Laksa dan Alkisahnya

So, here we are, on my last night of freedom. I’ve been on an extended leave from torturous enslavement work, and I start again tomorrow, at an ungodly time of 7.45am on a Thursday morning. Ooh I can’t wait. In fact I feel like skipping dinner and running straight to the office malam ani jua! ;p (What was I thinking start keraja on Thursday??)

So as I laid in bed, wide awake at high morning today, but wishing pretending to be dead, an unexpected SMS invitation to lunch from my cousin was music to my ears.

Only one way to celebrate my last taste of emancipation. A large bowl of Laksa ~ Lee Loi Fat style!

My noodle of choice, Mee kuning, drowned in a heavenly lemak pedas laksa sauce, rich with the coconut milk with that unmistakeable savoury taste of Bunga kantan or Ginger torch.

I found exactly three perfectly cooked prawns in the bowl, with strips of talur dadar, cucumber julienne, and slices of sotong. (The cucumber slice you see in the pic below was additional; I stole it from my cousin’s plate). But the portion is more than enough to satisfy your hunger pangs.

But many of you would be surprised to know this was technically only my second laksa ever. Honest.

The first I heard of laksa was circa 1993 in our cold kitchen in Tewkesbury St, Cardiff, when my ‘housemate’ Irma mentioned it and explained to me you used fish meat to make the laksa sauce, although there were many versions. Chef Wan’s and Bobby Chin’s shows on the food channel all showed the same technique, and true enough they all used fish. So- I never went near it. But friends have been raving about laksa, and I was feeling left out slightly. Curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to taste laksa, and knew the only way to go was to create my own version of laksa without fish and make it. So I did. And that was the first time I tasted laksa, which I shared with friends, who attested it was delicious and ‘different’. But because I’d never had laksa prior to that, I didn’t really have a point of reference. I took my mates’ word for it, but unfortunately I found making laksa from scratch just too cumbersome. Banyak keraja lai… at least my no-ikan rabus version was! And this was two years ago.

But this Tuesday just gone I went out for minum, and just out of the blue I blurted laksa! I needed something spicy, creamy, hot and quick- and without fish. After assurances from the waitress they didn’t use fish, I made up my mind. And today I came back for my second laksa, this week, and ever.

Life is difficult as a fish-hater. Sigh. But if you asked me which I’d rather have between fish and work, I think I’d swallow my pride and go it with stinky fish than… Maybe fish isn’t so bad after all?

Nasi Ayam Penyet

Isn’t this an Indonesian import?

It was as recent as 5 years ago that the word ‘Penyet’ first landed on my jug ears. My first taste of it was somewhat disappointing because what arrived on my table was a bowl of rice, some cucumber and carrot slices with some fresh holy basil, which I appreciated, and a piece of fried chicken leg that looked like it had been beaten to death twice over. Macam ayam kena pangkor sampai nantan!

Had it not been for the delicious spicy tomato sambal, I would probably not have eaten the meal.

That was five years ago, and Nasi Ayam Penyet has become a very common dish on offer in many restaurants now.

Not a big fan of it really but the sambal can get me going. Recently, I ordered this from my usual haunt, the now famous Tutong Waterfront. And this Nasi Ayam Penyet is different from others I’ve had.

My uncomplimentary description of the chicken leg above is based on experience. Most of the chicken portions are simply covered in flour and fried with little taste or seasoning, and then beaten to pulp in an effort to disguise it as tender fall-of-the-bone piece. A big fat fail in my book.

But this one in the picture above was different in that the chicken has been marinated in good home-made marinade, and left long enough to permeate throughout the meat. You could taste the mild turmeric flavour in every single bite of the chicken, and the meat is so tender because it was oven-roasted in good time. You could feel the love in the preparation of this dish, seriously.

The sambal was excellent too!

Pass with Distinction, A+

Mumba

There’s plenty of thirst-quenchers to choose from down town!

Some weird and wonderful concoctions including these three more common ones…

Left to right:

Puspa with Kacang Merah, cincau grass jelly, ruby sago pearls, green cendol worms, grated ice, gula melaka sauce and a choice between equally unhealthy evaporated cream or Coconut santan milk. Here I chose the Santan.

The drink in the middle is the affably nicknamed “Starwars”. An inside joke. It’s actualy Tiga Rasa or Three Sours (which was once misheard as “Starwars”), a mix of Lemon juice, Kasturi or Calamansi juice, and a sour and salty preserved plum or Samboi. This would give you a real kick on a hot sunny day! The mild citric, sour, salty, sour and sweet ice-cold combination is a sure winner!

The third drink, the Cendol is one I’ve mentioned before, but no harm in repeating: Little rice flour paste with pandanus flavour and colouring, boiled briefly to create the sticky wiggly wormy finish. Served in grated ice and either Santan or milk, with some syrup.

This little cafe we were in had possibly 60 different concoctions, some just a wee bit unconventional- even by our standards!

Some of the more interesting drinks are Wheatgrass with Milk; Sarsi with lemon, Mango with milk. Must try next time.

Pineapple Curry @ Nanas Kari

You know how some foods you’d just mentally associate with specific occasions and wouldn’t eat at any other time, like Christmas Pud or Turkey roast you’d have only during the season, or Moon cakes with the Mooncake festival only, or Kuih Mor only during Hari Raya. Sure, these are available or can be made out of season, but without the occasion they somehow don’t quite ‘fit’.

Well, to me, the Pineapple curry or Nanas kari is exactly one of those dishes.

Nanas kari belinang minyak

As a kid I used to wonder in amazement at the perfect ring of pineapple as in pic above, or the perfect cubes they sometimes came in. I actually believed that these imported pineapples were naturally shaped liked that, very different from the pineapple I was more accustomed to seeing in our backyard. Of course I don’t believe that anymore; I now know better that only pineapples from Singapore are in perfect rings or cubes, not ones in Brunei. How nice.

I also remember thinking about who might have first come up with the idea of currying a sweet fruit(?) like the pineapple. I used to debate with Yatang and Mangga, my two imaginary friends, how weird a taste it was- they agreed. It was much later that I came to realize these two were cats, who were none too keen on veg anyway. But as I was saying, the pineapple curry has become a mainstay during weddings that take place every single weekend here in Brunei – this last Sunday was no exception. On this occasion, my nanas kari was accompanied by a delicious helping of chicken in sweet and spicy sesame sauce, which was excellent.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not despise Nanas kari, I do like it, just not crazy about it – I’ve become conditioned to it. My debate with Yatang and Mangga was really about how sweet pineapples shouldn’t be cooked in a savoury curry. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that extra hint of star anise and cinnamon in the spicy pineapple curry. It does work somehow. But as I said earlier, you wouldn’t see me eating Nanas kari on normal days. It’s just one of those things, I guess.