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.

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.

Fitting Into Canada

It was easy. I didn’t expect it to be so, but it was.

Is it because Canada is made up of immigrant communities that are as varied and numbered as the nations that span the globe? Is it because one Canadian, regardless of their origin, enjoys the same rights and privileges as the next? Or is it just because most Canadians, by nature, are pre-disposed to being  warm, friendly, welcoming, inclusive, and non confrontational? Maybe it’s a combination of all these factors – I can’t say for sure. What I do know is that this is a society that’s easy to fit into.

Though I had a ‘place’ while I lived in Malaysia, I never fully belonged – I felt ‘second class’, to put it simply. The feeling is quite the opposite here.  In Canada, I know that I have as much of a chance to succeed as the next person, given the same set of opportunities. I know that the colour of my skin will not dictate my chances of earning a seat at a university, owning shares in a publicly listed company, or even my opportunity to hold the highest office of government, should I be so inclined. The economic pie is for everyone to enjoy, if they choose to participate. In Canada, I compete based on merit, while in Malaysia, a race-based quota system dictates my higher education and economic opportunities.

While Malaysia’s race based affirmative action policies might have had some merit in the early 70s as a means to calm racial tensions and foster economic equity between the races, it no longer serves Malaysia – not if it wants to be a successful multi-racial, multi-religious nation.

For a vibrant society to thrive, we must respect each other’s values, beliefs and practices without imposing it on others. In my short experience here (and I know nothing is perfect), Canada has been able to strike a good balance at preserving certain Canadian ‘values’ while welcoming the contributions of everyone.

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!