Egg Sambal: Some Heat for A Cold Day

It’s been another cold, cold weekend here in Toronto. Longing for some warmth, I decided to hit the kitchen and make some egg sambal for tonight’s dinner. To make a sambal based dish, simply means to cook using a spicy mixture of chillies, pepper, and tamarind juice. There are grander variations to the sambal that feature fish or shrimp paste, but I like to keep it simple.

The sambal is another Malaysian household staple, and instead of eggs, you can also use it for fried fish or tofu.  The recipe that follows is my sister’s – she’s a master in the kitchen, much like my mom. 

Egg Sambal

Ingredients: 

  • 5  eggs, hard boiled and sliced in half
  • Oil
  • 1 small onion
  • Ginger (optional)
  • 1 tomato, cubed
  • 1 tbs of chilli powder, mixed into a paste with some water
  • 1 stalk spring onion
  • 1-2 tbs tamarind juice (or juice from a lemon)
  • Tomato ketchup (or tomato paste)
  • Chilli sauce
  • Fresh chillies and coriander for garnish

Method:

Once eggs are boiled, allow them to cool in cold water, peel, pat dry, slice them in half and set aside.

In a frying pan, heat some oil and add onions and ginger. Cook until onions soften and brown. Then add chilli paste and cook until the oil starts to separate. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn. You may need to add a little water if it starts too get to dry.

Add the chopped tomato and cook until they soften. Then add tomato ketchup, chilli sauce and tamarind juice. Stir to blend it all together. Continue to cook for a few minutes longer. If the mixture starts to get too thick, add a little more water.

Add in spring onions and season with salt and pepper. Then add the reserved eggs and mix until they are completely coated in the sambal. Be gentle with the mixing here so the yolks don’t fall out.

Dish out and garnish with some chopped coriander and sliced chillies. Serve with rice and stir fried or steamed mixed greens.

What’s Your One Word for Canada or Malaysia?

I ran a quick poll recently asking people to describe ‘Canada in 1 word’ and ‘Malaysia in 1 word’. It was purely for fun, to see if I would even get a response. I did, and it was interesting. Here’s what came in. Keep in mind that I was looking to gauge ‘first responses’. I show in brackets which word was associated to which country.

  1. Hot (Malaysia), Cold (Canada). Canada and Malaysia are seen to be on polar opposites by those who responded – weather wise that is. Though it can get really hot in Canada (+40C) and fairly cool in Malaysia – about 25, the first word for Canada was “Cold” and Malaysia, “Hot”.
  2. Local delights, the edible kind (Malaysia): Given the sample pool (my facebook page), it was no surprise I suppose that most thought Malaysia was a great place for good food. Any Malaysian would happily take you on a trail of culinary indulgence. Everything from street side food to high-end restaurants, Malaysian cuisine is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s the blend of cultures and the blend of spices – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Peranakan – to name a few – that make Malaysian food pretty unique. Personally, I am delighted to have found a couple of Malaysian restaurants right here in Toronto – Matahari Bar & Grill on Baldwin Street, downtown, and Lion City Restaurant in Mississauga. Lion City serves up a wider variety of South East Asian food. There are a few more Malaysian restaurants around the city, but these are the two that I’ve checked out so far.
  3. Change (Malaysia): Malaysia is a nation on the cusp of change. It seems that we’ve been on that cusp for a while now, but each year, we make small strides for greater political freedom and deeper social integration. Yet, with each stride, we sometimes suffer setbacks that hurt our progress. The country still has a very long way to go. Words that came up along with this were ‘corruption’ ‘complex’, and ‘religious’ – all of which suggest why change is a pretty big theme in Malaysia, and to a degree, why change is difficult.
  4. Colourful (Malaysia): The cultural heritage, wrapped within each nationality and religious group, is celebrated nationally. It is also a bond that unites Malaysians and this is what makes Malaysia colourful.
  5. Inclusive, Aspiring, Opportunities (Canada): To me these words reflect the fact that Canada has come further in terms of its political freedoms and social integration. It’s what makes Canada a nation of opportunity and inclusion for many.
  6. Beautiful (both): Both nations scored with this one. 🙂 The Canadian Rockies got several mentions, making Canada a dream destination for some.
  7. Home and Family (Malaysia): Words that got the most votes for Malaysia – no surprise, really – again given the poll sample. Malaysians, who live abroad mostly still see Malaysia as home. But, many have moved in search of better opportunities elsewhere. At the end of the day however, home and family is where you decide it is.

What’s your one word for Malaysia or Canada, and why?

Malaysia as told by Yasmin Ahmad

Cultural diversity is one common factor between Malaysia and Canada that I love. This week I thought I’d share several ads that showcase the rich cultural heritage of Malaysia. These ads were made by Yasmin Ahmad, a brilliant writer and film director, from Malaysia. Her ads mostly focused on the cultural and racial diversity in Malaysia, but weaved through them powerful messages of a shared heritage among the races. Through clever storytelling, her ads carried subtle calls for unity in the country. She tended to tug at heartstrings, inviting viewers back to simpler times, encouraging us to remember our days as kids when race or colour never mattered in our lives. She reminded us to remember who we were, and where we came from regardless of where we went in life. She blended in humour, most of which are very recognizable to her target audience or to those who may have visited, travelled, or stayed in Malaysia for a while.

The three I showcase here are among my favourite Yasmin Ahmad ads.

This ad was for Petronas (Malaysia’s national oil company), celebrating Deepavali (the Hindu Festival of Light).

This ad, celebrating independence day in Malaysia, shows a Chinese boys expressing his love of a Malay girl. Children, the ad closes, don’t know the distinction between races. Should we not keep it that way, it asks.

In this ad, two boys of different races try to describe the meaning of race.

Race-based politics (and conversations) often rears its ugly head in the lives of Malaysians. While inter-racial marriages are not uncommon, religion often dominates the conversations when two people of different races or religions form a union. Often, these conversations are not pretty, and they add a load of unnecessary stress on couples and families. So reminders like these from Yasmin  are often very good for Malaysia as a nation. (Yasmin passed away in 2009).

Share your thoughts, or your favourite Yasmin Ahmad ad.

Canada eh?…Malaysia lah

I don’t know when the Canadian ‘eh?’ slipped into my speech. I just noticed it one day, when speaking with a colleague – what began as a statement,  turned into a question with the quiet addition of the ‘eh?’.  Maybe the ‘eh?’ was always there in my speech. Regardless, I wonder if it’s this distinctly Canadian speech pattern that makes it so easy to strike up conversations with strangers at a bus stop, or the grocery check-out line. In How to be a Canadian, Ian & Will Ferguson, describe the ‘eh?’ as “good natured…a little bit insecure…an agreement looking to happen.”

To my mind, the ‘eh?’ is an invitation, a warm ‘hello’ without the formality, a friendly self introduction to a stranger, without having to get too personal… “Cold, eh?” Now, would you not respond to that? Especially, if you’re at a bus stop and the temperatures are a frigid -30C?

Ok, so the ‘eh’ is commonplace in many other countries, just not in the same way that it is in Canada. The Canadian ‘eh?’ is not to be compared to American ‘huh?’.  Consider this: “Where you goin eh?” vs. “Where you going huh?” The ‘huh’ is less, way less, elegant. In Malaysia, ‘eh’ is an interjection to get someone’s attention, like, ‘Eh, where you going?”, or “Eh, wat you think, ah?” in classic mangled Malaysian english (aka Manglish). One would never use ‘eh’ in polite company. It’s simply rude.

‘Lah’ is the more endearing  language quirk in Malaysia  – a suffix with roots in Malay, Hokkien, and Tamil. Malaysians add the ‘lah’ frequently in their speech to soften harsh sounds like “no” (nolah), or  “don’t do that” (dun like dat lah). The ‘lah’ is friendly. So. if you wanted to say, “you can do it”, say “canlah, canlah” instead – the repetition is necessary when encouraging someone along).

Like the ‘eh?’, the ‘lah’ has to roll off your tongue naturally at just the right parts of your speech. ‘Lah’ identifies a Malaysian just the way ‘eh?’ identifies a Canadian. But, the ‘lah’ boasts a great deal more flexibility given that it can appear in pretty much the same parts of one’s speech regardless of whether you’re speaking in Malay (tak boleh lah), Hokkien (boh lah), or English (no lah). 

So, what’s your country’s language quirk? If you’re Canadian, what do you think of the ‘eh?’, and, if you’re a Malaysian, share your take on the ‘lah’.

PS: The ‘lah’ also appears in Singapore.

Comfort food, Malaysian style

There’s a lot that I miss about Malaysia. Family, friends and the local cuisine rank at the top of this list. When it comes to food, I miss being able to enjoy a ‘teh tarik’ (literal translation: pulled tea) and roti canai (a buttery flat bread) at the neighbourhood mamak (an indian muslim restaurant or stall). I miss sitting at an open air restaurant or stall anytime of the year, day or night, enjoying simple meals – banana leaf rice (indian styled rice, curries, meat or fish and veggies served on a banana leaf), char kuey teow (chinese styled fried flat noodles) or nasi lemak (malay styled rice cooked in coconut milk and served with sambal, anchovies, peanuts, eggs and rendang – spiced meat). These are always had in the  boisterous company of family or friends.

So, on days when I miss family, friends and the comforts  of home most, I cook up a meal that will take me back. Rendang is one of my favourites. It can typically be had with nasi lemak, as noted above, or with plain white rice and veggies. It’s also a dish that is traditionally served during Hari Raya (Ramadhan) feasts.  Cooking a meal like this always lifts my spirits.

I got this recipe from a friend a few years ago – at a time when I was feeling particularly homesick. I’ve made it a few times since and tweaked it a little. It’s delicious and easy to make, but be ready to spend a few hours in the kitchen.

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang

You can use chicken of beef for this, but I’ve always made it with beef.

Ingredients (You will be able to find  most of these ingredients at any well stocked Asian grocery store.)

  • 2lbs beef, cut into small cubes. Stewing beef works well. (I found out the hard way that expensive cuts, like  sirloin, don’t work as well).
  • Cinnamon stick (2 inch piece), cloves, cardamom
  • A handful of shallots
  • 5-6 dried chilies
  • 2 stalks lemongrass (about 4 inches from the root)
  • Ginger (about the size of your thumb), chopped roughly
  • Galangal (thumb sized), chopped roughly
  • Tamarind juice
  • 2 tsp tumeric powder
  • 3/4 cup light coconut milk
  • Oil
  • 1/4 tsp sugar (I use brown sugar)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 – 3 heaped tbs grated coconut for the kerisik
  • Lime leaves, finely chopped.

Preparation Method:

  1. Spices prepped for beef rendang

    Prep, from top left: shallots, lemongrass, ginger and galangal , blended into a paste; lemongrass, chilli paste, kerisik, lime leaves, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.

    Marinate beef  with the turmeric and set aside for a while.

  2. Blend chillies, shallots, lemongrass, ginger and galangal into a paste.
  3. In a large wok or pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, add cinnamon, cloves and cardamon;  heat until fragrant and allow the cardamom seeds to pop.
  4. Add in the blended ingredients and sauté. If you find the mixture getting too dry, add some thick coconut milk or coconut cream (instead of more oil).
  5. Once the oil starts to separate add in the beef and mix well to coat the meat with the spices.
  6. Add in tamarind juice.
  7. Cover and let cook for 10-15 minutes.
  8. After about 15 minutes, turn down the heat to low/medium. Add light coconut milk and let simmer until the meat is tender and cooked through. This could take about 45 minutes to an hour. Be sure to keep stirring occasionally.
  9. By this time, most of the liquid will have evaporated and you’ll be left with a dryish dish – don’t allow it get too dry though.
  10. Add sugar and salt to taste.
  11. Add in kerisik and mix well. (To make the kerisik, fry the grated coconut in a pan until it’s golden brown.)
  12. Finally, add the lime leaves and turn off the heat. Serve with rice.
Enjoying beef rendang with rice

Rendang is served!

Enjoy!

What’s the secret, Canada?

I was into my first few days of being in Canada. The thermometer was sitting at 37 degrees C, but the weatherman said, “feels like 45 with the humidex”. It was the first time I’d ever noticed the temperature reported this way. I was used to a stock standard weather report: “hot and humid”, “rain”, “thunderstorms” – nothing too complicated. Oh, we might get the occasional air quality report, whenever a thick layer of haze blanketed the country, but otherwise, the actual temperature, or what it ‘feels like’ were inconsequential to most Malaysians. We generally knew what to expect – a torrential downpour in the late afternoon; hot and sticky the rest of the day. So, unlike Canadians, we paid little attention to the weather network. But the Canadian I moved here for, figured I would love the heat – after all, Kuala Lumpur sat just 2 degrees north of the equator, and before I experienced the brutal shock of a Canadian winter, he wanted me to know that Canada could feel just like home.

“You guys are crazy!” I said several times that day, as I dragged myself through the city, wilting with each step. “When it’s this hot, Malaysians (and most rational humans, for that matter), stay in the air-conditioned comfort of their homes, offices, cars or, the malls. But, all around me, Torontonians were basking in the ungodly heat. Looking back after eight cold, cold winters (where the temperatures hit -28 with the windchill, or worse on some days), I finally understood why.

We eventually made our way down to Harbourfront and found a spot on the patio of an Italian restaurant. While we waited for our tall glasses of something cool, I was struck by the scene at the table across from us. Some eight people sat around a couple of tables pulled up together, and I swear that no two looked to be of the same race or colour. Though this was just a small piece of Toronto, it was a microcosm of Canada – truly multi-cultural – and I loved it.

A few days later, we travelled to a small rural village four hours north of Toronto. It was distinctly ‘white’ and I stood out, or so I thought. I soon realized that it was just my mind racing ahead forming conclusions it was used to when placed in similar situations. In reality, not once was I made to feel like an outsider, regardless of where I went or who I met in that little village. This ‘inclusive’ experience has been consistent over the years – at school, work and play. I am just part of Canada’s mosaic of colour, and I have my place in this country.

canadian-flag-mosaic-sample-1

The Canadian Flag Mosaic by Tim Van Horn

Like Canada, Malaysia is multicultural and diverse. We consider ourselves tolerant. We are rich in our culture and heritage and we celebrate our diversity with holidays to mark each cultural and religious festivity – Chinese New Year, Ramadhan, Aidil Adha (the Haj), Dewali, Christmas, New Years and much more in between. Yet, the colour of one’s skin, their religion and/or sexual orientation all play a significant part in Malaysia’s politics and how we live and work. So, behind the pomp of our festive celebrations, there are divides – some that run deep, and others that make me feel like I belong there less than I do here in Canada.

Undoubtedly, Malaysia is a tolerant nation when compared to many others where cultural or religious disagreements have led to great fissures in society. However, the undercurrents of dissatisfaction are strong, and it has always felt like things could quickly turn ugly at any point. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the country struggle even more with the challenges of its diversity. I believe Malaysia has yet to fully understand the true meaning of diversity, at least not in the way that Canada seems to. The land of my parents still has a long way to go to mature as a nation of many races, colours and creeds. Canada, on the other hand, has a lot to teach the world from this perspective.

We finished our drinks and found our way back to the car. With the air conditioning at full blast on that super hot day, we drove home. What I still don’t get is how Canadians consider +10 degrees C t-shirt weather.

Factoid: What unifies Canadians? The Weather. Or talking about it.