upon a time, we used to have regular dinners for 40 or more people at our Brisbane house in Chapel Hill. It wasn’t that large a house, and the 1970s kitchen from which she and my dad produced massive feasts was tiny + very badly designed.

My brother is a chef; he’s been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. He has worked at a whole range of restaurants, bistros, and cafes – in Brisbane, Melbourne, and around the UK. He’s currently in his cheffing dream job, one that allows him to get home in the afternoon so he can focus on gardening and having a life outside the industry. That said, he’s an obsessive breadmaker (and loves experimenting with sourdough and ciabatta), and loves crossing the back fence to bring us samples. This is a practice we encourage. Greatly.

My SIL is a qualified chef. Of course. She introduced us to the seductions of whole cauliflower mornay and excellent coleslaw. She joins my brother in culinary adventures, not to mention the incredible food hampers we are privileged to get every Christmas. C. also writes a food blog and has overall mad kitchen skills.

My husband is a great cook, he’s the obsessive genius behind our family’s novelty cake series. He’s the kind of person who can turn his hand to anything and, with vague instructions from the internet, make it a success. His Christmas puddings have all been excellent (traditional plum pudding, as well as chocolate), and I remember very fondly the meals he cooked for me when we were dating. They were fab, and – strangely enough – seemed inspired by 1970s Women’s Weekly cookbooks (e.g. beef stroganoff, prawn cocktails).

Why am I telling you all this?


Flavour’s in the fat

A hoard of bittergourd (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
A hoard of bittergourd (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

So, I got some stick for declaring that I liked sweet and sour pork some posts ago, when I wrote about being a “Bad Asian“.

It made me feel like writing this post that you’re reading now – a post that is a paean to all the ‘bad’ food that I like. Because I’m appropriately exotic and relatively well-travelled, people want to assume that I’m culinarily sophisticated. I’m afraid not.

While I do draw the line at Chiko Rolls (I’ve only ever eaten half of one in my entire life – I couldn’t finish it), I have a simple palate. Just as I constantly disappoint people who expect someone with a PhD in English to be au fait with all the ‘classics’, my affection for things like sweet and sour pork, and char siu bao, is viewed with some regret.

I wouldn’t be the one leading the way to food adventures, Andrew Zimmern-style.

Something that our family – and many other Chinese Malaysian families – specialise in is lots of ways to eat pork-belly. Before various blood pressure and gall-stone scares, you can guarantee that there would always be a slab of pork-belly in our freezer. Always.


Cake update – 2008-2010

It has been quite a few years since I wrote this post in 2008 and presented a round-up of the novelty cakes that our family had done. Four and a half years later, the tradition is still going strong.

I’m updating the cake pics, and these ones take us through the tail end of 2008 to 2010, and I’m only including those that have novelty aspects and were made by S.

Click on the cut for the rest of the pic-heavy post!


Fiesta Malaysia 2012 – One view

I found out about Fiesta Malaysia 2012 the way I usually find out about events these days: on my Twitterfeed. While our household still gets the paper delivered every day, I never read it anymore. My mum does, and so does my partner. My kids like cutting it up and using it for projects, or mucking around with strips to make papier-mache animals.

I’ve acquired some bower-bird habits since becoming so dependent on Twitter. One of them is noting things for the different feeds I maintain (current count: 4), which is what I used to skim my email for. Usually, this noting doesn’t mean I intend to act on events/gigs myself. My weeks are usually fully subscribed with work, kiddie time, family time, writing, and occasional other things.

Lygon St bombing (Photo by Tseen)

Something that did catch my eye, though, was the Fiesta Malaysia the other weekend (23-25 March).

My partner and I used to be great food/culture festival people, then we had kids. But it’s not as if the kids kept us from going anywhere; we just ended up going to different events: local school fetes, shopping for an endless parade of shoes, library-runs, zoo trips…

Anyway, we thought this might be fun, and my mother would definitely want to go along, if only to declare that her char kway teow was better.

We made it to Fiesta Malaysia on its last day – Sunday – and arrived just as it started at about 11am. We’d parked at the Melbourne Museum and had a glorious stroll to Lygon Street, encountering some great yarn-bombing on the way (pictured left).

That day also happened to be the Melbourne City Romp and spotting marauding crazy-hatted / costumed teams can sure whet one’s appetite for roti.


Presuming cheapness

This is one of my pet peeves: The expectation that Asian food will be cheap.

What is with the presumption that Asian food in Australia will be cheaper than any other food? Can people not distinguish between being in a country where the standard of living allows their tourist dollar to magnify their consumption potential and…not being in such a country?

I’m a semi-foodie in that I love trying new restaurants, getting together with people to feast, and knowing things about food/dining. I know how much work and consideration good food takes, no matter what cultural heritage produces it. Yes, there are cheap’n nasty versions of most cuisines, but if you want good food, it’s fair enough that you pay for it. On a relative scale, expensive Asian is often still cheaper than expensive European, isn’t it? People complaining that where they’ve just eaten a huge meal in Melbourne is so overpriced compared to that hole-in-the-wall market stall in Penang make me see red. It’s because their attitude sucks. Do these whingers have any idea what goes into prepping and cooking what they’ve just eaten? In general, they don’t seem to acknowledge that Asian restaurants with legit operations have to work under the same conditions as other Australian businesses; same tax, same PAYE, same infrastructural costs. They don’t just exist in a magical state of ‘being cheap’.

My rant isn’t aimed at people who love a good bargain when it comes to eating well; I’m one of those.

It’s aimed at those who presume that Asian food is a ‘rip-off’ if it isn’t dirt cheap. I’m so tired of hearing it.

Mega Cake Update

I’ve realised that I haven’t immortalised our family’s extreme cake-decorating efforts beyond the single entry with the Pac-Man ghost cake from last October. This was indeed the cake that tripped the madness switch in terms of birthday efforts.

Below is our ‘output’ since last October – click on pics for larger photographs!