Little Penang Kafe Acar Fish Set – (from top clockwise) Acar fish, jiu hoo char, sambal belacan, sliced cucumber, lor bak and white rice.
Whenever I have a pining for home-cooked food Penang style, there are only a few eateries in the Klang Valley that can satiate my appetite. Little Penang Kafé, which has several outlets here, is the one Wuan and I usually head to. The outlet we frequent often is at Mid Valley Megamall as we hang out there a lot on weekends. Each time we ate there, I resolved to try something different but invariably settled for the Acar Fish Set consisting of white rice, acar fish, jiu hoo char and lor bak. The other two outlets we pop in whenever we are in the vicinity are at Suria KLCC and The Curve.
Acar fish is fish slices that are deep-fried and then pickled in rice vinegar, turmeric, julienned ginger, sliced garlic and red chilli. Jiu hoo char is dried cuttle fish yam bean (sengkuang) and carrots that are julienned and stir fried together with belly pork, sliced shiitake mushrooms, onions and chopped garlic. Lor bak is chopped belly pork marinated with five spice powder, soya sauce, sugar, salt, pepper and shallots and made into rolls with bean curd sheets.
Little Penang Kafe serves halal food. The belly pork in jiu hoo char and lor bak are replaced with chicken. Both dishes without belly pork just do not feel as authentic as they should be in the mouth. The lor bak still maintains the aroma and flavour and is delicious nonetheless. The jiu hoo char has prawns added and is garnished with spring onions and deep fried shallots. The jiu hoo char that I like neither comes with prawns nor have garnishing. Perhaps it was added more for presentation purposes than anything else. I would have loved it more had it been stir fried longer to bring out its flavour. I usually eat the jiu hoo char with sambal belacan.
I grew up eating a hodgepodge of Peranakan (Nyonya) cuisine. These are usually served on weekends when the family got together for more scrumptious meals. It included nasi lemak, laksa, popiah, lam mee, lor bak, jiu hoo char, otak-otak and perut ikan, among others. Different cooks would use different amount of ingredients or even use slightly different ingredients that may make the taste varied and unique. The tastes that I like are more mainstreamed. That is what one would get from hawkers and eateries proffering such cuisines.
Wuan brought some bak chang
(glutinous rice dumplings) that she bought from Petaling Street when she came yesterday. Among them was a huge dumpling wrapped in lotus and bamboo leaves that costs RM8.00. We had it for afternoon tea just now. It was not as nice as we had expected and certainly not worth its price. There was a piece of belly pork, chestnut, two small cuts of shitake mushroom and one dried oyster inside, wrapped in a layer of green beans and then a layer of glutinous rice. I should not have eaten such heavy food as I have just recovered from two bouts of fever recently. Glutinous rice is known to cause indigestion when consumed even in moderation. However, after starving myself for so many days, it was like heaven-sent.
On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the Chinese celebrate the Duan Wu Jie
, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival or the Dumpling Festival. All across South-east Asia, dragon boat races are held to commemorate this day in long shallow boats with a dragon head at the bow. However, the legend of the dumpling goes deeper than that. In the fifth century B.C. Qu Yuan
, a well-loved Chinese court official and poet committed suicide by leaping into a river to protest the corrupt state of the country. Upon hearing the news of his death, the people living nearby searched the length and depth of the river for his body in order to give him a proper burial but they were unsuccessful. In despair, they made dumplings and threw them into the river, hoping that the fishes would nibble on the dumplings instead of the body. This year, the Duan Wu Jie
falls on the June 22. This festival almost always coincides with the summer solstice which is also the longest day of the year. It is believed that one can stand an egg on its end on this day.
In modern times, the meaning of the dumplings have been lost to gluttony and commercialism. I am guilty of it, too. I eat dumplings because they taste nice, and not for the inherent significance. Moreover, they are available throughout the year. Ideally, the perfect dumpling should be firm to the touch yet soft in the mouth. The soya sauce and other seasoning should be well mixed into the glutinous rice. The texture of the rice should be smooth to the tongue. It should contain a generous portion of belly pork, chestnut, dried prawns, salted egg yolk and shitake mushroom. It is the fatty portion of the pork that makes the dumplings extra delightful. Most of the ingredients are those that I should consume with restraint. I do not eat these dumplings very often and I guess indulging in it once or twice a year should be all right, I hope.