Travel to the Past

Where It Began

Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.
– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Sweet Soy Sauce Pork 1

It is almost 15 years since I left Indonesia, though it certainly didn’t feel that long. We didn’t exactly part ways in a cordial term and so it has marred my view of the place where I had amazing childhood, when the most important thing was to jump the highest, cycle the fastest or catch the fattest fish. I do go back several times over the years, less and less frequent as I grow older and live further and further apart. However, in every city that I have lived, there are always Indonesians inviting me to their dining table or sharing the home shipped ingredients that have sailed through many oceans.

Most Indonesians I know don’t eat pork, so you’ll hardly come across this dish unless among non-muslim families or regions like Bali or certain parts of Sumatra. There is a cousin of this dish using beef, called semur sapi, which is basically beef & potato stew using sweet soy sauce. H doesn’t like it much because the spices (clove & cinnamon among others) are much stronger.

J’aime bien,” he said of this dish, I like it. This is a typical Indonesian food, you don’t know what meat you are eating, but at least it tastes good.

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A Woman of Her Own

Times Haiku

This year’s Eid, I don’t know why I kept on thinking about my maternal grandmother. She usually made ketupat (rice cake in woven palm leaves), chicken curry, mutton curry, sayur lodeh and few other side dishes like sambal telur goreng (spicy deep fried egg) to celebrate the day. Occasionally she would send them by courier to us in Jakarta while other times she would come to visit us. She never wanted to leave her home, deep in Sumatra island, even when she needed to be taken care of. She was always an independent woman, one who wore a bright red lipstick. I used to savor her lipstick mark on my cheeks until my mom reached over and rubbed it off.

I got a lipstick mark, I was kissed, I was loved and nothing else matters.

When she was still alive, she never could stay still. She would wake up at 4am to run (even when her knees couldn’t support her anymore). She drove a boxy 4WD Daihatsu Taft when a woman driving a car was unheard of. She had a pretty successful restaurant and later a hair salon during the time men still expect women to stay at home. Many said she was a sharp business woman, but her business acumen never was passed down to the following generations. It wasn’t up till the morning of my wedding day, I was clued in to the “family secret”. That she was a mother and a grandmother to us in every sense of the word, except in DNA. Quelle horreur! Imagine the kind of scandal this was back in 1950s.

Yeah, that’s my mama. A woman of her own.

So, in memory of my beloved grandmother, the one who always told me to study hard, to go further, who left her small town to check out my university, and who always cooked all our favorites whenever we visited her, here’s Lontong with Sayur Lodeh and Sambal Telur Goreng. I miss you mama, selamat Idul Fitri!

Sayur Lodeh
Sambal Telur Goreng
Telur Goreng LontongLontong Sayur Lodeh Telur Goreng

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The Heart Knows

Asian Tofu Burger

When I was in Japan May last year, one of the highlight of my trip was eating the Tofu Burger at Freshness Burger, a Japanese fast food chain. Ever since then, nothing taste as good. In my book, there was no comparison. It wasn’t until now where tofu is easily within grasp that I can “re-create” the dish.

I won’t even try claiming this is close to the real deal, because probably it isn’t. But I’ll just say this.. this burger fills the void whenever I look back with fond memory. I don’t have photos to show and tell, but whenever I make this, my heart knows.

Asian Tofu Burger

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When One Knew What One Wanted

The nicest thing for a foodie living in Singapore is the ability to eat all sorts of cuisine, without needing to enter the kitchen nor breaking the bank. One could have Thai for lunch then a sumptuous burger for dinner. Then the next day, Swedish for lunch and Moroccan for dinner. My social life was built over food and trying different kind of cuisines. There is this small Moroccan cafe along Arab Street that I used to frequent at least once a month. I don’t remember how many friends, visitors & colleagues I have brought there. It was also a place where I used to bring H when he was in town.

Beef Vegetable Tagine

I was rather disappointed for not returning to this place when we were in town last May. I have been craving for a Tagine for a long time but only now I get to appease the cravings. It is not difficult at all to cook, in fact a little like one pot wonder.

It would be nice if I can have the Tajine claypot. Staub and Le Creuset offer them now, but boy oh boy.. step by step.
Couscous Medium
Beef Vegetable Tagine 2

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After a Full Belly, All is Poetry

There is no sincerer love than a love of food.
– George Bernard Shaw

Spinach Tofu Gyoza 1Gyoza filling

H generally refuses to eat tofu, no matter how I prepare it. It has no taste, weird texture and doesn’t appeal to him at all. On the other hand, I grow up eating lots of tofu & tempeh. Back when I was a poor student, I ate lots of tofu and tempeh curry every day for a little over 1 sgd (under 1 usd) per meal. These days, with the growing of organic food (in France, this industry has a strong foothold), one can easily find marinated tofu in pesto sauce, olive, sun dried tomatoes etc. I don’t need to go to Chinatown or Korean markets to get my tofu, any bio stores carry several options: flavored vs natural, firm vs medium vs. soft tofu, even egg tofu.

I can’t say that he loves this spinach tofu gyoza, but he doesn’t mind eating it. For the first time, his digestion actually processes tofu. Grin.

Uncooked Gyoza

For those first timer handling Chinese wontons or Japanese gyoza, I would recommend starting with gyoza. The skin is thicker and more durable than wonton skin. It doesn’t turn limp even if you dab too much water. And I like how it doesn’t require a lot of oil to cook, that it’s not deep fried unlike Chinese wontons.

The gyoza dipping sauce is crucial in this dish. If you tend to skip the sauce, double or triple the quantity of the filling’s seasoning. (more…)

Small Dosage of Home

Test 2

There are several things I want to change, to fine tune.. As a start, I would have preferred the omelette to be thinner. Cooking them individually, instead of one time for two servings might work. I also want to it to be yellow-er, meaning skipping the soya sauce entirely or use really light soya sauce.

But in terms of filling my craving, this does the job really nicely. Especially since H doesn’t mind the bean sprouts at all.

Prawn Omelette

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The Things We Do

Several friends of mine enjoy scouring the deepest part of Luanda searching for Asian ingredients like tofu, bean sprouts, xiao bai cai, chili padi, shallots, tapioca flour, etc. Several times a month they would get together and make a day trip to the far away Chinese farms, buying things by the kilo. When the location gets too dangerous, a driver or a maid would be sent with the shopping list.

The other day when they were taking orders, I decided to put my own order: bean sprouts and fried tofu. I’m particularly missing my childhood snack.

Tahu Isi Goreng 01
This fried stuffed tofu is an Indonesian snack typically sold by the street vendors. You can always find one such vendor by the school gate. Not the most hygienic nor the healthiest, certainly not the kind of food that children should be spending their pocket money on. But there’s something about defying your parents’ order behind their backs and a bag of hot, deep fried stuffed tofu.

Stuffed tofuTahu Isi Goreng 03
For this one, we use the pre-fried, brown skin, hollow and airy tofu. They often look wrinkled too. But they are excellent for stuffing or when dumped into a bowl of curry, they soak up all the excellent juices. If you can’t find this, firm hard tofu is a good substitute.

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