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Georgetown, Penang - Iconic Festive Foods

Kueh Kapek - folded "love letters" made to mark the Lunar New Year.  Families used to gather and make such festive creations together, patiently sitting over a row of charcoal ambers and toasting the mould holders containing the dough. Once the layers are ready, they have to cool down sufficiently before they are folded over and stored in air tight containers.

Belly pork on the bone - to signify plenty and prosperity for birthdays and other festive occasions.
With agricultural and cultural reliance on this very important live stock, many nations across the world  have strong cuisine traditions roasting, simmering, slow cooking and deep frying pork.

The Jiu Hoo Char - A Straits Chinese salad and savoury mix that emphasises texture, taste and refinement.
This dish used to be  a crucial test in showing good up bringing for potential daughter-in-laws.  The lack of discretionary time for working women these days means less opportunity to delve into practising the finer nuances required in making this delicate dish.  Modern kitchen aids cannot replicate the same results in the requirements of this dish - it requires a good attitude, attention to detail and deftness in slicing and cutting skills.  Not too many commercial restaurants have this dish on their menus.  Literally, the name of the dish indicates fried cuttlefish, but the dish also has thinly sliced pork; soaked and dried glass noodles; sliced and soaked mushroom cuts; peeled and shredded carrots; sliced shallots; finely shredded yam bean (the bang kuang); and of course, the dried cuttlefish.

Chicken red curry, served not he skin and the bone for extra flavour - south Indian inspirations. From Aunty Yong's.
Virgin coconut oil for cooking is back in favour, as for hundreds of years before the new fangled theories and media hype on what is truly healthy. Spices used are best pounded by mortar and pestle - and rolled fresh on stone implements, for the paste from an electric blender do not produce the same outcomes in the curry gravy.

The Kueh Pie Tee - crispy deep fried holders contain flavourful but thin slices of pork and crunchy veg.  Apt for cocktails, snacks and afternoon teas.  From Aunty Yong's.  A colonial favourite in south-east Asia, they are appetising, encourage moderate snacking and offer bite-sized consumption.  Lovingly called top hats as well, they require ingredients like julienned carrots, chopped dried shrimps and julienned yam bean (the jicama). Garnish with pepper, spring onions and a dash of soy sauce  to bring out the oomph in the mix. A challenge in making the deep fried cases is that you require a mould.

The Lam Mee, traditional musts for iconic birthdays and family gatherings.  The proof of this exquisite dish is in the soup stock.  From Aunty Yong's.  A discerning choice of pork rib bones sets the base for a good start as these are used importantly to determine the overall taste. The Hokkien noodles are preferably al dente when served.  Shelled prawns, shredded omelette strips (remarkably dyed pink for a happy omen) and bean sprouts are essential. The dish when served is garnished with shallots and coriander leaves.

The Roti Jala, or net flour based snacks, to go well with a spicy curry.  From Aunty Lai's.  To me they are better than breads or rice when dipping into meat curries and they are an alternative to the ubiquitous roti canai.

The Nasi Ulam, or a herbed rice salad, a healthy idea for lunch, yet tasty, organic and aromatic - of Indonesian and Thai origins.
From Aunty Lai's.  There are several versions of this, with emphasis on different ingredients, but all echoing the need for detailed work, fresh leaves and a sense of love when creating them.   In Western nations, most of  those herbs required can be sourced from Thai groceries or from home grown garden beds.  Some ingredients are a challenge to obtain fresh, like the bunga kantan or torch ginger flower; daun kaduk or the wild betel leaf; the daun kunyit or the turmeric leaf; and the daun kesom or Vietnamese mint leaf polygonum.  (Please note, daun means leaf and nasi refers to rice, as most visitors to Bali would already know)

From Fujian, the steamed taro cake, garnished liberally with toasted garlic - from Aunty Lai/s.

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