What I “Ate” Today (家常便饭系列)…. 17 August 2013- Special

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You may be surprised about this title! In fact, the title is not correct either. What I am going to post is not “what I cooked today” or “what I ate today”. It was a gathering at one of my relative’s house and she had cooked some Chinese dishes that are not common among Fujian or Guangdong Province.

My relative is from Jiangxi Province and therefore the food that she cooked were rather different! As you all know, Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese are descendants of immigrants mainly from the South Eastern Coastal Fujian and Guangdong Province.


JIANGXI CUISINES

Per Wikipedia:

Jiangxi (Chinese: 江西; pinyin: Jiāngxī; Wade–Giles: Chiang-hsi; Postal map spelling: Kiangsi, Gan: Kongsi) is a province in the People’s Republic of China, located in the southeast of the country. Spanning from the banks of the Yangtze River in the north into hillier areas in the south and east, it shares a border with Anhui to the north, Zhejiang to the northeast, Fujian to the east, Guangdong to the south, Hunan to the west, and Hubei to the northwest. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiangxi)

As compared to Nanyang Chinese (Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese), in a household meal, they are more dishes but with a smaller portion. For us, we will usually serve 3 dishes and 1 soup, for them the dishes can be as many as 6-12 dishes. Today, the host is kind enough to cook us 7 dishes (excluding desserts and sweet soups). Jiangxi dishes were rather spicy (chilli hot) and as my kids were having meals with us, for some dishes, they have to prepare both the spicy and non spicy version.

Note than I am currently on a vegetarian  diet and since I did not told them in advance, I have taken my meals before joining them.  Therefore, I did not join them for meals.


SPICY AND SOUR SHREDDED POTATOES (酸辣土豆丝)

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Yes, this is my favourite. Potatoes were julienned into thin strips. There were then soaked in cold water until all the starch were gone. This will make the potatoes “crunchy” and water have to be changed regularly. Look at the thin strips, these were all manually done. They were then stir fried with spring onions, black vinegars and chilli. This is something that I have yet to share the cooking illustrations with readers but I can assure you it is something simple yet the taste is superb. Kids are fighting for this.


BRAISED BEEF (酱牛肉)

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I do not know if there is any translation of this dish. It is basically beef braised in dark soya sauce (and herbs and spices). It was then air dried. If it was kiln dried, it will become smoked beef. This is a form of meat preservation that can be commonly found in many parts of China. My relatives have prepared these meat in China and brought it over.

I still remembered  when I was stationed in Changchun, China about 10 years ago, one of the past time is to buy some braised chicken drumsticks and ate it in the hotel. It is delicious and thinking about it make me drooling. Depending on the regions, the preservations can be sugar based or salt based.


TOMATOES FRIED WITH EGGS (番茄炒蛋)

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A common household dish in China. Besides stir frying, another way of cooking this combination is making it into a soup.

Tomato is not a common vegetable in my  traditional house cooking. Tomatoes are considered vegetables imported from other countries (though this may not be true any more). This is evidenced in its Chinese name literately translated as Western Persimmon (西红柿)or Foreign brinjal (番茄)。In Hokkien dialects, it was called Caucasian Brinjal (angmokio)!  Therefore, my mom seldom cooked tomatoes in the house.

As my girl is a tomato fanatic, this will definitely her top choice. However, as my boy is tomato phobia, this is definitely a good dish to make my boy eating tomato.  Though he is a tomato phobia but he is an egg fanatic. I usually requested that if he wanted to eat 2 tablespoons of eggs, he will need to finish 1 tablespoon of tomatoes. Haha


STEAMED CHINESE SAUSAGE WITH CHINESE BLACK FERMENTED BEANS (腊肠蒸豆豉)

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The Chinese sausages were prepared by my relatives in China and brought it over. You can hardly find any fats in the Chinese sausages. Before I am on my vegetarian diet, I have tried the sausages before and it is delicious.

The Chinese sausages were cut into slices, steamed with Chinese black fermented beans and chopped garlics. May be after my vegetarian diets end, I shall cook this. Good thing about having this post is that it can remind me of what I should cooked when I run out of ideas.


PIGTAILS PORK BELLIES SOUP (猪尾猪肚汤)

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I never have this combination before, pork bellies plus pigtails. The reason is because both meats have different cooking times. You know pork bellies are rather difficult to cook until soft. So, it is not easy to cook this soup. Even if you used pressure cooker, both items will have to be cooked separately. There is no vegetables or white peppers. It is pure meat broth!

If you ask me whether it is yummy or not, of course, I can’t tell you directly because I did not taste it. However, from my years of cooking experience, I can tell you that it is a good soup because the soup had turn milky meaning all the gelatine from the meat have been dissolved in the soup/broth.

Don’t believe me, freeze it and you will see that it become jellish and you can use a knife to cut it into small pieces. Teochew dialect group also have a dish that after braising certain meat for a long time, they cut the meat into very small pieces, freeze the broth and become a jelly. The jelly was then cut into small pieces and served as cold dish (猪头粽)


STIR FRIED CHINESE WATER CRESS (清炒西洋菜)

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I remembered when I told my mother in law and wife to stir fry water cress previously, they are against it as they always used water cress to cook soup. It is generally true that most Chinese dialect groups like to boil soup with this vegetable. However, when I travelled to China, I always have stir fried water cress in restaurants. Usually, this vegetable were stir fried using garlic without any other ingredients.

Try and tell me whether it is nice or not! Remember that you have to stir fry the vegetables using high heat, otherwise, it may be bitter.


STEAMED KUDZU FLOUR COATED PORK WITH PUMPKIN (南瓜米粉肉)

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When I asked for the name of the dish, I was told  “namguamifenrou”. However, I can’t find any rice vermicelli or Beehoon. Later she explained the 米粉 is not rice vermicelli, it means “rice flour”. Though the name is called rice flour, the coating of the meat can be any types of flour. It can be corn flour, sweet potato flour, potato flour and etc.…But today the flour that she used is kudzu flour (葛根粉). Again this is brought from Jiangxi and she disclosed that this was made from wild kudzu roots.

Kudzu has many health benefits and among them are relief symptoms of postmenopausal women, reducing alcohol intake, alleviating cluster headaches, managed metabolic syndromes etc. etc. etc. In Singapore, we do have a type of Chinese instant flu medicine called Kudzu soup (葛根汤) that you consumed when you have a fever and it is believed that it will help to reduce your body temperature. You may want to know more about kudzu from here.

Coming back to the dish. Meat were seasoned and coated with kudzu flour. The meat was then placed on top of the pumpkins and steamed under high heat until the pumpkins were soft. The purpose of the flour is to retain the meat juiciness in the process of steaming. Any meat juices that escaped will dripped into the pumpkins those flavoured the pumpkins.

Lastly, I want to convey my sincere thanks to my relatives who cooked us a sumptuous meal and we really appreciate that.

Hope you like the post today and I find this post is meaningful to share with readers about other different types of Chinese cuisines.

Have a nice day and cheers.

What I cooked today (家常便饭系列)- 6-6-2013

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On 6 June 2013,

White rice served with :

1. Minced meat fried with mushrooms and candied winter melon 香菇冬瓜条炒碎肉
2. Blanched Kailan with pork floss  芥兰拌肉松
3. Blanched mixed vegetables and prawns 杂菜虾球
4. ABC Soup ABC 鸡汤

The minced meat fried with mushrooms and candied winter melons is actually the leftover fillings from wrapping my rice dumplings. I have add a bit of water and treated as a dish. It is actually very tasty and kids love it (of course, rice dumpling without glutinous rice).

Another is a common Malaysian household soup called ABC soup. It is a soup that usually include red carrots, onions, potatoes and tomatoes. Sometime, baby corns were added. When I search the soup in the Internet, there are no confirm literature on the origins and meanings of ABC soup. There are belief that it represent Vitamin A (for carrots), Vitamin B6 (for potatoes), Vitamin C (for tomatoes) that is how the name arises.

I personally have another way of interpretation. As ABC soup is a common Malaysian Chinese Soup and also called luo Song Tang (Borscht of
Eastern European Countries), the soup is clearly  influenced by European Countries cookings. As carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, baby corns are traditionally not common cooking ingredients in Chinese cuisines, ABC can mean to refer Ang mo (Caucasian) ways of cooking. In addition, the cooking method of putting all vegetables in a soup is another clear indication that it is Ang mo cooking. Therefore, in my humble opinion, ABC soup  should refers to soups commonly cooked by the Caucasian during the Colonial Times . Instead of using the term Ang Mo, ABC alphabet were used.

Macao and the Nobly, Elegant Lotus

National/State Flower Series – East Asia 7 – Macau Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China – Nelumbo Nucifera

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“Nelumbo nucifera, known by a number of names including Indian lotus, sacred lotus, bean of India, or simply lotus, is one of two species of aquatic plant in the family Nelumbonaceae. ……… This plant is an aquatic perennial. Under favorable circumstances its seeds may remain viable for many years, with the oldest recorded lotus germination being from that of seeds 1,300 years old recovered from a dry lakebed in North Eastern China. (Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelumbo_nucifera)”

Nelumbo Nucifera is  the “state flower” for Macao Special Administrative Regions of People’s Republic of China. Beside Macao, India and Vietnam are also using this flower as national flower. But that should not be confused with Bangladesh’s national flower, water lily (睡莲)which belong to the family of Nymphaea.

Species Information

Scientific name:

Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn

Family: Nelumbonaceae
Common name(s): Lotus
Chinese name: 古莲,莲花,荷花, 芙蓉

Lotus is a perennial aquatic plants with a long history and apparently is a leader in the midsummer seasonal flowers. In the heat of summer waves, pools were full of green lotus leaves that waved slowly and its flowers were emitting a fragrance resembling fragrance from the bathing beauties. Hence, In Chinese,  lotus were also called “gentlemen flowers 花中君子” or “flowers of beautiful ladies 花中美人”

  Pic courtesy of www.micefinder.com

Macau and lotus

  • A dike north of Macau which connects to Zhua Hai and Lianfeng San was said to look like a lotus stem. Therefore, in ancient times, Macau was described as a lotus that floats in the open sea and at times being called a lotus island. Due to its unique shapes, Macao people believed that Macau was the reincarnation of a lotus flower and called Macau as the land of the treasure lotus (“莲花宝地“)。
  • Macao people loves lotus as they believed that lotus symbolizes good fortune, peace and holiness. Macau’s literature, myths, proverbs, dramas and couplets etc. often uses lotus as an avenue to express their feelings. Macao peoples daily lives, thoughts and feelings are closely associated with lotus and a bond have been established. People generally planted lotus as a hobby. There are many cultures that have elements of lotus such as lotus wordings in their door couplets.
  • Macau’s also has a lot of streets, villages and buildings that have the name associated with lotus, such as Lotus Hill(莲花山), Lin Fong Temple (莲峰庙), Lotus Stream Temple (莲溪庙), Lotus Bridge (莲花大桥), and so on.

Macao Lotus Bridge stamp(Pic Courtesy: http://gulfmannmaxicard.blogspot.sg

  • Lotus Bridge  is Macao’s third bridge with a  length of 1.3 km connecting the islands of Taipa Macau and Zhuhai Hengqin Bridge. The bridge greatly facilitated people entering to Macau International Airport and Ka Ho Container Port and Oil Terminal from mainland China. This had brought  prosperity and developments to Macao  as a whole.
  • Lotus is also the official flower emblem of Macao and appeared in Macao’s flags. It is also a common item in Macao’s stamps and currency.

                   

File:Macau SAR Regional Emblem.svg

  • The Lotus Square or Golden Lotus Square (Chinese: 金蓮花廣場; Portuguese: A Praça Flor de Lodão) is an open area of Macau Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The area features the large bronze sculpture Lotus Flower In Full Bloom (Chinese: 盛世蓮花) and is somewhat akin to the Golden Bauhinia of neighboring Hong Kong.  (PLEASE REFER HONG KONG’S STATE FLOWER HERE). The lotus flower in full bloom symbolizes the everlasting prosperity of Macau. The sculpture was presented by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in 1999 to mark the Macau sovereignty transfer from Portugal to the PRC. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Square)

Finally, I have finished my national flowers for East Asia and a summary will be compiled for your reference soon. Hope you enjoy the post.

 

Thank for reading.

 

Is there any relationship between Dragon in a boat and a Peranakan Women?….The process of making Nonya Chang revisited…(Part I)

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BACKGROUND INTRODUCTION

Rice dumpling or “Chang” is one of the traditional delicacies that are well loved by the Malaysian Chinese and Singaporean Chinese communities. However, nowadays, most families do not really wrap their own dumplings at home. They will buy the Chang in shops, restaurants or even supermarkets.

The price of the Chang will gradually be pushed upwards by another 100% by the date of  the Rice Dumplings Festival (or Dragon Boat Festival or Duan Wu Jie 端午节). Two weeks before the Rice Dumpling Festivals, assuming the price per rice dumpling is SGD 1.50 before the increase, the seller will increase 10cents per day and it will become to SGD2.90 by the time of Festival. This price is grossly underestimated and actual prices can be in the range of SGD3-4 per rice dumpling from a more reputable shop to SGD 5-6 from posh restaurants.

 

WHY SUCH A HIGH PRICE PREMIUM FOR THE CHANG?

It was a sad fact that peoples of my age are not really keen to make the chang themselves. Chang was able to command a high price premium because of the basic economic laws of demand and supply. There are lots of demands for Chang especially near the Rice Dumpling festival. However, supplies were limited to a few Chang shops since most families are not willing to prepare their own Chang.

The next question will be to understand why families did not consider to wrap their own Chang? In my humble opinion, most people do not wish to prepare their own Chang due to the following factors and beliefs which personally, I think are misconceptions concerning Chang making:

  • It is time consuming to make the Chang (see below) as traditional ways of making Chang needs at least 1-2 days;
  • It is difficult to assemble all the ingredients;
  • It is very “challenging” to wrap the Chang as tying of ropes and shaping of Chang need times to acquire such skills;
  • Families are small eaters, they just want to eat one to two Chang and unlike traditionally, most families need lots of Chang for the praying sessions;
  • Lack of economies of scales if they only wrapped say 10-12 Chang and it is more worthwhile to purchase from outside stores;
  • The increase of household disposal income over the years and the price of Chang is just a small portion of their income.

Due to above the reasons, most families are not willing to wrap the Chang! 

 

TRADITIONAL WAYS OF CHANG PREPARATION

Traditional preparation of Chang can be a laborious process. All ladies in the family were called to help with the preparation. In fact,  families and extended families (aunt) or even neighbors may agreed on one day to prepare the Chang together. They will take 1 day for the preparation of the filing and another day for the wrapping and cooking of Chang.

The first day will usually involve the cleaning of the leaves for wrapping, soaking of glutinous rice, the dicing of meats, mushrooms and other ingredients and frying the filings for next day’s wrapping. Early in the morning (may be 4-5 am) in the morning, the wrapping will begin and  when a bunch of Chang is ready (about 20-30 Chang depending on your pot for boiling), the boiling or cooking of Chang begins This will take another 2-3 hours per bunch depending on the size of the Chang. By noon, usually, all Chang will be wrapped and all Chang will be cooked by 4pm – 5pm in the afternoon. The ladies will share the results of  their hard works (Chang) between themselves and bring their portion back to their respective families. Traditionally, they are using big biscuits tin and boil under a kerosene stove. The tin is specially made fro this purpose only.

Don’t you think so after the Chang preparation, the ladies in each families shall be closer to each other due to the need of communications. I would deemed this as a family gathering or family “unity” exercise!

                                 

pic courtesy of :http://nyonyacake.blogspot.sg/                   pic courtesy of: http://www.whatsonxiamen.com

 

REASONS OF MAKING YOUR OWN “CHANG”

Learning how to wrap the Chang is definitely something that I would like to promote among the younger generations. With the various kitchen equipment and aids, the process of preparing the Chang can be shortened considerably and I hope readers will try the short cut method that I will share with you in Part II.

The benefits of wrapping your own Chang are:

  • huge cost savings
  • more varieties of Chang can be prepared and easily tailored to the taste or special diet considerations of your family members;
  • as a gift to relatives and friends.


CHANG DEFINED

“Zongzi (or simply zong) (Chinese: ) is a traditional Chinese food, made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed, or other large flat leaves. They are cooked by steaming or boiling. In the Western world, they are also known as rice dumplings or sticky rice dumplings.

Laotians, Thais, (who call them Bachang) and Cambodians (who call them nom chang) have also assimilated this dish by borrowing it from the local overseas Chinese minorities in their respective nations. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they are known as bakcang, bacang, or zang (Chinese: 肉粽; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: bah-chàng), a loanword from Hokkien, a Chinese dialect commonly used among Indonesian-Chinese, rather than Mandarin. Along the same lines, zongzi are more popularly known as machang among Chinese Filipinos in the Philippines.”

(SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zongzi)

Therefore, in according to the simple definition, the must have of Chang is glutinous rice and some types of fillings (though there are Changs that don’t have fillings like Kee Chang).

 

Type of Chang

Fillings of Chang

Every regions or Chinese dialects group will have their own versions of Chang. As economy are more and more affluence, the fillings were change over the years. The following 2 pictures shows Chang will a few types of fillings.

IMG_4356   Chang with meat type of fillings. Can you spot an abalone and chili padi in the filings.

 IMG_4357 Chang which is bean based or no fillings at all

Shape of Chang

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You can see there are many shapes of Chang and one of them is called the Pillow Chang. But the basic shape is the triangular shaped Chang. Have you ever seen a cone shaped Chang as shown in the last picture?

Therefore, one can conclude that Chang can have many shapes and fillings and I would not insist whose Chang is genuine and whose is fake. What can be included or what cannot to be included in the Chang.


NONYA CHANG DEFINED

“Nyonya zong (娘惹粽): A specialty of Peranakan cuisine, these zongzi are made similarly as southern zongzi. However, the filling is typically minced pork with candied winter melon, ground roasted peanuts and a spice mix.”

(SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zongzi)

 

Nonya Chang belongs to the cuisine of Peranakan communities in Singapore and Malaysia. Peranakans are descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Indonesia and Singapore, inter-marrying with local Malays. The old Malay word nonya (also spelled nyonya), a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing (part “madame” and part “auntie”), has come to refer to the cuisine of the Perakanans. Nonya cooking is the result of blending Chinese ingredients with spices and cooking techniques used by the Malay/Indonesian community.

The nonya Chang is also “pua kiam ti” (半咸甜粽)meaning the Chang is both sweet and salty at the same time. It is different from the Chang is Taiwan or China which are called Kiam Bak Chang (咸肉粽)。

Nonya Chang are generally accepted by all Chinese Dialects group in Singapore and Malaysia. What differentiates  a Nonya Chang and other Chang are summarize as follows:

1. The usage of coriander powder and aniseed powder in the preparation both of which were considered as Middle Eastern spice widely used by the Malay communities;

2. The inclusion of candied winter melon to make the Chang sweet and that is where the sweet components come from. This obviously is under the influence of the Chinese culture where candied winter melon are widely used in its desserts and believed to have some cooling effects;

3. The usage of screw pine leaves for the wrapping (Pandanus) as compared to the bamboo leaves generally used in other Chang. This is another indication of localization of Nonya Chang since screw pine leaves are not available in China;

4. The usage of other nonya coloring such as the pea flower to color part the Chang into blue or indigo, but part of the rice are still white or light brownish in color as compared to the dark brown color of rice in the Kiam Bak Chang.

5. The inclusion of “sambal” in the fillings and this usually comprises of minced dry shrimps cooked with numerous types Malay spices.

I hoped that via this explanation, you can draw your own conclusions as to what are the characteristics of Nonya Chang and understand why it is call “half sweet half salty’ Chang.

 

Nyonya chang         

In the above picture, please note that the usage of reed strings, Pandanus leaves, diced or minced type of fillings, blue color of rice, brown dot in the white colored rice (coriander powder), all these are rather typical of a Nonya Chang.

CONCLUSION

The fact that most families are not willing to make their own Chang is understandable and one of the main reasons is the laborious process involved. However, such process can be shortened and I will share with your the simplified steps to make “my” own version of Nonya Chang.  Though my mother in law cannot agree with my process of preparation saying that I am lazy but she never complain about the ‘”qualities” of the “final products”.

Hopefully, this post will give you another perspective of understand Chang and “design your own Chang”. In Part II, I will share with you the details process in making the Chang.

Thank for reading.