My sister is married to a wonderful man, whose mother also happens to be an exceptional cook. As a Malaysian diplomat's wife, the prime minister preferred her cooking to going out to restaurants whenever he rocked into London. She's that good.
The injection of Indian and Chinese influences are especially evident if you ever visit Malaysia or Malaysian restaurants. As in Tash Aw's debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, about the often fraught and fragile relationships between the many ethnic groups in Malaysia during WWII, Southeast Asia is a land of migrant communities and you can often trace the history through food. It's comforting to know that at least everyone embraces the culinary differences.
But we don't need to go to restaurants because my sis' mother-in-law loves cooking for us. Win-win.
One of our favourites is Hainanese chicken rice, which is a much-loved Malaysian/Singaporean dish. Apparently it's so easy to cook, simple and delicious that we often get berated that we don't make it ourselves. Well, it's hard to improve on perfection so we leave it to Auntie (you all know that as South Asians, our parents' friends or friends' parents are all Aunties and Uncles, right?) My mother's taken the recipe back to Sri Lanka and makes it often, each time phoning me to tell me how it turned out and to also ask why I'm not making it. Parents.
Hainanese chicken rice originated in the Hainan province in China, migrating to Southeast Asia where it's been adopted mainly in Malaysia and Singapore. The chicken, which is boiled to make stock, is served cold. The stock is used to make soup (with the addition of spring onions and some ginger) and also to cook and flavour the rice. Very umami-ish.
We were greeted by this spread:
The Hainanese chicken is boiled with garlic, ginger and spring onion. Once the chicken is cooked, it's taken out, dried and rubbed with sesame oil, sliced and served cold.
Grilled chicken wings with chili and allspice. To die for.
One of my favourite Malaysian dishes is Tau Kwa Pok. This is deep fried tofu pockets with lightly blanched bean sprouts, julienned carrots and cucumber. This is also served cold.
I plate up in a nicely organised manner:
The Hainanese chicken is eaten with the rice cooked in the stock kept from cooking the chicken, with dark soy sauce added (with chopped spring onion, garlic and chilies) and fresh chili sauce made with fresh garlic, tomato and red chilies blended together. These were huge bowls. Prepare for garlic breath.
We eat the with sweet chili sauce drizzled generously over the top.
If you are a proper Malaysian your plate should look like this:
Respect. That chili sauce was FIERY.
To finish, we polished off a black sticky rice pudding cooked with coconut milk which is more Thai than Malaysian.
So nutty. SO good.