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Malay food

The ketola, a type of gourd, makes a tasty soup believed to have a cooling effect.

I would describe myself as an intermediate home cook, but some of my cousins are very accomplished in their cooking skills.

When I’m in Singapore, they would invite me over and cook my favorite food. Featured here are two dishes, ketola soup and fritters made from tiny shrimps.

The ketola is a vegetable believed to have a cooling effect on the body. The English name for it is ridged luffa or ridged gourd.

When my cousin made this dish, she tweaked our grandmother’s recipe a little by adding fish balls to the soup.

The fritters are made from fresh tiny shrimps called krill, or by its Malay name, udang geragau. These shrimps have a unique crunchy texture, and are relatively harder to come across these days.

When another cousin saw them at a market, she instantly bought them. She then went home; battered them with a flour mixture, onions and green chillies, fried them, and presented me with a delectable plate.

krill

Fritters made with tiny shrimps called udang geragau.

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Traditional Malay dessert

He has the recipe for the most popular putu piring in Singapore. The cakes are made in this steamer.

When the weather gets hot, thoughts turn to light-colored, soft desserts. I often think of putu piring, a Malay cake that is so fluffy and has a melt in your mouth quality.

Putu piring are round steamed cakes made from rice flour and gula Melaka (palm sugar), and best eaten when they are still warm.

This is one of my favorite foods, and when I am in Singapore, I always make a beeline for the putu piring in the Haig Road area.

Malay cakes

A great combination of fluffy rice flour dough and rich palm sugar.

That is, before the line starts at the putu piring stall in the Banquet Food Court. (I believe the food court now has a new name.) If you arrive after 3pm, be prepared to wait in a long line, with people of all races and age groups. Now there are two locations, this one as well as a stall in the Teh Tarik Café, which is also in the vicinity.

One time when I was passing the food court when it was closed for renovations, a man stopped me and asked where was the putu piring stall. He seemed rather panicky, and explained he came from the other side of the island and had not been in this area for a while. He had a wide grin on his face when I showed him the other location of the putu piring.

An unofficial poll of friends and family points to this putu piring as the best in Singapore, and dare I say, the best in this Southeast Asian region. So I made it a point to talk to the owner/founder of this successful enterprise.

He is a hands-on owner and is often seen helping out his employees. The gentleman prefers to be known as Mr Putu Piring rather than by his first name, and has been making and selling putu piring in the Geylang area for 15 years.

I was very pleased to learn from him some interesting facts behind this dessert. According to him, the word putu is a Sanskrit word for rice. Piring is a Malay word which refers to a saucer, and originally, saucers were used to mold the cakes into the round shapes. Hence, the name.

palm sugar

The secret is in using the best ingredients, including the best palm sugar.

The ingredients are simple: rice flour, gula Melaka (palm sugar), grated coconut and pandan leaves. Basically, a mixture of rice flour with a filling of palm sugar in the center is patted into the molds and then steamed through to form the cakes. The cakes are served with grated coconut containing strips of pandan leaf to add a fragrant note.

When asked about the secret of his success, Mr PP says: “It is crucial to use the best ingredients and to stay true to traditional methods.” He also wants to maintain the quite amazing price of three small cakes for a dollar. And he is happy that his daughter Noraishah, who studied culinary arts and worked in Boston, is now part of his team.

Talking to him, I realize that  the ingredients of his success are those that have stood the test of time: quality, value, and a deep appreciation of one’s heritage and roots.

traditional Malay dessert

Putting the ingredients together.

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There are almost endless ways to jazz up the fried rice.

Is there any Asian who does not like fried rice?

Fried rice, or nasi goreng as we call it in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, is a one-dish meal that can be enjoyed any time of day.

It’s also a good way of making use of leftover rice, and letting one’s creativity flow in adding different spices and ingredients to flavor and enhance the rice.

This creativity was put to the test at the MIFNA (Malaysian Islamic Foundation of North America in Southern California) Family Day held in Orange County recently. The Nasi Goreng Cooking Competition attracted a variety of entries including several variations of seafood fried rice, spicy fried rice and  Nyonya or Straits Chinese fried rice.

After two rounds of testing to break the tie for the top winner, the prize was awarded to Suzyana Salleh for her Nasi Goreng Seafood. She used fish sauce as a flavoring which added a nice tang.

Entries in the competition.

The Mediterranean Nasi Goreng by Robert won the second prize. “I use mutton cut into bite-sized pieces, and boiled with tumeric, ginger and salt to make it tender, ” he elaborated on his recipe.

“The boiled mutton is then fried in olive oil with red onion, tomatoes, cumin powder and balsamic vinegar. Cooked rice is added and everything is fried together.”

And that’s the best thing about fried rice: it can be cooked the traditional ways, or jazzed up in eclectic styles; comfort food or up-market. Just take your pick.

The winners: Seafood style (back, right) and Mediterranean, next to it.

The watermelon eating contest was a popular event at the Family Day.

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