The In-Betweeners

We’ve been here for a few days already and the cold is getting to me. Immensely! I don’t know how the local Hongkongers do it (is Hongkie a bad word to use to describe them? Someone please tell me). They are wrapped up in thick sweaters but they go about their life as if the cold was just a mere fly.
As this is my 3rd time into Hong Kong (the first time I came during summer BEFORE 1997), we’re in that in-between category – neither tourists nor working expats. We’re the sojourners and that’s a label I use because I keep thinking to myself, I really cannot live here. The cold gets to me (even at 14C and it’s March) and I layer up like kuih lapis before I dare venture outdoors.
When it’s hot, it’s hot and that’s in July or August. That’s also when the summer sale starts.
Anyway, weather aside, it’s been great just taking our time traipsing up and down Hong Kong aided by nothing but the MTR Octopus card and a HK tourist map.
I can’t help but do a comparison and contrast while sitting at the park (and despite the cramped apartment conditions here, the irony that stares you down is that the supermarkets and shopping malls in HK are large, even those located in the boondocks and their gardens and parks are just as huge).
Food-wise has been nothing short of excellent. Just like Penang, you can’t get BAD food here. It’s just not possible. But what I would give right now for a piping hot ayam varuval or mutton periatal from Little India in Penang – in this freakingly cold weather, that kind of food will just energise me right up!
Of course the roast goose, roast duck and meats and stuff do make up for this craving for spicy food. And then there’s this preoccupation with afternoon tea which starts at 2pm right up to 6pm. As I was sitting about this morning warming myself up with a mug of hot water, I speculated that the HK coffeeshops here had to include afternoon tea because without it, their coffeeshops would be empty. And like all pragmatic Chinese, why waste good rent when you can maximize it? So average coffeeshops here (“char chaan teng”) does round the clock business, starting with brekafast, lunch, tea and dinner. It’s busy all the time. Business is competitive here.
HK as a tourist (forget your 3D2N trips) and HK as a sojourner (10 slow meandering days) are as different as kopi and nai-cha.
We came here to do a few things but mostly we came here so that we can fully appreciate the lives we have in Penang.
More of my insights later…. and photos too. Right now I am using my friend’s laptop to type this while waiting for Nic to get ready so we can go for … what else?… TEA!

Third Steam Right

Today I made savoury glutinous rice (Hokkiens call it “chu bee p’hng”) for lunch. It’s one easy dish because it’s a one-pot dish and very filling too. I forgot to take some photos though so you’ll just have to put on your imagination cap for this one. Will update this post with photos when I next make some.
This is my 3rd time attempting this tweaked recipe. The first time, I didn’t steam the rice long enough. The second time, my rice was too salty. This third time, it came out beautifully. Cooking is about experimentation and never giving up.
My aunt told me it’s so easy to cook this so I decided I had to try. Plus it’s a great time-saver for people on the go. This portion below serves 2 people nicely. (A tip: if you like making your own sushi but think Japanese rice is too pricey, try using glutinous rice.)
For this recipe, you’ll need:
1.5 cups glutinous rice, washed
4-5 dried Chinese mushrooms, rehydrated in water
1/2 cup dried prawns (hae bee) soaked and drained
2 Chinese sausages (lap cheong) sliced thinly
some spring onions, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 glass of water (about 150 ml water)
1. First, soak the rice overnight. This softens them considerably and you don’t have to steam them too long. I soaked mine for more than 12 hours.
2. Next day, heat a pan with some oil and saute garlic and dried prawns. Add dried mushroom and Chinese sausages. You have to saute till all the flavours start erupting from the pan. When you are excited by the smell, you know your dish will be gorgeous.
3. Add in the drained rice. Mix well. Pour in half a glass of water. Lower fire.
4. At this stage, you will prep the stage for the flavours to combine and turn magical. Your seasoning is the key: into the mixture you will sprinkle these – some pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon soya sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil, 1 teaspoon dark soya sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. You can add 1 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine too. Stir well. By now, the water should have all been absorbed by the rice grains.
5. Turn off fire. Scoop the rice mixture into a steam-proof plate (in my case, I use a stainless steel plate).
6. Get your steamer ready. Steam this rice mixture for 20 – 30 minutes until the rice is soft and edible. Halfway during steaming, taste the rice for done-ness and also check if the water in your steamer is still available or if the water’s all steamed dry. You may need to sprinkle some water over the rice and stir the rice a bit so all the grains are evenly steamed.
7. Before serving, sprinkle chopped spring onions. Serve warm.

The King of All Herbs

I have this strange satisfaction in eating the food that I grow.
When I was 10, I was already growing my own vegetable – no doubt it was a tiny patch right in front of our terrace house. It was a vegetable which to this day I call “slimy vegetable” because my mom used my harvest to make a soup with the green leafy vegetables. I don’t know what its scientific name is, till today. I do know that it produced tiny purple berries. If you squished the berries, the purple dye will stain your fingers.
I still enjoy growing herbs and vegetables because at the end of the day, I get to eat them!

Ulam Raja or Wild Cosmos
Ulam Raja or Wild Cosmos

Nic and I have a passion for ulams, especially ulam raja.
I am currently growing ulam raja (wild cosmos) in my backyard (also a tiny patch but what a lovely tiny patch I have). Ulam raja is an unforgettable taste. Its leaves are best eaten young and with a good dollop of kick-ass sambal belacan. Its flavour is a cross between lemon and mangga. The best way to know this is to take the fresh ulam raja and pop it in your mouth for a good chew.
This herb or ulam is quite beautiful too when it flowers. It grows easily from seeds (which you will get once the pink flowers die off) and you will always have fresh ulam to eat! Eating this ulam keeps you young (it has anti-ageing properties) and strengthens your bones (due to its high calcium content) and is a breath freshener.
Another ulam I have is one I do not know the name of! If you know the name of this ulam, please let me know. I got to know of this through my uncle. He’s a big fan of ulam with sambal belacan and he had a huge pot of this ulam in my grandma’s house compound. I plucked a few stems and propagated them successfully. This ulam has a different taste and texture compared to ulam raja.
Does anyone know the name of this ulam?
Does anyone know the name of this ulam?

Pegaga is also another ulam I grow in my backyard. I have 2 types – the round leaf variety (which you often see in ponds) and the market variety (sold in markets!). Pegaga is quite the miracle ulam, full of good stuff for your health. Nevertheless, do not over-indulge. It makes you woozy if you eat too much!
Pegaga growing with peppermint
Pegaga growing with peppermint

Below is a photo of the round pegaga which you can use as water plants for your aquarium (I use them in my aquarium anyway) and as food. Talk about versatility!
Pegaga - as ornamental plants, as food, as aquarium decoration
Pegaga – as ornamental plants, as food, as aquarium decoration

Daun kaduk (wild betel leaf) is also an ulam I have though I have yet to harvest and eat this. It is quite precious as it’s still growing and it seems to take forever to grow! (Update 2015: I noticed that if you let daun kaduk grow on the ground, it grows so much faster!).
It is not daun sireh – daun kaduk is softer and you can usually find this when you eat the appetiser, Mieng Kham, in Thai restaurants. This is the leaf you use to wrap the peanuts, dried prawns, chillies and all that yummy condiments. It is also used in Nyonya dishes such as perut ikan and otak-otak.
Glossy daun kaduk
Glossy daun kaduk

I also have daun setawar – I know it’s medicinal but is it an ulam? When I was in school, we used to pluck the leaves and use them as bookmarks! Apparently, it was magic to us kids because the “anak” (or baby plants) will grow from the sides of the leaf.
Daun setawar
Daun setawar

What disappoints me is that although my chili plants are growing and flower all the time, I have yet to see any real chilis! Any chili expert grower can tell me why?

How to Make Yogurt, The Pictorial Guide

Last week I made yogurt after a long time!
I made it because Lee Choo, a journalist from Guang Ming Daily contacted me and was curious about my homemade yogurt recipe and process.
She said that many people needed to use a special yogurt maker and yogurt starter to get the yogurt made. When she came across my blog post, she was really excited because it meant anyone can make yogurt at home using the simplest tools and ingredients.
Well, I consider myself blessed because Dada Lalitesh taught me this method almost 10 years ago and I still use it and it has never failed me. Dada was my yoga teacher but we became firm friends as we shared similar interests – books, travel, eclectic movies, all things Chinese. And he’s from South America. Right now, he is in Vietnam and I met him just before he left and we still have that many things to talk about (and yoga wasn’t the topic either!)
So here it is – a step-by-step process via photos. I use Marigold brand for both yogurt and milk. I used to use milk powder and that makes a thicker yogurt compared to packet milk. Taste-wise, it’s still the same.
While Dada used to eat yogurt with fruits and muesli for breakfast, I have other uses for yogurt. I love fruit lassi’s (mango lassi is super delicious but if you can get strawberries or blueberries, they taste yums too!) and I love using yogurt to make cucumber raita. I can also use yogurt to make chicken curry. I also use yogurt to mix with mayonnaise as a not-too-calorie laden dressing for salads. The possibilities are truly endless.
But the end result is: it’s healthy. It’s good for your gut. And you’ll feel more satisfied because you made it on your own. You know what you put into it.
You can use yogurt to bathe – just slather the yogurt over your body, exfoliate with a natural loofah scrubber and then rinse well. After that, feel your skin’s ultra smoothness! Like a baby’s bottom. I always feel like I’m Cleopatra when I am using yogurt in the bath, except that she used to bathe with milk.
You can use it as a face mask too and it helps with blemishes and acne. You see, there’s plenty of ways to use yogurt. You can keep the yogurt for 3 – 5 days in the fridge (not freezer or chiller please). After the 5th day (and you don’t feel like you want to eat any more yogurt), use it for bathing and as a mask.
I haven’t really figured out why Marigold contains the right sort of live cultures (I have tried making yogurt with Dutch Lady brand and it never came out right) but Dada himself said that he uses Marigold only for best results.
Anyway, try this at home and you’ll never need to buy commercial yogurt any more!

Only 2 ingredients: UHT Full Cream Milk & natural yogurt, Marigold brand
Only 2 ingredients: UHT Full Cream Milk & natural yogurt, Marigold brand

You can use milk powder too. If you use milk powder, you will need about 6 heaped tablespoons of milk powder. Mix this with room temperature water first before you add hot water. Keep adding the hot water until the milk mixture is warm (not hot please).
Pour the 2 packets of milk into a pot.
Pour the 2 packets of milk into a pot.

Heat the milk for 3 minutes. Do not bring to boil.
Heat the milk for 3 minutes. Do not bring to boil.

Take a tablespoon of yogurt and mix into the warm milk. Milk must be warm to touch, not hot.
Take a tablespoon of yogurt and mix into the warm milk. Milk must be warm to touch, not hot.

Here I must add my two cents. Stick your pinkie into the milk. If you can keep your pinkie in the milk for more than 10 seconds, it’s warm enough. If you find the milk too hot, stir the milk a bit to cool it down. We want to create a warm world for our live culture. We do not want to kill the lactobacillus strains.
Pour milk mixed with yogurt into a container. Cap the lid.
Pour milk mixed with yogurt into a container. Cap the lid.

Wrap container with a plastic bag. Tie the ends tightly. This is the insulation your yogurt needs for the next 12 hours.
Wrap container with a plastic bag. Tie the ends tightly. This is the insulation your yogurt needs for the next 12 hours.

Put this into a container and cover with an old towel. Again, it's for keeping in the warmth so the culture can get to work fermenting the milk.
Put this into a container and cover with an old towel. Again, it's for keeping in the warmth so the culture can get to work fermenting the milk.

Here I use the inner container from an old rice cooker (my old rice cooker died on me many years ago) and I never had the heart to throw out the (still) good inner container. So I line it with an old cloth and use it as my yogurt maker!
Set it aside for 12 hours. After 12 hours, your milk has become yogurt. Once it has set properly, keep it refrigerated.
Set it aside for 12 hours. After 12 hours, your milk has become yogurt. Keep it refrigerated.

How do you know if the yogurt’s done fermenting?
The mixture should not be runny like milk. You can scoop some out and the mass of yogurt stays firm on your spoon. Taste some. It will taste a little different from commercial sweet yogurt. Sweeten this with honey or fruits and you’ll be a happy bear in no time.
This recipe makes 500 ml of yogurt.