The thing about Penang is, I don’t know how I know the people I know but I can tell you it can be quite discomforting to know that people know me!
Convoluted? Not really.
Not when these people tell me that “Oh, I’ve been reading your blog for ages and now I know you’re the blogger!”
I don’t know if that’s good or not.
Because you know and I know that I write for myself mainly. I write because it keeps my writing chops lean and mean. It keeps me sane in the insane world of marketing and business and new projects and my women’s entrepreneur group and all that.
So two weeks ago, Pearly invited me to her home in Pulau Tikus for a Nyonya dinner. I met Pearly at Tropical Spice Garden (during the launch of their cooking school which was officiated by the one and only Chef Wan with his larger-than-life TV personality and banter) and later, much later, she had invited me to the launch of her first Penang Nyonya cookbook.
Pearly’s a sassy Penang Nyonya all right. She’s fun in all the right places with a real big heart.
I could see the gleam of happiness in her eyes when she made a speech during her cookbook launch. Friends and family meant a lot to her.
How could I say no when she invited me to her home for a Nyonya dinner? This was going to be a series of home cooking once-a-month dinners for travellers and tourists who wanted to sample some true blue Penang classic Nyonya cooking for a fee.
All in all, there were 3 tables of people – friends, a magazine writer and food bloggers – who arrived that Sunday evening.
First off the bat, she served dragon fruit juice with “frog’s eggs” in a Sprite base which made the Canadian couple sitting next to us gawp. Until Nic explained that the frog’s eggs are just “biji selasih”.
The table setting started off us buzzing with conversation as we all tried to identify the herbs and roots – from terung pipit to galangal to torch ginger flower. Interestingly, Pearly said that the pea-like terung pipit can be eaten raw but snack on too many and you’ll end up with an itchy butt!
It was a delightful spread of dishes that made us go for seconds – curry chicken with roti jala, mixed vegetables, achat awak, mango kerabu, nasi kunyit and my fave, steamed minced pork! This dish is usually a comfort dish in many Chinese households. The magazine writer sitting opposite me said it was like a dish of pate. Nope, it’s much better than pate.
Of course Pearly made some Nyonya kuih too (which I didn’t have time to sample, busy as I was chatting away) and we ended the meal with bubur gandum that had a caramelized chunk of tapioca.
What I did enjoy were her stories of the herbs and spices and kitchen capers. She did remind us all to wash and soak our vegetables with a slice of galangal because galangal is antiparasitic.
And finally before we left, she invited the few of us to her garden and tore off a “chicken poo” leaf so that we could all inhale and agree wholeheartedly that yes, this strange herb does smell like chicken shit. It is a creeper that hugs other plants as it grows but I’ve forgotten what Nyonya dishes use this leaf. I think I drank too much of the frogs’ eggs and dragon fruit!
I must say Pearly is one of a kind and she says whatever she thinks which in a way is quite refreshing. She’s happy to regale you with tales of her past but she’s also keen to help you see that cooking from the heart isn’t as tough as it seems.
I bought her cookbook and I’ve rifled through it and I must say there are some recipes I am raring to try – if you know me, you know I hate complicated recipes so this is really saying a lot!
(By the way, our table ended up laughing about what it means to be a food blogger – thank god I am not one!)