Elab­o­rate mix of herbs and spices re-cre­ates the best flavours of Malaysian street food

Vancouver Sun - - YOU - LAURA BREHAUT Recipes from The Malaysian Kitchen by Christina Aroki­asamy, Houghton Mif­flin Harcourt.

“Think of it as happy cook­ing,” Christina Aroki­asamy says. “Malaysian food is a jour­ney of taste. Sweet, sour, salty, spicy and savoury hit your palate at the same time. And that is a glo­ri­ous palate that is happy and danc­ing with flavours.”

In her sec­ond cook­book, The Malaysian Kitchen (Houghton Mif­flin Harcourt, 2017), Aroki­asamy of­fers an in­tro­duc­tion to her na­tive cuisine in 150 recipes. She grew up in Kuala Lumpur and was pre­vi­ously a chef at Four Sea­sons re­sorts in Thai­land and Bali.

Now based in the Pa­cific North­west, Aroki­asamy has been teach­ing culi­nary classes for more than two decades. In the book, she cap­tures the essence of Malaysian home cook­ing while utiliz­ing in­gre­di­ents that are read­ily avail­able in gro­cery stores.

“It is the in­gre­di­ents that make this food,” she says. “The book is based on what we have in North Amer­ica … (To) bridge the gap be­tween the way my grand­mother cooked and the way read­ers learn to cook.”

There’s a nine-page spice chart in the book, de­tail­ing 35 spices and aro­mat­ics: their taste and aroma, health ben­e­fits, and uses. Spices are the foun­da­tion of Malaysian cook­ing, Aroki­asamy ex­plains, pro­vid­ing depth. But herbs and other aro­mat­ics (le­mon grass, galan­gal and makrut lime leaves) are equally sig­nif­i­cant.

“Spices pro­vide a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion and com­plex­ity. But herbs (and other aro­mat­ics) lift them all up … They bring life to chut­neys, pick­les, vinai­grettes and dress­ings. They re­vive a dull-tast­ing mari­nade. Adding any of th­ese Asian aro­mat­ics just brings an amaz­ing amount of light­ness,” she says.

Aroki­asamy high­lights the mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism of Malaysian cuisine in the book. Culi­nary tra­di­tions from the Malay Penin­sula’s pre­dom­i­nant cul­tures — Malay, Chi­nese, In­dian, Baba-Ny­onya (a.k.a. Per­anakan) and Por­tuguese — have been bor­rowed, shared and built upon by cooks.

“It’s an eclec­tic way of eat­ing. You taste many cul­tures in a spoon­ful,” she says.

Street food is abun­dant in Malaysia, and the is­land of Penang in par­tic­u­lar is renowned for its hawker stalls. Aroki­asamy grew up on this food, and says that the hawk­ers have in­spired her pas­sion for the cuisine as much as her pro­fes­sional chef’s train­ing.

She devotes a chap­ter to street food in the book, a se­lec­tion of pop­u­lar recipes that rep­re­sent the cul­tural diver­sity of the ven­dors in Penang — Malaysia’s culi­nary cap­i­tal.

“Malaysians who move over­seas are al­ways search­ing for this food: Hainanese chicken rice, nasi lemak (fra­grant rice), char kway teow (stir-fried noo­dles), five-spiced bar­be­cue-roasted pork, curry puffs and Malaysian wan­tan noo­dles,” she says.

“When we go back, that’s the food we want to eat be­cause it rep­re­sents Malaysian food — the many cul­tures that cre­ated that one par­tic­u­lar dish. I’ve taken the best of the best and I’ve put it in that chap­ter. And I think they would find them­selves as if they’ve just taken a jour­ney back home.”


Pe­nang’s fa­mous char kway teow, a Malaysian street food favourite, re­lies on its broad cross-cul­tural med­ley of spices. Christina Aroki­asamy’s lat­est cook­book pays homage to the flavours she re­mem­bers from her child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences on the Malaysian...

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