Monday, June 22, 2015

Kuih muih Rambo

Starting with an idle thought, I wound up learning exactly how new traders "break in" to the night markets/Ramadan bazaars.

Theoretically, you're supposed to have a trader's license and stall permit (1 permit per intended trading lot) before you're allowed to start operating.

The reality is, though, permits are apparently scarce, and approved location even more so.

So, what new traders learn to do is scope out the market premises to find unoccupied lots and enquire delicately with the neighboring traders whether that particular trader will be late or absent. If it's the latter, the newbie pitches their stall there and hopes for the best. This is apparently known as "Rambo-ing", where you do the thing you want to do but where you might not be supposed to be at.

It appears that you pay some sort of appearance fee if the market is run by a neighborhood or local organization. However, you risk being fined and having your goods confiscated if caught trading illegally at municipal council-organized markets.

Nevertheless, it can be quite lucrative if you sell the right thing (usually food, especially during Ramadan).

I thought of all this when Enfant Terrible and I came across a dessert stall set up away from the main Ramadan bazaar area this evening. There were 2 folding tables holding trays of traditional Malay kuih. A family of three was running it (mum sliced and scooped, son packed, dad was the cashier), and a line quickly formed behind us.

Our spoils were seri muka and kuih talam gula merah/melaka, which were perfectly lovely even if you didn't fast. The kuih were sticky and sweet but not cloyingly so, and the aroma of pandan wafted down the line. Plus, each piece cost 50 SEN, which makes me want to cry with disbelief and happiness.

From what I could see, they were down to the last 3 trays, and there were 5-6 empty trays stacked at the side. At my question, the dad said they'd started operating only an hour ago!

Though they obviously had no permits or licenses,* theirs wasn't a "true" Rambo operation, as there were no other stalls around. 10/10 for canny business acumen though: they're visible from the main road, and the Ramadan bazaar is not. Duh!

*That has never stopped anyone from buying street food, of course.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Not chickening out

I recall saying something about blotting meats with a kitchen towel made from fabric, not paper, before frying to prevent splattering. That still works, but counter space is at a premium in MIL's kitchen, and I don't think she'd take it very well if she discovered blood stains on her kitchen towels.

Aside from the minimal kitchen space, MIL has a large range of cooking pans. Most have a nice heft to them (bringing 2010's Tangled to mind, eheheh) and probably cost a lot. Anyway, one of these pans has a deep bowl shape and a lip for pouring, and it's nonstick, which was perfect for this Jacque Pepin recipe. (Pepin is probably the only chef in the world whose instructions I'd follow to the letter.)

The skin is virtually paper-thin after all that rendering.
The meat is moist and juicy.
Enfant Terrible went back for seconds. I caught him staring hungrily at my share. Maybe he was very hungry.

I used 2 chicken thighs and drumsticks, bone in.
As for salting and peppering, I'd put that in the dry pan first, press the chicken pieces, skin side up, on them lightly to coat, and then place them skin side down on the remaining seasoning, and begin cooking.
I turned them over after 7 minutes (they can probably go another 1-2 minutes if your flame is low enough).
I cooked them for closer to 20 minutes in total.
Altogether, it produced a little less than a 1/4 measuring cup of rendered chicken fat (!), which can be used in place of cooking oil.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Say you want a snack but not chocolate, and you can't be arsed to walk out to get bread for a sandwich, and you've had enough fruit for the day.

You spy a box of leftover lemang in the fridge, the individual pieces still wrapped in their banana leaves. Alas, you've run out of chicken curry.

Casting a disconsolate eye on the paltry contents of your fridge (because who's been putting off the grocery run, eh?), you see the remaining processed cheese slices from a long-ago sandwich-loving phase.

Naturally, you microwave the unwrapped lemang until slightly too warm for your fingers, then carefully wrap a slice of cheese around it, folding and molding the plasticky layer around the rice. The heat from the rice melts the cheese slightly, allowing it to stick and complete your sad reverse parody of an onigiri.

You can wrap it in a piece of dried seaweed if you're feeling fancy, because this is your life now.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Bubur nasi Pak Su @ UMMC

It was a drizzly and windy morning when we brought mum to the Universiti Malaya Medical Center for a checkup. Enfant Terrible and I hadn't had breakfast because we're terrible at getting up early.

While mum waited for her queue number to be called, we bumbled over to the mezzanine-level food court outside the main building (Menara Utama, I think). ET had a plain nasi lemak (RM3)* and I had plain (rice) porridge (RM3.50) from Pak Su's stall.**

ET's nasi lemak was average, but my porridge was surprisingly tasty. "Plain", as translated from the menu, is inaccurate, as it just means it's served without beef or chicken. It's actually accompanied by peanuts, salted cabbage, minced ginger, shredded coriander, chopped spring onions, and a splash of sesame oil. And they have sambal for the oddballs who want spicy porridge, though it's likelier that it's for the noodles they also serve.

The guy who served me looked grumpy, but I guess that's the face you wear when it's too early in the morning to be awake and working when you could be snuggled up sleeping in a warm bed.

I quite like food courts, though I wouldn't go as far as to say the dingier the better. In fact, I think hospital food courts owe it to visitors to be a calm refuge that serves decent food. The UMMC food court is well-ventilated and bright, and the cleaners were clearing tables pretty quickly when we were there. There's a lot of variety in terms of the types of food available, and I imagine there's something to suit all price points, if it comes to that. Also, it has a display board for the queue numbers at all clinics in the main building.

Epilog: Mum had to reschedule her appointment, so that means we'll get the chance to find out what nasi campur mat salleh*** is soon enough!

*You could get the same amount for half that price (or less!) elsewhere.
**Uncle Su's food stall.
***Western mixed rice...?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Not impastable: N00b home economics

I'm thoroughly enamored by that thing where you switch off the heat after stirring for 2 minutes when cooking pasta (you leave it in the water for the remaining cooking time). Of course, I started wondering what other irregular thing you can do regarding pasta that doesn't necessitate reading a Serious Eats article.*

My pasta bugbear is cream sauces. Doing a cream pasta sauce is rarely my thing because I'm a cheapskate. A 200 ml container of cream costs about RM8.50 and the resulting sauce is always too thin for my taste, so why bother?

I guessed coconut milk could be used in place of cream, and some half-hearted Googling confirmed this, so I borrowed a pack of coconut milk from MIL's fridge and went about making a creamy beef sauce.

The pack said to shake throughly before using, so I did. I should've seen it coming when I felt only the barest movement inside. Upon cutting it open to stir in to the cooked sauce, snowy white blobs of coconut cream came oozing out.

It did the job though, thickening and enriching the sauce. It also lent the sauce a refreshing coconut aftertaste, which was not a bad thing, though unexpected.

I used about a quarter of the 200-ml pack, which Tesco tells me costs about RM3 (depends on the brand and whether you get liquid or powdered [!?]), so the entire batch of sauce (about 5 servings) cost about RM3.50 per serving. The pasta cost RM4 (I think), and is about 9 servings, which is pretty great if you don't eat a lot.

Seriously though, when you call something "milk", I expect it to be liquid and pourable.

*I love reading them, but they're so long.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Lose-lose cycle

When it's dry out, we complain about the heat. Staying in the air-conditioned indoors is more attractive. So we drive to the mall or the cafe, or stay home. A haze results from vehicle exhaust, dust, and other assorted air-borne particles present in the Klang Valley, which seems to be under perpetual construction and/or upgrading. It gets hotter (from various emissions) and dryer. Tons of laundry is done amid the complaining.

As the vehement grumbling reaches a fever pitch, it rains. Then, it's too wet to go out. Water and other disgusting dirt on the Malaysian pavement render flip-flops untenable. Also, it's cold. It's better to stay indoors or drive to an al fresco cafe for a piping hot cuppa and watch the world go by. Except there's no one on the streets because everyone is staying indoors and wishing that the rain would just stop already.