One of the great things about visiting relatives in Ipoh ? Glorious food. My third aunt, whom I call Sar Kor, is a great chef, and probably the only aunt among my dad’s many sisters to have inherited my late grandmother’s cooking chops. The cuisine is a mix of Hokkien (my great grandparents came to then-Malaya from Fujian province on junk boats in the late 19th century) and Peranakan (Straits Chinese) influences, as my Ah Ma learnt her dishes from a Peranakan neighbour. Simple but hearty comfort food.
A typical home-cooked meal would look like the one above. Blanched vegetables in soy sauce are a must-have for every meal (gotta get them greens in!), while steamed chicken is more of a Hainanese/Cantonese thing (aunt does it really well though. Moist, tender and great when dipped in soy sauce) – but there are also distinctly Hokkien/Peranakan dishes. Sambal petai (stinkbeans in spicy shrimp paste) delivers a hot kick that is addictive with rice, so its worth it to have bad breath for a few hours. Then you have braised pork belly with herbal egg in dark soy sauce, which is kind of like the adobo of the Hokkien world. The way Sar Kor makes it, the belly is so soft and tender with the right amount of lean and fat that it just melts onto your tongue. To wash it all down, a warm hearty bowl of sweet carrot and corn soup with pork.
We’ve been suggesting to her to do one of those home-kitchen thingies (what do you call them, underground kitchens?) where, say, a group of 10 guests come to your home to enjoy excellent home-cooked food. Concepts like these have been picking up lately and you can find homekitchens offering local, Sri Lankan or even Korean fare. We don’t know if she’ll take up the idea, but it would be great if she did, don’t you think? 🙂