Having grown up in Malaysia, I have a natural affinity to deliciously tasty Malaysian cuisine. Classics like laksa, beef rendang, nasi lemak, chinese stewed pork or tau yu bak hold a special place in the hearts of many Malaysian foodies.
When I first came to Sydney in the early 1980s, there was hardly any Malaysian restaurants in sight but fast forward about thirty years later, Malaysian food has indeed won the hearts and tastebuds of locals with countless Malaysian restaurants dotting major capital cities throughout Australia.
Among those who promoted and played a major role in introducing Malaysian food to Australians are pioneering chefs and restaurateurs who were passionate in educating locals about Malaysian delicacies. Carol Selva Rajah, widely regarded as the doyenne of traditional Malaysian cooking, is one of these pioneering Malaysians. She has written countless cookbooks which expounds her famed recipes, use of herbs, spices and ingredients, cooking techniques as well as leading food tours to more exotic food suburbs in Sydney to educate foodies about Malaysian and other major Asian cuisines.
Tonight, Mysaucepan and I are indeed among a group of privileged guests who are dining on the food cooked by “Aunty Carol” as she is affectionately called by her family and close friends.
Aunty Carol’s hospitality is infectiously warm and as soon as we arrive at her home, we are greeted by trays of canapes which offer familiar Malaysian finger food and some with a twist.
I fold a betel leaf with mince pork and jicama and pop it into my mouth. It is gently savoury with the crunchy jicama texture.
As soon as the betel leaves disappear a tray of cornflakes crumbed baked chicken wings and drumettes arrives.
The chicken is incredibly crispy with the clever use of cornflakes and succulent inside. This entire tray of chicken is disappearing as fast as I can eat just one.
Mysaucepan holds up her piece of chicken drumette in delightful approval to show its succulence and crispiness and no surprise it is a favourite with the kids.
Aunty Carol comes around to chat with a plate of sweet prawn sambal jam on rice cracker. The crispy rice cracker is brought alive by the sweet sambal jam. As you can see, the tray began to empty almost immediately until I requested for an obligatory photo before the last one was devoured.
A slightly mature 2005 Clonakilla semillon-sauvignon blanc becomes a flexible and flavoursome sip for all the different flavours from the canapes.
A tray of golden brown fish cakes with spicy mayonnaise is crispy with soft fish meat and potato inside.
Strips of thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves add familiar Asian flavours and the cold spicy mayonnaise does it job in giving a creamy temperature contrast.
Our handsome waiter Medy tells us he is of French and Algerian parentage like his famous footballing countryman, Zinadine Zidane, and got some of the girls in the room swooning.
Somehow, I doubt if any of them asked if he is as good kicking a soccer ball as his dashing good looks.
As our first entree is being plated up, we are presented with a 2009 Best’s VIC Shiraz.
I found the spicy blackberry flavours and tannins of this wine to be quite strong. As I gave it a little more time in the glass, the wine became a little smoother but still a tad strong for my liking. This bottle is definitely good in the cellar for a few more years.
Our first entree of salmon salad with pickled vegetables and salmon roe has a tangy vinaigrette to accompany the fresh creamy texture of the sashimi salmon. Freshly julienne carrots and beansprouts add good textural contrast with salty flavours from the salmon roe.
As we dine on our entree, a familiar whiff of tau yu bak or chinese stewed pork emanates from the kitchen.
Aunty Carol plates up the long-grained basmati rice with the succulent pork made so dark and tasty with the signature Cheong Chan thick caramel sauce from Malaysia.
The fragrant five-spice powder comes through with each bite of the pork and the deliciously thick and flavoursome sauce is mopped up by the basmati rice.
Our next dish of Spanish mackerel with special black olive sauce is Aunty Carol innovative creation.
Presented in banana leaf patterned plates to add that bit of authenticity to our food, the fish is garnished with slivers of haam choy or salted cabbage for an added twist from the usual deep fried mackerel that we are familiar with in Malaysia.
A dish that transported me back to Malaysia is basmati turmeric rice with curry chicken and ginkgo nuts.
This vibrant yellow basmati rice is fluffy and complemented the mildly spicy chicken curry where Aunty Carol added the ginkgo nuts for texture and variety. Fresh coriander and grape tomato give this dish a light and refreshing taste.
As we get nicely fed by all the tasty dishes thus far, yet another classic in beef rendang with glutenous rice arrives. The beef is spicy sweet with bold flavours of roasted, desiccated coconut.
The sticky glutenous rice is a beautiful accompaniment for the rendang and every tasty mouthful brings us closer to dessert to end this beautiful meal.
A passionfruit ice-cream with crystallised ginger and honey melon is a cold and refreshing contrast to Aunty Carol beef rendang and curry chicken.
Chunky bits of ginger add zing to the sweet and creamy ice-cream.
I have the privilege of sipping an aged scotch whisky from a beautiful Swedish crystal glass given to Aunty Carol by her late husband.
This proves to be the perfect end to a wonderful meal with equally wonderful company tonight.
“Thank you Aunty Carol for having us!”
We feel the obligation to reciprocate Aunty Carol’s kind hospitality but also feel the pressure to replicate an outstanding meal from her.
Aunty Carol is proud to introduce her latest cookbook Heavenly Fragrance which delves into cooking with aromatic Asian herbs, fruits, spices and seasonings.
I browse through this cookbook illustrated with beautiful and colourful pictures by award-winning photograper Masano Kawana who is born in Japan and based in Singapore.
The book is introduced with a foreword by David Thompson, the acclaimed Australian celebrity chef who is also a winner of the James Beard Award and IACP Finalist for Thai Food. Heavenly Fragrance is published by Periplus Editions in Singapore.