Child­hood friends turned cook­book au­thors

Sea­soned cook­book au­thor Marina Mustafa and her child­hood friend Chong Woon Lee have put to­gether a cook­book filled with their favourite Malaysian recipes.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By ABIRAMI DU­RAI star2@thes­

THE tight bond be­tween Marina Mustafa and her child­hood friend Chong Woon Lee is ev­i­dent from the mo­ment you set eyes on the pair. They share a close, easy re­la­tion­ship – one that has clearly been formed from years of know­ing each other. And they laugh to­gether – a lot!

“We have known each other for about 40 years, dat­ing back to pri­mary school in Kuan­tan. Both of us also went to Perth to­gether for six or seven years and did our ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, so we’ve got a long his­tory. And it’s so funny – be­ing home­sick stu­dents, our lives in Perth were re­ally wrapped around food,” rem­i­nisces Chong, about her long-stand­ing foodie friend­ship with Marina.

The friends be­came even closer in Aus­tralia, bound by a shared long­ing for lo­cal food. Their shared in­ter­est in cook­ing meant they were con­tin­u­ously ex­per­i­ment­ing and mak­ing ev­ery­thing from Aussie meat pies to roti canai.

Over the years, their friend­ship has en­dured time and ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers – Chong is now based in the United States, while Marina lives in Kuala Lumpur. The two say their many con­ver­sa­tions and catch-up ses­sions over What­sApp still of­ten re­volve around food.

Which is how Marina – an ex­pe­ri­enced cook­book au­thor with at least 10 cook­books to her name, Ev­ery­thing Sam­bal Hari such as and Raya Clas­sics

– re­alised that there was an op­por­tu­nity for her and Chong to work to­gether on a cook­book.

“I think a year ago, Ina asked if I would be in­ter­ested in do­ing a Malaysian cook­book to­gether. So I said, ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’” says Chong.

Marina and Woon Lee are both pro­po­nents of clas­sic dishes with just a few tweaks, and this was one of the things that was im­por­tant to them in putting to­gether their book Our Malaysian Kitchen. –

“I think Woon Lee and I have the same vi­sion in that we both like food that doesn’t have too many fu­sion el­e­ments. She likes to keep to good, hearty Chi­nese meals and I like to do the same with Malay food. I think you can get a lot of fu­sion recipes, but to be able to get the real deal is quite hard. Our goal is to make food the way it was served way back when,” says Marina.

Marina and Chong be­gan their trans-con­ti­nen­tal cook­book ad­ven- ture a year ago, split­ting their work­load equally, so that each of them con­trib­uted 15 recipes each. They worked on the cook­book over a six-month pe­riod, iron­ing out ob­sta­cles like dif­fer­ent time zones and Chong’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­dus­try.

“You are talk­ing about two dif­fer­ent coun­tries, two dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents, two dif­fer­ent time zones. And Ina is ac­tu­ally a pro at shoot­ing and styling food, but I’ve never done it be­fore and that was the hard­est part for me. My 7pm is her 7am, and I would call her and be like, ‘Inaaaa, how do I do this shoot?’,” says Chong.

Marina says the ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­rier was the big­gest hur­dle they had to over­come and cor­re­spond­ing (or try­ing to cor­re­spond) across the great phys­i­cal di­vide re­ally put their friend­ship to the test.

“That was our big­gest chal­lenge. I think if Woon Lee and I didn’t have a strong friend­ship, this would def­i­nitely not have worked out,” says Marina.

The book shines a spot­light on clas­sic Chi­nese and Malay recipes that Chong and Marina grew up with, like mar­i­nated fish in ba­nana leaf, lo­tus root soup, chicken in soy sauce, tapi­oca shoots in co­conut milk and sam­bal tu­mis kerang.

Both Marina and Chong say the recipes re­flect her­itage dishes they learnt from their mothers and grand­moth­ers; they have made them many times be­fore, and con­tinue to make them for their fam­ily and friends. Their favourite recipes in the book are the ones that hold the strong­est nos­tal­gic appeal for them.

“I love bread, and my recipe for co­conut buns in the book takes me back to my child­hood, when the roti man would drive his mo­tor­cy­cle around the neigh­bour­hood and he would have this lovely ‘roti co­conut’ – it just brings back all these great mem­o­ries,” says Chong.

Marina’s favourite recipe in the book is also one that speaks of fond old mem­o­ries. “To me, the recipe that keeps com­ing back to me is sa­tay. I know it’s a nor­mal dish but I missed sa­tay so much when we were in Perth and I re­mem­ber us try­ing so many recipes to get the sa­tay just right, so it has nos­tal­gic value for us,” she says.

The recipes and meth­ods in the book have been writ­ten in both English and Ba­hasa Malaysia, which is un­usual as most cook­books tend to just stick with one lan­guage. Marina says this was in­ten­tional, as she wanted the cook­book to appeal to a wider cross-sec­tion of read­ers.

“We­wante­dit­to­beaMalaysian cook­book. I think it would be re­stric­tive if we had just one lan­guage or the other. Truth be told, both of us are more com­fort­able with English, but we know there is a huge mar­ket who prob­a­bly can­not re­late to the English words. Even I find it un­fa­mil­iar some­times – when I hear the word ‘serai’, I can con­nect but with ‘lemon­grass’, I need a few sec­onds to con­nect to the word.

“And es­pe­cially since it’s a lo­cal book, I think we need to have lo­cal words and de­scrip­tions and names of the in­gre­di­ents to re­late to what we call them,” says Marina.

Ul­ti­mately, both Marina and Chong think the cook­book serves a higher pur­pose, in line with the way things have changed in the coun­try since their child­hood days.

“To be truth­ful, we wanted to have this book be­cause many Malaysians seem to be seg­re­gated. We never felt that dur­ing our friend­ship. We’ve never even thought of dif­fer­ences among the races, which are now prom­i­nent to­day. Our un­der­ly­ing rea­son for do­ing this book is to show peo­ple that we all have com­mon ground,” says Marina.

De­spite the dis­tance be­tween them, the two had so much fun Our Malaysian work­ing to­gether on Kitchen

that they are now plan­ning a se­ries of value-for-money recipe book­lets and have al­ready fin­ished the first book in the se­ries, which will re­volve around tea time snacks.

“We will be do­ing a se­ries of book­lets, more to­wards ba­sic recipes. They will also be cheaper, so we can reach more Malaysians,” says Marina.

Our Malaysian Kitchen

is priced at RM32.90, avail­able at all ma­jor book­stores.


Serves 3

1 large onion

3 cloves gar­lic

2 1/2cm turmeric root 3 red chill­ies

5 bird’s eye chill­ies 1 whole co­conut, grated

1 tsp salt

1 tsp su­gar

1 turmeric leaf, sliced

3 In­dian mack­erel, gut­ted and cleaned ba­nana leaves

3 cala­mansi limes

Blend the onion, gar­lic, turmeric root and both chill­ies. Pour the blended in­gre­di­ents into a pan. Add the grated co­conut and stir. Sea­son with salt and su­gar. Cook un­til the in­gre­di­ents be­gin to thicken and dry up.

Sprin­kle the sliced turmeric leaves and mix. When the fill­ing cools, pack it in the fishes’ cav­i­ties. Wrap the ba­nana leaves around the fish and grill for 3 min­utes on each side or un­til cooked through. Squeeze the juice of cala­mansi limes over the top when serv­ing.


Serves 8 to 10 Fill­ing

4 salted egg yolks

4 1/2 tbsp un­salted but­ter, soft­ened 5 tbsp fine su­gar

3 tbsp thick co­conut milk 1 tbsp corn­flour

3 tbsp cus­tard pow­der 4 tbsp milk pow­der a pinch of salt


2/3 cup pau flour 1/3 cup warm wa­ter 2 tsp in­stant yeast 21/2 cups pau flour 1/3 cup fine su­gar 1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp bak­ing pow­der 11/2 tbsp oil

1/2 cup warm wa­ter

To make fill­ing

Steam the egg yolks for 10 min­utes. Mash them while they are still warm, then set aside to cool. Cream the but­ter and su­gar un­til smooth and fluffy. Stir in the rest of the in­gre­di­ents for the fill­ing. Mix un­til smooth. Push the mix­ture through a sieve to get rid of any lumps.

Spoon a ta­ble­spoon of fill­ing into each cav­ity of sil­i­cone ice-cube trays. If you are us­ing reg­u­lar plas­tic trays, lightly brush the cav­i­ties with oil be­fore spoon­ing in the fill­ing. Freeze for at least 4 hours be­fore use.

To make the dough

Mix to­gether the pau flour, warm wa­ter and in­stant yeast. Cover with plas­tic wrap and set aside for 15 min­utes.

In a mix­ing bowl, sieve the 2 1/2 cups pau flour, su­gar, salt and bak­ing pow­der to­gether. Add in the yeast mix­ture and mix un­til a rough dough forms. Add the oil and wa­ter. Knead for 10-15 min­utes, un­til the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. If the dough is too wet, add a bit of flour; if too dry, add a bit of wa­ter.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plas­tic wrap and let it rise un­til dou­ble in size, about 60-90 min­utes. Gen­tly re­lease the dough onto a lightly floured sur­face. Di­vide the dough into 16 pieces and roughly shape into balls. Cover the dough balls with plas­tic wrap.

Re­move the fill­ing from the freezer and pop them out from the ice cube trays. Roll out each dough ball, keep­ing the cen­tre thicker and the edges thin­ner. Keep the un­used dough balls cov­ered while you work. Place a fill­ing in the cen­tre and wrap the edges around it. Pinch tightly to seal. Place the pau, sealed side down, on a square of bak­ing pa­per. Re­peat un­til all the dough balls and fill­ings are used up. If the fill­ing starts to melt, pop them back into the freezer for a few min­utes to har­den. Cover with plas­tic wrap and let rest for 15 min­utes.

Steam the pau on medium-low heat for 9 min­utes. Do not steam on high heat or over­steam as the fill­ing will ooze out.


Serves 4

1 large onion 4 cloves gar­lic 2 1/2cm gin­ger 2 tbsp cook­ing oil 1 cin­na­mon stick 5 car­damoms 4 cloves

1 star anise 4 pieces chicken

2 cups wa­ter

2 tbsp tomato paste

1/3 cup sweet soy sauce

2 po­ta­toes, quar­tered

1 tomato, quar­tered

2 red chill­ies, halved length­wise

2 large onions, sliced into thick rings 11/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pep­per

2 tbsp crispy fried shal­lots, for gar­nish

To cook

Blend onion, gar­lic and gin­ger un­til smooth. Heat the oil in a pot and put in the cin­na­mon stick, car­damoms, cloves and star anise. Then add blended in­gre­di­ents and sauté un­til fra­grant. Put in the chicken pieces and sear them for about a minute.

Pour in the wa­ter, tomato paste and soy sauce, then add the po­ta­toes. When the liq­uid be­gins to boil, add the tomato, red chill­ies and onion rings. Sea­son with salt and pep­per. Sim­mer over medium heat for 8 min­utes un­til the chicken and po­ta­toes are cooked through.

Sprin­kle with crispy fried shal­lots and serve with white rice.


Serves 4 to 6

5 small red onions

4 cloves gar­lic

2 1/2cm turmeric root

5 bird’s eye chill­ies

1 1/2 cups wa­ter

2 tbsp an­chovies, soaked

20 stalks tapi­oca shoots, plucked, boiled and drained

2 cups thick co­conut milk

1 1/2 tsp salt

To cook

Blend onions, gar­lic, turmeric root and bird’s eye chill­ies.

Boil the wa­ter in a pot with the an­chovies and blended in­gre­di­ents. Once the wa­ter boils, add the boiled tapi­oca shoots and cook for 5 min­utes.

Pour in the thick co­conut milk and sea­son. Sim­mer over low heat for 5 more min­utes. Serve with hot rice.

— SAM THAM/The Star

Chong (right) and Marina have a close re­la­tion­ship, which be­came even stronger when they had to work through ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers and dif­fer­ent time zones to col­lab­o­rate on their first cook­book.

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