Friday, October 23, 2009

Makan at the Airport

I am hankering for Malaysia. The sights, the sounds, the smells – and OK, the food. Yes, yes, let’s be honest here, especially the food.

Trouble is, I don’t have time to go – not even to make a reservation – but I did have an evening to spend at The Grove Restaurant at the Stamford Plaza Airport Hotel the other night, because the great thing was – Malaysia (and its food) was coming to me!

Makan, is the Malaysian word for eating, and I joined a few other food bloggers and writers at a long table and for a couple of hours we did just that – enjoy makan.

The Stamford’s Malaysian-born Chef Jacky Poon and Chef Daniel, from Singapore, are well-qualified to lead us through the spicy workings of a true Malaysian meal. They show us rojak, and gado gado vegetables with a wondrous peanut sauce, curried hardboiled eggs, chicken curry, stuffed squid, and of course a colourful range of desserts – mango pudding, creamy fruit sago, black rice, balanced by fresh fruit – and then they turn us loose.

Of course the other buffet offerings are not off-limits either and some of the group return to the table with plates heaped high with Balmain bugs and prawns, then later lush slices of tortes and cakes.

I’m happy enough though with mee goreng noodles and tender grilled fish fillets served on squares of banana leaf. I fall for an interesting vegetable called sweet turnip – and it tastes like a cross between radish and apple, crisp, ever so slightly peppery – that is part of the collection of rojak vegetables that we drizzle with a dark caramel-ly sauce.

Chef Poon spells the name of my new veggie-love for me but I get it wrong, and back home I don’t rest until I find it in my good friend and Asian expert, Carol Selvarajah’s definitive book The Essential Guide to Buying and Using Authentic Asian Ingredients. There she tells us my ‘find’ is a yam bean, bangkwang. It comes from South America where they call it jicama (hick-a-mah). It is the nashi pear of vegetables.

This Malaysian Food and Cultural Feast will be on until November 1st. The Stamford Plaza Airport Hotel is on the corner of O’Riordan and Robey Streets in Mascot, near Sydney Airport. And as if the food is not enough incentive, diners will also have a chance to win a holiday for two people to Malaysia.

Now that is makan sense!


Here is Stamford Hotel’s Chef Poon’s recipe for:


Serving for 6-8 person


White Fish Fillet

Portion cut in 50 grams slices

Banana Leaves

Square shapes to cover

Sambal Paste

See recipe below

salt and pepper to taste

6 wedges of lemon

Sambal Paste:

Sliced Onion

200 grams

Peeled garlic


Fresh Turmeric

10 grams

Galangal, puree

100 grams

Hot chilli, puree

40 grams

Lemon grass, puree

40 grams

Lemongrass ,whole but bashed

40 grams

Shrimp block(Belacan)

40 grams

Lime leaves

3 pcs

Vegetables Oil


To cook the sambal paste

1) Place all ingredients into blender and process till smooth paste

2) Add in oil in pan and fry the toasted the shrimp block and add in onion and whole lemongrass

3) Added puree ingredients to the pan and bring to boil

4) Reduce to a gentle simmer and allow to cook for around one hour ensuring the sauce does not stick, or burn, and is periodically stirred

until most of the liquid has reduced and become jam like in consistency.

Place the fish fillet seasoned with salt and pepper on a piece of banana leaf on a hot pan, top with the sambal paste and cover it with another piece of banana leaf.

Cook it for half a minute and then turn the fillet over. When serving, squeeze some lemon juice on top of the fish.

©Chef Jacky Poon, 2009 (used with permission)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Toffee Tomatoes

Toffee tomatoes? Surely you mean toffee apples, I hear you saying!

No, toffee tomatoes. And that just about sums up this blog.

Once, only once, I’ve encountered these deliciously amazing snacks. I was in a night market in Taipei, Taiwan, years ago, and I came across a stall selling tiny cherry tomatoes skewered five to a stick, glistening in their golden toffee shells.

Yes of course I bought a stick, and you know what? They were fantastic – the acid softness of the tomatoes turned out to be a much better foil for the crisp sugary coating than a toffee apple could ever be.

In Lhasa, and again in the Tibetan outpost of Lanzhou in central China – actually on the far side of the Tibetan plateau – I was presented with fried potatoes drizzled with – you guessed it! – toffee. Before you gag at the thought, I have to tell you it was good. Very good.

No, it was great! For a carb-lover, it has to be the ultimate hit. The toffee had put a crunchy lattice over the fat-crisped potatoes and the sweetly starchy combo was something I will always remember. It was almost impossible not to keep sneaking one last sliver of toffee and a spoonful of potato from the communal plate.

The Chinese are pretty fond of toffee really, and I have many times seen Chinese red dates dipped in toffee (again, arranged on a skewer) and sold from roadside stalls, but those I just can’t come at. The unalloyed sweetness makes my stomach contract at the thought. They remind me of a fad I had a few years ago when I would dip whole strawberries in toffee as a garnish for desserts. They had to be done at the last minute, though (probably why the fad was shortlived) because they needed to be served immediately, before the moisture of the strawberries dissolved the toffee.

Much more attractive were slices of kiwi fruit and other fruits dipped in toffee and displayed like fragments of stained glass at the Wangfujiang night market in Beijing. Certainly any of these were a much more attractive option than the centipedes and snakes on sticks just a few tables away!

But in case you think this blog will be a toffee-lovers’ paradise, a dentist’s dream come true, you’re wrong.

Food is of huge interest to everyone on this planet. Sadly many never have enough to live comfortably. Some of the rest of the world’s population spend inordinate amounts of time and money trying to deal with the effects of too much of it.

And me? I travel. And eat. And cook. Sometimes all at once. But more often I travel, I investigate, I get ideas. Then I come home and get creative in my own kitchen and try out things I have seen or read about or dreamt up. At times the results are good.

These truly amazing and wonderful foods – and combinations of foods – I would like to share with you in this blog.

Like toffee tomatoes.

Allow me one last sugar indulgence and then I’ll stop.


The ultimate easy-as recipe. Massive wow-power when used to dress up a simple dessert. Spike a slice of cake with a fragment. Crumble it over custard or cream or fruit. There are dozens more uses than this recipe’s ONE (yes, one!) ingredient.

Line a baking tray with foil and scatter caster sugar evenly over it. Don’t have a very thick layer, just enough to cover it well. Place in a preheated moderate oven and cook for 10 minutes or so until it has turned golden all over. Guess what? You have made toffee of course, but it has to be the easiest way ever. No brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Let the tray cool on a rack. Remove the toffee from the foil when cool and break up to use any way you wish. What you can’t use will also obediently wait for another day if you seal it up tight so the moist air won’t destroy it.

My favourite way to use it is broken up on top of an angel food cake that I make. It looks sensational amongst the cream and berries and always gets compliments which I feel a bit embarrassed about. Because as you now know, it takes so little time and effort.