Monday, August 22, 2011

Interviewed, Published, Scanned and Preserved

Last week, Chet and I received a visit from Cik Nadia, a journalist from New Straits Times, along with the photographer, Encik Shahrizal. Cik Nadia has visited my blog and it seems that she was curious about the food, and the idea of passing down the recipes to a new generation.

I must say that she caught the basics of what our food is all about, although I feel that we should've sat down and elaborated more. One slight misunderstanding that stood out for me is that I got the godam recipe from Chet's grandmother. In reality, I got the recipe from my mother. But it;s my fault, the interview was quite disjointed due to customers coming to the stall to buy. I did tell her that Chet's grandmother makes the best godam, and almost all the ladies of Kampung Perak learnt the art of cooking from her.

I am happy to see an exposure on the food that was generated by a subculture that came to Alor Setar about 100 years ago. I will be even happier if we can reintroduce these food to the new generation. Below is the news clipping from New Straits Times, 22nd August 2011. Thanks, Cik Nadia.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Sister's Food Business - All Along The Family Line

I always believe that any community, wherever they're from, try their best to maintain whatever heritage or culture that they brought along. The Chinese and Indians came and settled in Malaysia, and they brought along their rich culture, as well as their food culture. Even the different communities of the Malays, such as the Minangkabau, Javanese and Achinese brought their eating culture which in turn, enriches the world of food in Malaysia.

The Al-Jafrees were one of the earliest families of Syeds to settle in Kedah, followed by the Jamalullail of Hadhramaut, Yaman. The Barakbah came much later, in three waves. The first settled in Kubang Rotan (near Kuala Kedah). The former Menteri Besar of Kedah, Datuk Syed Razak bin Syed Zain is from this line. The second group settled in Langkawi, and I was told that the Adabi group is owned by them. Among the last were the Barakbahs who settled in Kampung Perak, specifically, behind the Masjid Zahir of Alor Setar.

Although I never had any formal training on cooking, I must say that my family came from a line that is rich in food culture. My father is from the Barakbah family of Kampung Perak, while my mother is from the Al-Idrus family from Kelantan. My paternal grandmother is from a Shahab family of Aceh. The blend of all these created a plathora of flavors in our house. I always feel that my mom is the best cook ever, and I am sure that everybody will feel that their mother is always the best cook, ultimate!

I have an elder brother, who is a photographer. In contrast to me, he is quiet and very artistic in his photography (You can check out his work in the links on the right). Despite all that, he is always the best at making steaks and stews. The last time we ate his cooking was lamb stew, eaten with country bread, and that was mind-blowing.

As for me, like I said, I never had any formal training, but I spent hours in the kitchen at home watching my mom cook. When I was studying in Hawaii, I emulated her cooking, and to my surprise, they actually worked. As I always loved cooking, I kept on experimenting and expanding on my cooking. I always remember making Salmon Fish Head Curry in Hawaii and called my friends over for dinner.

My sister, Sharifah Rohaizan, I can safely say that she is the heir to the culinary art in the family. Although she originally graduated with a degree in fashion design, she concentrates a lot in f&b with flair. I remember when she started learning on how to bake cakes, I will be the first one to taste, especially her exquisitely moist and rich Banana Cake, hot from the oven. Her speciality includes cakes, western/mediterranean dishes and the traditional Syed/Sharifah traditional dishes. Also, her chicken chop, to me, is always an event by itself. I still order my favorite cheesecake and pasta from her from time to time. Yes, I don't buy from bakeries that much with her around.

When I started selling kuih during the Ramadhan about 5 years ago, all of the dishes that I sell now were made by her. Her bengkang susu was more exquisite, the godam was more immaculate, and even she was surprised when her dishes were totally sold out in less than 1 hour. She also produces frozen food such as currypuffs and other things. Back then, I used to sell 4 types of currypuffs: black pepper beef, black pepper chicken, regular beef and regular chicken fillings. There was one time that I remember somebody ordering from her a godam, made in the traditional way, complete with banana leaves.

About 2 years later, her schedule began to tighten up when her customers started ordering different dishes and cakes, and even kuih raya during the Ramadhan season, to which my wife took over the making of bengkang susu and I took over godam and baked macaroni with cheese. However, we maintained a steady supply of currypuff from her as it was, and still is, high in demand. It seems that as many people buy frozen curry puffs from her, the ready fried black-pepper beef curry-puff which were sold by me is always sold out as well. There are times I used to envy at how easy she made it look, and I still can't figure out how she made the pastry smell buttery even when she used no butter. Well, that should teach me a lesson: I am such a lazy crust when it comes to pastry.

There could've been more dishes to be sold this year, but Rohaizan's assistant has been on maternity leave since end of July 2011. However, it must be noted that, unlike me, her business is daily for the whole year. She still takes order, although had to be selective as she is running the operations alone at the moment. The frozen curry puffs are still available, and chocolate cake is available as well during Ramadhan.

I feel that, for those who are interested, it is best to call and inquire directly from her on what is available. She can be contacted at her business line at 017-5606800.

She has 4 daughters, and I believe that, in time, they will inherit her skills and continue this small family heritage. Even as now, I believe that her skills are still expanding.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

...And Pasta Is Back!!!

I crossed Baked Macaroni With Cheese from the Ramadhan menu last year as I had to takeover the making of Bengkang Susu from my wife as she became very busy with her daily chores and work, and despite the dish's absence, I find that customers are still asking for it.

This year, one of my neighbors, Chef Jamal wanted to make Lasagna to add to my menu. However, after some delays, we sat down a few nights ago and discussed again and I agreed with him that the cost is a bit too high to sell during Ramadhan. The cost alone is about RM5 per slice, which is understandable with the quality that Chef Jamal insists.

It was a scorching hot and humid day today, but my sister brought me a surprise to be added to my Ramadhan menu: Baked Macaroni with Cheese. As her routine is quite packed with making frozen food that her customers order all along this Ramadhan, she can only make a tray with 15 slices, and I mean 15 slices of baked macaroni with beef bolognaise sauce, topped with creamy cheese sauce.

Heavy rain started around 3.20p.m  in Alor Setar today, and by the time I reached the sales location, it was still drizzling. As the Nasi Arab Pak Tuan tent was full of people and stuff, I decided that if the rain doesn't stop, I will go home. Eventually, even during the drizzle, there was a huge crowd lining up for the Nasi Arab, and one of my aunts wanted some bengkang susu saw the the baked macaroni and wanted some. That was it: while I was slicing and packing the macaroni and bengkang from the car boot, the crowd saw and as a result, the macaroni was sold out in 20 minutes, the other dishes followed suit later.

I'm really glad to have the Baked Macaroni back on the men. I always enjoy my sister's cooking, and I really hope that my customers will be too. My sister told me that she'll try to supply the macaroni dish until the 28th of August.

Baked Macaroni with cheese is at RM2.20/slice.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trials and Tribulations at Bazaar Ramadhan

What do you look for when you buy food for breaking of fast? I don't go to the Bazaar Ramadhan that much, mainly because there's too many people and there are too many traders, at most times I really have no idea what to get. Sometimes I would just some traditional kuih, and at times, some dishes to accompany the rice.

I usually meet a number of people carrying stacks of food at the bazaar, and I assume that there are a lot of people they are buying for. I must say that my menu for breaking of fast is actually simple. Back in Penang before 2005, for a few years, I spent the whole fasting month eating the RM1 murtabak and fried noodle (cooked in a big skillet) for breaking of fast. When the taste and quality of both dishes went down, I had to make my own.

I usually look for something nice and worthwhile for my breaking of fast. What frustrates me most are the traders who skims on ingredients or simply makes their dishes even when they know their product is way, way off.

My wife bought some kuih and dishes from the bazaar at the Darulaman Stadium. I must say that most of them were very nice. Despite the fact that I sell curry puffs, I still love to try curry puffs bought from others, and truth to be said, my wife chose very well. The beef curry puffs contain beef, unlike some traders who ask you whether you want beef or chicken, but end up with potatoes and taste the same.

Still, the pulut udang was disastrous. Pulut udang is glutenous rice cooked with coconut milk, filled with dessicated coconut cooked with spices and prawns, grilled over charcoal. The rice was nice, you can taste the creamy texture of it being cookec with coconut cream, but the filling...boy, they squeezed the cream out of the dessicated coconut and used the husk of the dessicated coconut to make the filling. Although you can taste the spices, you can't even taste the prawn overall, the taste was hollow.

My wife also bought the famous kampung-style beef curry with banana stems. I've written on this before where this delicacy is famous in kampung areas during kenduris. Fresh beef, banana stems, curry powder, no
coconut milk, cooked and simmered until the beef and banana stem is extremely tender and juicy, so what could go wrong? I was extremely disappointed though. The cuts of beef were hardly US Choice, it was more of cartilage and the worst part of chuck. What shocks me most is that there was only a little amount of stem and a big amount of banana trunk which was chopped to small pieces. Banana trunk is much tougher than the stem, even when you cook it for a long time. The long queue and the RM5 price tag don't do justice at all, and that will give that dish a very bad reputation.

I am not saying that all traders create short cuts in their quest to make more profit, a small percentage of them are. With hundreds of traders located in one bazaar, how do people know whether it is good or not? I guess that the old practice of "the stall with the longest line is the always the best" doesn't really apply here. I remember queueing up for Roti John for my son last year at the same bazaar. It was the stall with the longest line, but I noticed that the ingredients (eggs, what seemed to be like beef, spices and onions) were very watery and the black pepper sauce was watery as well. In the end, we ended with a very bland Roti John, soaking with liquid from the ingredients and sauce. Even my son couldn't stomach it well.

I understand that taste differs from one person to another, but I know that even some of the kuihs and dishes sold at the bazaar cannot really be passed as something nice to be eaten. In the past, Bazaar Ramadhan stalls used to be filled with a lot of housewives who use their homely culinary expertise to whip up delicious home-tasting delicacies. Even as it gets more and more commercial today, the food should be wholesome and tasty, worth the money that people want to spend. They had a long day of fasting, let them savour the food that ends their trials and tribulations of the day.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Simplest Dish

There are times when the combination of rice, curries, vegetables or even kuih will not satisfy the cravings after a long day of fasting. My favorite is a simple dish, maybe too simple to call it a dish or delicacy, but this has been eaten in the past and still a practice in certain areas. I believe that this is not only well-known in Kedah, but the rest of the country as well. It is rice, with minyak sapi (clarified butter) with salt/soysauce.

This dish is not eaten in the fasting month only, but anytime of the year. We know of one relative inj Kulim, who is in his 80s, eat this daily. How to prepare it? Very simple, and I am sure there are many out there who knows this very well:

1) Get a plate of hot, steaming rice

2) A teaspoon of minyak sapi, depending on your liking. You can use the expensive stuff like QBB, but the best is still the minyak sapi from Indian shops where they sell it by weight. The color is paler than the golden rich color of the canned ones.

3) Salt to taste

4) Mix them up and enjoy. If not enough minyak sapi or salt, add them moderately.

My breaking of fast with this dish will not be complete without some pandan syrup mized with squeezed lime/calamansi juice. Pandan syrup? Well, it is a staple in my family's breaking of fast. We never liked the rose syrup and rarely buys any cordial outside. The making is very simple too, my wife boils sugar with a little water, along with 2-3 pandan leaves until the sugar is dissolved.

I suggest a try of the rice with minyak sapi and salt. It is simple and yet so wholesome and satisfying. Okay, I wouldn't say this is a health food, just good flavor and clean taste.

For those who are trying and ends up with their third plate of rice, well, don't blame me.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Passing Old Recipes To The New

It's the 5th day of Ramadhan, and I must say it has been some of the hottest days in Alor Setar. The heat was searing, and I keep drinking more and more water during the breaking of fast to keep myself from being dehydrated. Despite all that, and the problem of location, the sales have been fine.

My niece who is studying at a polytechnic in Alor Setar came by for the weekend. Interestingly, tonight she indicated that she wants to learn to make one of the best-selling item during Ramadhan, the Bengkan Susu, or Milk Pudding. And I was always so willing...after all, I taught her younger sister and cousin to make Godam.

It's not actually a close guarded secret, Bengkang Susu came to Malaysia from Palembang, brought by the Syeds and Sharifahs. My research so far made it a fact that the dish did not origin from Palembang. It is most likely of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean origin, like the Godam which originated from Shepherd's Pie. Even the rich, milky kuih Makmur originated from there as there is a dish very similar to that in the Mediterranean. With the migration of the Ba'alawis to South East Asia, the dishes somehow evolved and localized, turning into the dishes that we have today.

The basic ingredients for Bengkang Susu are Milk, Rice Flour, Sugar and water. In the past, buffalo milk was used to create a very rich bengkang, but with the number of buffalos decreasing, milk powder was used as substitute. The best milk powder would be the full cream one. I'm not sure about low fat, but anybody can always try.

The measurement should be quite exact in making this dish, but one can still adjust the amount of sugar and flour for sweetness and soft texture. Milk on the other hand, should be more exact, after all, it is the main flavor here. Even water must be measured exactly, too much will make the dish watery and less will turn it hard and dry.

Once the ingredients are mixed together and stirred to get rid of lumps, the batter is stirred over a slow flame. The stirring must be continous so that the bottom part will not get burnt. Once the batter thickens, it is poured into a well greased baking tray and straight into a well heated oven and baked at 180 degrees for 30 minutes or until it is well baked with the top part nicely caramelized.

I must say that she does it pretty well, and for once this week, I don't have to bake anything for tonight. I know her mom will be pleased with her, and I really hope that she will be able to do a repeat performance when she goes home a few weeks after this.

Is this the passing of the torch, or simply handing down family recipes? Whichever I see it, I hope the recipe will continue on for generations to come as there have been a number of family recipes that have long gone and forgotten.

I spoke to Chet, my cousin and Nasi Arab Pak Tuan owner, we hope that one day, we might get down and try to get most, if not all, the recipes of the Syeds and Sharifahs of Alor Setar back and reintroduce them to the younger generations.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back To Ramadhan

amadhan is here again and yes, I'm back in business, next to my cousin Syed Nasir, or Chet, who sells his traditional Nasi Arab.

My menu remains the same: Godam (Shepherd's Pie), Black Pepper Beef Curry Puff and Bengkang Susu (Milk Pudding). Despite the price of its ingredients have gone up, I still maintain the same price as ever, which is:
Godam : RM1.50/piece
Black Pepper Curry Puff  : RM0.35/piece or RM1.00/3 pieces
Bengkang Susu : RM0.50/piece

So I don't make much from the sales, but selling and watching how people enjoy the food gives me such satisfaction.

For those who are looking for Chet's Nasi Arab, please be informed that Nasi Arab is RM7.00/set. It's worth it, I must say.

This year, we are located in a slightly different place, about 100 meters before our usual place. We were in 3 different locations for the past 3 days, although being on the same road and withing a 100-meter radius, but it disrupts our customers' routine as they missed the place and had to turn around on a very busy road. Believe it or not, I am doing more of a bootsale, where the food is being sold from the back of my car. Of course, if I get a table, I would have a better display.

As like every year, I am making sure that the taste and quality of the food product is uncompromised. I am just hoping that the customers are fully satified with the food product that I made. My schedule for Ramadhan is busier than ever; a hectic 9am to 1.30pm, finishing all my work at the office, then head home to bake the godam and fry the curry puffs. After Maghrib and breaking of fast, I'll be stirring the Bengkang and bake them, which usually finishes around 10.30pm, if there are no extra orders for the Bengkang. The bengkang is usually refrigerated when it has cooled down. This is because the bengkang is usually enjoyed slightly cold, but not too cold.

By the way, if things go well, next week, I will be selling lasagna as well. One of my neighbors, Chef Jamal has confirmed that he will be making them, but for a limited time. We have not finalized on the price, but it might be around RM5.00. It might sound pricey, but it is bigger than the godam and its ingredients are more expensive, considering the use of beef, pasta, cream and cheese.

Well, if you are looking for Nasi Arab Pak Tuan and some kuih for the breaking of fast, or even for tea (for non-Muslims), head down to Jalan Sultanah (Lebuhraya Sultanah Bahiyah), we are located in front of the car wash, right in front of Sekolah Sultanah Bahiyah and the legendary Mee Abu.