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Saturday, April 29, 2006

John, Tipah and my best friend turning 40

Derrick of An Obsession With Food (and wine) is organising the 25th IMBB and the theme this round is Stale Bread. My contribution is Roti John, a Malaysian street food.
I cannot make this dish without talking about G, who turns 40 next week. I am throwing a big bash for him at our farm and our friends from all over the world are coming to celebrate with us. G is flying from New York as I type. G came to my life when I was first year student in Uni. He was to be not only my tenant but also hair and make up consultant and travel companion. More than that, he was to be my bestest friend.
G was born in the south state of Malaysia, at the other end of the causeway. He introduced me to a lot of Southern Specialties like Laksa Johor - a laksa lemak but served with spaghetti and sambal belacan and Nasi Briyani Gam. Through him, I also learnt to eat and cook street food. I had my first taste of doner and kebab with him. And since we spent more money on other wild things than food in our uni days, we always ended up buying mince. One day, he introduced me to Roti John, a guilty pleasure so sensational (of existance I didn't know of till then) it became a staple in our then household. It is the thing that saw us through love, one night stands, breakups, brokenhearts, fights with family and lesser mortals. It's the dish that you can cook together or alone, you can spend time talking while preparing it and the pleasure it brings when you take that first bite in your mouth is nothing short of sensational. It warms you up in those long wintery nights (then I will add some spices) and in summer it is light and simple enough to eat as your main dish. It is also great to throw together for friends who drop in in short notice. And it is scrummy as a picnic dish. Works as a starter and perfect for hangovers.
Before there was Ramly Burger, there was Roti John. Everyone in Malaysia knows who Ramly is and his success story. I don't know who John was. I don't think anyone does. Maybe it is just a name someone coined because the dish is more western than Asian and John seems to be the most common Caucasian name. Roti means bread in Maay and Roti John simply means John's bread. It is a great name though because it is catchy and is easy to remember and works very well as a street offering.
The base of the dish is usually made with baguette or hotdog buns but we used to use day old bread. You then make a paste of mince beef, diced onions, paprika (or capcicum or chillies) and the herbs of your choice - in Malaysia usually chinese parseley or coriander. I usually put in (canned) pineapple chunks for sweetness. Break an egg to bring all the ingredient together, season well and let it sit for 10 minutes. Season with some salt and pepper. If it is too wet, add a pinch of cornfour.
Then spread it on your bread and fry it in a hot hot hot pan. Serve it with condiment of your choice - in my case a dollop of mayo and chilli sauce or ketchup will be good too. Just so I don't feel guilty about eating something so sensational, I usually eat mine with arugula or spinach on the side...
What does Tipah have to do with this post... you asked? When I first started making it, my roti used to be broken to pieces because they were soggy from all the eggs. So to save it, I slapped another piece of buttered bread on top of the other one, pressing them together as a sandwich. I called it Roti Tipah after the Sheila Majid character in Ali Setan , where one of the most quoted dialogue "Tipah tertipu bang, tipah tertipu...." came from which literally translated to "I was deceived, darling...." referring to my own unfortunate incidents with the deceptive soggy Roti John.
Our other mates used to call it roti john kahwin (married) just like the roti kahwin which is another one of Malaysian famous rotis - toast spread with butter on one side and kaya the other and sandwiched together. I would like the story to end as John actually finding his soulmate in Tipah who loves food as much as he does and live happily ever after!
After all, that's what happened to me and Terry didn't it?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Lemon Fish

WE have fish at least twice a week, usually wednesdays and fridays. What I cook depends on how fresh the fish is. My favourite is steamed seabass - made very quickly with ginger, soy sauce, chillies, garlic and a dash of sesame oil and baked whole fish rubbed with harissa paste. the problem with blogging about fish dishes is - for me at least - I tend to make super quick dishes and want to eat them as soon as they are ready.
Yesterday, I was thinking of Muhibbah in Taman Tun - a popular family restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. I suddenly had the craving for their lemon chicken. I bought some fresh cod from the fish shop and made lemon fish instead. Unlike the chicken dish in Muhibbah which has more gravy - my sauce is practically soaked into the fish - I prefer it that way- leaving the fish pieces glazed with lemony-gingery wax. This is a super quick dish and everything is done in 15 minutes - from cutting and frying the fish to making the sauce and combining them together. By the time you actually have the fish, it is still crispy from the deep frying and moist and tender inside.

The flavour is very clean - the taste of the sea heightened by lemon and ginger with a hint of caramelised onion. I served this with white rice and a salad of cucumber, onions, pineapple and chillies.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

lunchbox treat

While I love making torte with cream and chocolate, I do love simple cakes made with fruit. Bananacake for instance is one of the staples in our household and my husband since being introduced to it in Malaysia just can't get enough of it. Another cake which is seasonless and I often make is lemon cake. There are a few recipes I use for this and it depends on when and what I am making it for.

If it was for company, I tend to make it more moist and serve it with lemon flavoured creme fraiche. This cake usually last for 3 days and has to be chilled in the fridge.

But for everyday cake to be eaten for breakfast (yes it is a very Malaysian thing to do), tea and for lunch boxes. I usually use the Ina Garten's recipe which works really well and can be kept up to a week in a cake tin. For treat you can also cut it to two, spread with lemon curd and cream and serve it with kiwi and raspberries. But it is really gorgeous on its own too!