Friday, August 8, 2008

Assam Fish ~ Clear Type

Assam Fish is a favourite Malay dish, which is sourish with a zest of spiciness. Fish cooked in assam sauce (tamarind sauce) makes the sauce sweet as well. Whenever I think of Assam Fish, I will kind of salivate on the both sides of my tongue. (Greg: I didn't know it's possible to do that)

There are basically two types of cooking. The one posted here is the clearer type, which is slightly more soupy. The other type is more curry-ish. We love this clear type. Eating it with rice really gives the tongue a kick. Very appetizing!

Serve 4

The Fish:

600 gm to 800 gm of fish with firm, sweet meat such as garoupa, pompret, chio beng*, han hoo*

*hokkien pronounciation. If you are unsure, the fishmonger would be more than happy introduce the good types for assam fish purpose.

2 heaped tbsp of assam jawa (tamarind)
500 to 800gm of water
3 pieces assam pieces
1 no of assam fruit (in Kuching we called it the local 'tomato'. It has a yellowish thick skin)
2 stalk of lemon grass, cut into half and smashed
salt and sugar to taste

The Paste:
4 no of red shallots
4 no of garlic
4 no of medium to big chillis
1 tbsp of tumeric/kunyit paste
6-8 tbps of oil

1) Wash and cut fish into big pieces.

2) Mix 500ml of water with the assam jawa. Strain for juice.

3) Quartered the assam fruit and wash the centre seeds with 100ml of water. Strain for juice.

4) Pound the shallots, garlic and chillis into a paste.

5) With oil in the pan, heat up and stir fry the paste till fragrant and chilli oil start appearing around the side of paste. Add kunyit paste followed by lemon grass. Continue stir frying till fragrant.

6) Add assam jawa juice, assam fruit juice, asssam pieces and assam fruit. Simmer soup with low fire till fruits are soft. Taste. If you find it too sour or if the mixture too thick, add the rest of the 200ml of water or more if you like the soup clearer.

7) Add fish, salt and sugar and bring to a quick boil. Check fish for doneness. Don't overcook the fish. Serve with rice and a nice bowl of clear vegie soup.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Veg and Meat Pao (Chai Rou Pao)

Meat and vegetable paos are really favourites of many people I know including my parents and my in-laws. In Chinese, it is chai rou pao, which is essentially a combination of meat such as minced pork or chicken, and minced vegetables such as wombok (wong nai pa), kua chai (bitter vegies), xiao bai chai (bok choy). It is a very simple yet comforting type of filling for white pau. The most famous of these paos are the Shanghainese Chai Rou paos.

The filling recipe is for one portion of pao quick dough divided into 40gm parts. It makes approximately 16 paos.

400gm of minced meat
1 tbsp of light soya
1 tbsp of salt (approximately, to taste)
1 teasp of pepper (approximately, to taste)
1 tbsp of minced garlic
3 tbsp of cooking oil
1 tbsp of cornstarch +2 tbsp of water
300gm of any one type of the veg suggested
1 small pot of boiling water + 1/2 teasp of salt and sugar

1) Blanch veg in the pot of water quickly. Remove and cool slightly. Chop into small pieces. Squeeze to remove water.

2) Season meat with seasoning. Heat up pan with oil and lightly pan fry garlic til lsoft and lightly brown. Add meat and pan fry till cooked. Add cornstarch mixture. Remove from fire.

3) Add veg to meat mixture. Mix well and taste for seasoning. Set aside to cool slightly before chilling in fridge for at least 3 hours. This will help with wrapping later on.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Bullet from London to Paris

On our second day in London, we took the Eurostar from St. Pancras International in London to Gare Du Nord (North Gate) station in Paris.

For those of you who plan to take the Eurostar, please make sure to book the tickets early, like way, way early. If you do that, then the tickets may cost you as low as £55 for a ROUND trip.

Being too clever, we did just the opposite. Seeing that there were lots of cheap tickets online earlier, we procastinated until it was too late, & we panicked. In the end, we got ours for £79 for a ONE-WAY trip for ONE person. That's one sure way of blowing off some hard-earned money!

So what was supposed to be an affordable trip turned out to be an expensive one.

Two expensive Eurostar staff manning the expensive Eurostar train.

Anyway, the trip was as smooth as riding on an expensive bullet. Passengers are allowed to bring food into the train although there's a food bar in one of the cars. If we were in Kuching or Sibu, Nee would have packed some kong pia.

It took about 2.5 hours to reach the other side of the English Channel. We passed some English suburbs before dipping underground (under the sea) & then rising back up to French vineyards & farms on the other side of the Channel.

This is the Gare Du Nord station in Paris - we have finally arrived in French territory.

Armed with just a few phrases like Bon Jour, Bon Soir, Bonne Nuit, Merci, Pardon & S'il Vous Plait (& I could only count to six), we were sort of ready to experience the infamous 'hospitality' of the French that we've heard so much about.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

DIY London: Oyster, Please!

We've always believed that you can't really experience a place unless you do what the locals do. This means walking the streets like the locals do, taking the subway, eating what they eat, & going to the places that they go to.

And this is why we really get a kick out of planning for our own DIY holiday trips everytime. We've done it before with Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Kota Kinabalu, Perth, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Macau, & now, London & Paris. It does take a lot of time & effort to plan & research on our part, but in the end it's all worth the while.

Going at it on our own means going back to our hotel & waking up the next morning whenever we feel like it the next day, instead of getting a wake up call at 6am so that you don't miss the tour bus. It also means that we can pick the places that we want to go to, instead of being brought to the mandatory Chinese restaurants, souvenir shops & shopping malls.

Of course, a DIY trip would always come with it's adventures. We had a classic killer horror movie experience with one of the ryokans in Japan, got lost in Kyoto while lugging our luggage like crazy & walked till our backs broke, almost didn't have a place to stay for the night in Hong Kong, & then also in London, got on a wrong train to a scary & almost deserted God-knows-where train station in the suburbs of France. But we know that when we look back, it will always be something worth remembering.

The simple principle here is to really be able to navigate & survive ourselves if we're thrown back to those places again.

When we were in London, it was so easy to travel. If you are there for consecutive days, you can get what they call a Travelcard of one, three or seven days with unlimited travel in certain zones. We opted for the Oyster card because in between our London stays, we travelled to Paris & then back again.

The Oyster allows travel on DLR, overground, underground tubes trams and buses. In the tube, you swipe when you get in and out of the station and the prepaid Oyster cards will charged accordingly. For example, Fare for Zone 1 is £1.5 per trip. Peak hours are from 7 am to 7pm.

And the wonderful thing about Oyster is that there is a capping fee which means you will not spend more than a certain amount in a day. For Zone 1-2 travel, daily capping is £6.30 for peak and £4.80 for off peak, which is actually cheaper than a daily travelcard.

And with Oyster, all bus rides costs 90pence, no matter where & how far you're going. You swipe when you board the bus. Bus ride fees will also contribute towards the daily capping fee. But if you use buses only, the daily capping is at £3.

The Transport For London website is at

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Basic White Pao Dough

I love making Chinese white paos, and of course eating them as well. The best part is making them over the weekend, then storing them in the fridge, to be steamed up and eaten over the week. It makes morning breakfast much faster and easier, which is equal to waking up slightly later. Yes, you guessed it right, we are not those insane early birds. And I am not about to wake at 5 am to make paos for Greg.

I have never blogged about white paos before because I'm never really confident in making paos that are up-to-standard, in terms of the look. Even now I still cannot get 100% good looking paos - those with super smooth surface and white ones. In terms of taste, Greg and my FIL love them because homemade ones are always so packed with fillings. And if done right, they will be fluffy and will not stick to your teeth when you bite into them. I guess paos are one of those things that look simple to make and will generally be edible, but to make it great in terms of both taste and look, many little steps must be well executed.

As a standard, there are basically two types of recipes. The first is is the basic dough ones, which is very simple throw everything in and hence, fast. The results are generally good but if compared side by side with type 2, it tends to be tighter in terms of wrapping and bites.

Type 2 is a something like the sponge and dough method which requires an dough starter. Type 2 produces very nice, fluffy paos and if i put next to Type 1, this type is slightly smoother and whiter. And of course there is the Type 3 smiling pao, which needs a 2-day old dough starter to start , ammonia and all the stuffs and the good paos will crack up as if they are smiling and hence the name. Good smiling paus are light and fluffy.

Which ever type it is, there are generally a few standard rules to ensure good paos.

1) Good pao dough will not stick on three things ~ the bowl, the table and your hands. It is soft but not sticky. So definitely it will not stick on teeth when you chew on them.

2) It should be so well kneaded that when you slice through the dough, the inner part is smooth and practically has little or no airholes

3) Good kneading will gives whiter paos. Interesting, isnt it?

4) Do not overproof paos. It does not make it airier but rather it will create wrinkly or pocky faced after steaming.

5) Steam paos on med-hi fire, not high because high heat causes wrinkly surface or pocky face paus.

6) Do not remove steamer from the bottom boiling water or take off the lid immediately. Let paos sit in steamer at low fire for 1 min, remove steamer from hot water and let it sit on a edited: I think it is better to sit over say an wire mesh cake stand or on top of the sink (for cold air from bottom to flow upwards, pushing the hot air out) for 30 secs before removing the lid. This step will help in having smooth surface pao. The concept is we dont want a sudden difference in temperature.

Type 1: Basic Quick Pao Dough
500gm of good quality superwhite pao flour
100gm of icing sugar
50 gm of shortening/crisco
2 teasp of instant yeast
230-250 gm of room temperature water

1) Place sifted flour with sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl. With a dough beater, turn on low and mix the dry.

2) Add water, followed by shortening. Mix until all ingredients come together into a smooth dough that does not stick onto the bowl. I would generally hand knead (motion of washing clothes) as I go along. Using a dough cutter, cut and check cut surface. Dough is only ready if the surface is very smooth. Rest cover for 15 min.

3) Divide into equal balls and roll each balls into a small round smooth dough. If you are making a small recipe (say 1/2 of the above recipe), the balls at this stage should rest for 10 min. But if you make this quantity, by the time you shape the last ball, the first ball should be well rested already. You can proceed with wrapping the first ball.

4) Start wrapping and shaping with filling. Rest for another 10-15 min (depending on how fast you can wrap a tray of pao for steaming. If you are very slow, then rest for 10 min only. otherwise the first paos will be rested too long). Steam as per Rule 4 and 5.

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