Kueh Lapis (九层糕)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Kueh lapis, take one: So there I was, poking the first layer of my nine-layer kueh lapis with a pair of chopsticks.  

Yup, it's cooked!

At this point, other people would proceed with steaming the second layer, but not me.  

Snip, snip, went my scissors, then I popped a small piece of single-layer kueh lapis in my mouth.  

Ouch, ouch, it's hot . . . . Mmm, not bad!

The recipe was from Cooking for the President, which has become my go-to cookbook when I need help with local recipes.

After making sure the kueh lapis wasn't too hard, too soft, too sweet, too lemak, or too bland, I steamed the second layer, then third, fourth . . . .  

Uh oh, problem!

Teochew Ngoh Hiang

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

I can never get enough of ngoh hiang, the deep-fried meat rolls that are full of the fragrance of five-spice powder and yam, the sweetness of prawns and pork, and the crunch of water chestnuts. The salty beancurd skin wrapped around the filling adds to the aroma and, more importantly, it stops moisture from escaping, keeping the meat roll moist and juicy. Mmmmm . . . .

What makes Teochew ngoh hiang Teochew? It's the yam, which Hokkien ngoh hiang doesn't have. Of course, the Teochew version is far superior, in my totally unbiased, impartial opinion.

Crispy Bean Steamed Cod (豆酥鱈魚)

Monday, 28 November 2011

This is steamed cod served with a topping made with hot bean paste, crispy beans (豆酥), garlic and spring onions. The fish is moist and oily. The topping is crisp and fragrant.
This is a ball of crispy beans, aka 豆酥, the main ingredient in the topping. The taste is a bit like natto.
The ball has to be broken up and pounded into coarse bits.  

This is the video that shows how to steam the fish and make the topping.
Ladies and gentlemen, good luck. . . .  . . .  . . .  . .  . . . . .

CRISPY BEAN STEAMED COD (豆酥鱈魚)
Source: Adapted from 阿基師
(Recipe for 4 persons)

800 g black cod cut 3-cm thick, rinse, debone and slice into 8 equal size pieces
any white fish such as threadfin, sea bass or red snapper would do too
½ tsp salt
2 tsp white rice wine
1 sprig spring onion, wash, trim and cut 5 cm long
4 slices ginger
4 tbsp 辣豆瓣醬 (hot bean paste)
5 tbsp vegetable oil
45 g 豆酥, pound/grind into coarse bits, 1-2 mm
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, peel and mince very finely
1 sprig spring onion, wash, trim and cut ½ cm long

Preheat plate by steaming over rapidly boiling water for 3 minutes. Sprinkle salt and rice wine on fish. Mix thoroughly. Spread ginger and spring onion on plate. Place fish on ginger and spring onion. Cover and steam over medium-low heat till just cooked, 7-10 minutes. Check that fish is totally opaque inside by flaking thickest part with chopsticks. Remove from heat. Discard ginger and spring onion. Baste fish with liquid in the plate.

Whilst fish is steaming, stir-fry hot bean paste in 5 tbsp oil over low heat till fragrant. Strain oil onto crispy beans. Mix well. Set aside till fish is cooked. If pan/wok is not non-stick, wipe clean with paper towels. Keep drained hot bean paste for other dishes, such as 麻婆豆腐 or 回锅肉. If pan/wok is not non-stick, wipe clean with paper towels.)

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil till moderately warm. Add crispy beans, minus excess oil (which may be used as for drained hot bean paste). Stir-fry over low heat till colour changes slightly, removing bubbles if any. Add garlic. Stir-fry till mixture is lightly golden. Taste and add some drained hot bean paste if too bland, or pinch of sugar if too salty. Turn off heat. Add spring onion and stir through. As residual heat dissipates, beans and garlic should turn just golden brown. Spread mixture evenly on steamed fish. Serve immediately with rice.

Sambal Ikan Bilis (I)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The good news is, anchovy stocks have doubled because their predators – the type that doesn't have legs – have declined sharply in numbers. This is where we, the two-legged predators, need to step up our efforts. Eat more anchovies, people!

I don't know about you but I don't need much persuasion to eat sambal ikan bilis. The salty little fishies and deep-fried peanuts make a perfect ménage à trois with the sweet and spicy sambal.

Pickled Green Papaya

Monday, 24 October 2011

The world is divided into two parts: those who love pickles, and those who hate pickles.
....... . . . .. ... . . ... . . .... . .. . . . . . .

Bubur Cha Cha

Friday, 21 October 2011

Coconut milk is the most important ingredient in bubur cha cha, so I've got a photo of a coconut tree:
Nice tree, eh?
....... . . . .. ... . . ... . . . . . . ... . .. . . .... . .. . . . . . .
How does Miranda Kerr get her million-dollar bikini body?

Fried Wontons

Monday, 17 October 2011

Fried wontons are different from wontons in soup, apart from the fact that they're fried.

The filling for boiled wontons should have dried sole (大地鱼, aka 铁脯). The fish is toasted till brown, crisp and fragrant, then chopped into little bits. If it's not available, deep-fried shallots are a good substitute. With either of these ingredients in the filling, wontons cooked in soup would have a rich, intense aroma they wouldn't have otherwise. In Hong Kong, the motherland of Wonton Soup, the stock used is made with dried sole, amongst other things.

Nyonya Fried Rice

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fried rice is one of those things. It may be a great chef's finale for a grand Chinese banquet, or it may be something rustled up by a hungry youngster snooping round the kitchen when Mum is out. Brilliantly executed, fried rice is sublime. If not, it's (usually) at least edible.

Baba fried rice is easier than the Chinese version. The latter requires fierce, intense heat for best results (imagine a massive fire breathing dragon underneath the wok). The Straits Chinese, however, use spices to create an alluring aroma. Finely pounded shallots, dried chillies, fresh chillies and candlenuts, along with belachan and dried prawns, are slowly persuaded over gentle heat to release their fragrance. Each and every grain tastes of the spicy, aromatic and umami paste, so the fried rice is delicious even when it's lacking in wok hei.

10-Minute Kaya (I)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

If you google "kaya hours of stirring", you'll find people (like here and here) who really do stand beside their pots of kaya, stirring away for hours on end. I greatly admire their patience, dedication and tenacity but sadly these are virtues I don't possess. So I make kaya the quick way, in 10 minutes.

Buah Paya Masak Titek (Peppery Papaya Soup)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

If I had a dollar for every bad recipe I come across . . . .

Who is it this time?

It's Sylvia Tan, whom I absolutely loathe because she's such a killjoy. She goes on and on about cutting out the fat from this, that and every other recipe. Biggest turn off ever, she is!

I used to have zero respect for Sylvia Tan, but that was before I saw her on TV. Believe it or not, she made skinless, low-fat (of course!) kong pao Chicken with sambal belachan! Did she think the people in Sichuan eat belachan? Or did she think it's OK to totally disregard the recipe's authenticity? After that awful, bastardized kong pao Chicken, my respect for her fell from a big fat zero into negative territory.

Ikan Tempera (Nyonya Sweet & Sour Fish)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Previously on Kitchen Tigress, in the episode on Kueh Bengka Ubi in 90 Seconds, Mac wanted to eat fish.

Soon Kueh/Turnip Dumplings (I)

Monday, 26 September 2011

Success at last at making the dough for soon kueh! It was my seventh attempt and sixth recipe. How's that for perseverance? As I kneaded the dough, I felt quite sure that this time it would work. And it did, beautifully. Mind you, I had spring roll wrappers standing by in case the dough failed again.

What was wrong with the five recipes that didn't work?

Babi Masak Assam

Friday, 23 September 2011

Compared to Shermay Lee, who supposedly began learning Peranakan cuisine when she was 5 years old, Wee Eng Hwa was a very late starter. She began learning Nyonya cookery at the relatively ancient age of 47. Fortunately, she had two advantages over the self-proclaimed culinary child prodigy. One, she could see what was in the wok without standing on a chair. Two, her sifu has been guiding her for some 20 years. Shermay's, even if you believe her marketing spin, kicked the bucket after lesson one.

Not LKY's Babi Pongteh

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Cast your mind back, all the way back to when you were 5 years old. Do you remember anything much?

Would you believe a 5-year-old child is capable of learning how to cook, and remembers what she's learnt when she's a 28-year-old adult? Would you believe a 5-year-old can be instilled with a passion for cooking?

Lotus Seed Sweet Soup (蓮子爽)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

I was buying lotus seeds when a fellow aunty shopper who was waiting for her turn asked me how the dried seeds should be cooked.

Whilst I pondered the question (and sized her up), she told me hers were still hard after soaking overnight and simmering for two hours!

Ah yes, my mother had warned me about that. I said to the lady (after deciding she wasn't trying to sell me something), "You mustn't let lotus seeds touch cold water, otherwise they won't soften. You have to wash them in hot water and, when you put them in the pot, the water must be boiling." By soaking lotus seeds in hot water which became cold overnight, she had violated the golden rule: no cold water!

Paper-Wrapped Chicken

Sunday, 4 September 2011

I hadn't had 纸包鸡 (Paper-Wrapped Chicken) for such a long time I'd forgotten what it was like. I couldn't see the point of wrapping chicken in paper and then deep-frying it. Surely the chicken would steam in its own juices underneath the paper shield? So why not just steam it? Or deep-fry without the paper?

On the other hand, I liked the idea of unwrapping little parcels of food because that would be like unwrapping presents. And I thought maybe the paper served a purpose I couldn't see by theorizing. So I had a practical session and . . . . 'Wow! Hello there, Chee Pow Kai! Where have you been?'

Tau Suan

Saturday, 27 August 2011



If you know what tau suan is, you probably know that 'tau' ('豆') means beans. What about 'suan'? What does 'suan' mean?

Kiam Chye Ark

Thursday, 25 August 2011

When I was looking at recipes for Itek Teem, I was surprised at the number of ingredients used for the Nyonya soup. Various Peranakan adaptations of Kiam Chye Ark had pig's trotters, assam skin, brandy, nutmeg, and even sea cucumber. These were on top of the kiam chye (pickled mustard greens), ark (duck), pickled plums, and tomatoes found in every recipe, Nyonya or Chinese. It all seemed a bit over-the-top to me, adding so much stuff.

Sayur Lodeh

Monday, 22 August 2011

It was Cook a Pot of Curry Day yesterday because, to cut a long story short, some mainland Chinese with a delicate nose had asked his Singaporean Indian to stop cooking curry. Indignant Singaporeans protested in unison when they heard the story. How dare they tell us not to cook curry! It was a wonderful excuse to tell the mainland Chinese where to shove it, all in the name of protecting the national identity. Before long, Curry Day was organized via Facebook.

There are curries, and there are curries. If it had been a Malay, Nyonya or local Chinese cooking curry next to the mainland Chinese, there probably would have been no dispute. But Indian curries are different when they're not adapted to suit the tastes of the Singaporean Chinese. They have a pungence that's far more powerful than Malay, Nyonya or Chinese-style curries. Chinese Singaporeans call it 'the Indian smell'. For those who don't mince their words, 'smell' may be replaced with 'stink' or 'pong'

Minced Pork Stir-Fry with Ketchup & Fermented Black Beans

Friday, 19 August 2011

Minced pork stir-fried with fermented black beans is one of the standard items served at places that sell Teochew porridge. It's different from other fbb-based recipes because it's got a good amount of tomato ketchup, a decidedly non-Teochew ingredient which, I suspect, my cousins in China don't use. But ketchup actually goes well with fbb's salty fragrance, adding a distinct dimension not found in fbb dishes that are more traditional.

Kueh Bengka Ubi (I)

Monday, 15 August 2011

I was going to say it takes five minutes to put together a kueh bengka ubi (baked tapioca cake). But, thinking about it as I write, I'd say it takes only 90 seconds if, unlike me, you're not reading the instructions at the same time, and chasing cats out of the kitchen.

Yup, one and a half minutes is all kueh bengka ubi takes, or I'll eat my hat. Baking time is not included, btw, so please don't say it takes you an hour, and then tell me to eat my hat with sambal. Neither is shopping time or washing up. And I reserve the right to change this agreement any time I like, in whatever way I like. I assume your arms and legs are fully functional and . . . .

Hey, I almost forgot I don't have any hats!

Diced Chicken in Spicy Fermented Tofu Sauce

Friday, 12 August 2011


One day, whilst shooting the breeze with me somewhere, an ang moh acquaintance said he had a tattoo. Without any encouragement on my part, he rolled up his sleeve to show me the Chinese word on his arm. He seemed quite proud of it, and I was all prepared to 'Oooh!' appropriately (whilst running my fingers gently over his bulging biceps *wink wink*). Instead, when I saw the word he had chosen, the beer I was drinking took a detour into my lungs and up my nose. My face turned red; I thumped my chest; he thumped my back; it was a while before I could stop coughing. By then, Acquaintance probably suspected there was something wrong with his tattoo 'cause I was laughing and gesturing at it even as I choked on my drink. Indeed, there was, for the word on his arm was "腐".

Pork Stir-Fry with Sesame Oil

Sunday, 7 August 2011

I stir-fry pork with sesame oil; so did my mother, my mother's mother, my mother's mother's mother . . . . I'm guessing that since sesame oil was invented discovered in China, which was supposedly some 2,300 years ago during the Three Kingdoms period, Chinese have been cooking pork in it one way or another. 

The version I make is with garlic, ginger, light soya sauce, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine and salt. I've done it so many times I can practically do it with my eyes closed.

Fried Glutinous Rice

Thursday, 21 July 2011

I've been eating glutinous rice for about a year now, in place of the non-sticky variety. I steamed some one day 'cause I was out of regular rice, and I haven't looked back since. It's more fragrant than regular rice though the quality does vary from brand to brand. I've tried three so far, and my favourite is Golden Pineapple; the other two being New Moon and Golden Phoenix. I can't say if Golden Pineapple is the best brand in the market, but it's good enough to stop me from looking for something better.

Non-sticky rice can be steamed or boiled but the sticky one can only be steamed. If steamed without the rice sitting in water, it should be soaked for several hours, which was what I did when I was a sticky rice novice. Of course, I didn't always have several hours' foresight into when I wanted to tuck into a bowl of piping hot rice, and hunger made my brain tick.

Lemon Curd Marbled Cheese Cake

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


I love the lemon tree in my garden, especially when it's full of lemons. She (yes, she!) was planted by my grandfather in 1931, so the grand old dame is celebrating her 80th birthday this year. Her trunk is gnarled with age but Mrs Taango – that's what we call her because: lemon → tang → Taango – still produces a load of fruits every year.

Udang Masak Nanas

Saturday, 2 July 2011

It's another Mrs Wee Kim Wee recipe today: udang masak nanas. This is the fourth recipe I've tried from Cooking for the President. It's a classic Nyonya soup made with, as its name says, udang and nanas – or prawns and pineapple for those who don't speak Malay. It's great for whetting the appetite 'cause it's slightly tangy and a wee bit spicy. And prawns are, for me, always a treat.

Udang masak nanas is an easy soup whether you masak as in cook for real, or masak-masak as in play at cooking. Just gather all the ingredients in a pot and simmer away – kid stuff!

My mother made a dish very similar to Udang Masak Nanas but, instead of prawns, she used a small fish called kekek (ponyfish). The president's wife sometimes used the wonderfully tasty fish too. That's not surprising since the basic recipe is quite common and adaptable. You know what's surprising? Mrs Wee made omelettes with pig brains on Sundays as a treat, just like my mother! Her daughter, like me, had to clean the brains with toothpicks. And the two cooks' recipes were practically the same, not that one could vary a Chinese style omelette much.

Mee Siam

Friday, 24 June 2011

Prostitute, as in to put one's abilities to base or unworthy use. There was a man who refused to prostitute himself: Ong Teng Cheong, President of Singapore, 1993-1999.

As the Head of State, Ong Teng Cheong was entrusted with the task of protecting Singapore's past financial reserves. He had the power to veto any withdrawal – in theory.

In reality, President Ong didn't even know how much reserves there were until 1996. He got the information only because he asked, and kept asking for three whole years. Then in 1998, the state-owned Post Office Savings Bank and the national reserves it was holding was divested without even his knowledge, never mind consent. He had to remind the cabinet that the divestment without his permission was against the Constitution of Singapore. And there were no procedures for the protection of past reserves. So he went about setting up the procedures, and that took him his entire six-year presidential term.

Gong Bao Frog Legs

Monday, 20 June 2011

Back when I was a little girl and living in a kampong, I would jump with joy whenever it rained at night. Why? Because my father would go frog hunting, and there would be a big pot of frog porridge for supper – Teochew style, of course; none of that sticky Cantonese stuff like in Geylang!

The frogs my father caught were wild and, of course, live. If my memory serves me correctly, he didn't use any bait or special equipment except a torchlight. He basically just reached out and grabbed the ones that were croaking the loudest.

(If you're a frog reading this, remember not to croak too loudly when it rains, and my father is in your neighbourhood. And you should leave this blog post immediately, because you really don't want to read the next bit.)

Sambal Timun

Friday, 17 June 2011

LinkI like Mrs Wee Kim's sambal timun recipe in Cooking for the President. The magic of the Spicy Pork Cucumber Salad is in the dressing – isn't it always, with salads?

Opposites attract, so bland, tasteless timun (cucumber) and spicy, hot sambal (chilli paste) are the proverbial match made in Nyonya heaven. And when the matchmaker is Mrs Wee, you can be assured it's a particularly blissful match.

Besides the usual red chillies and belachan, the ex-First Lady also uses pounded kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced bungah kantan (torch ginger bud) and julienned calamansi lime peel. That's a lot of intense flavours already but there's more.

Sambal Udang

Monday, 13 June 2011

It wasn't just any ordinary sambal udang. It was Sambal Udang made with a recipe from Cooking for the President.

Who was cooking for which president? That'd be Mrs Wee Kim Wee cooking for her husband, as told by their daughter, Wee Eng Hwa.

Sambal udang was the first recipe I tried from Cooking for the President – Reflections & Recipes of Mrs Wee Kim Wee.

How was the Wee family recipe for prawns smothered in chilli paste?

It was excellent!

Steamed Fish Head

Saturday, 28 May 2011

What do char kway tiao, or luak, bak chor mee, and Teochew style steamed fish have in common, apart from being Teochew?

Don't know? What if I remove steamed fish from the list, and add or nee, chai tow kway and yam mooncakes? Is it obvious now?

Ladies and gentlemen, all these Teochew dishes have lard – lots and lots of glorious lard!

Sambal Kangkong

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Do you know that there's a connection between kangkong and the God of Fortune, aka 财神爷?

I'm guessing you don't, so here's the story:

3,000 years ago, China was ruled by an emperor who knew diddly squat about everything. As with all useless emperors, he had a wicked concubine, and his was called 妲己.

One day, 妲己 pretended to be ill and said she needed to eat 比干's heart to be cured. 比干 was the good guy who was trying to set the useless emperor on the right path, so the concubine – actually a 'fox spirit' in human form – wanted to get rid of him.

Marmite Ribs

Friday, 20 May 2011


I'd intended to buy a jar of Marmite to make Marmite Pork Ribs only after I finished some of the sauces and whatnots (which were threatening to spill out of the kitchen into the living room). But my self-discipline crumbled when I saw what a great sense of humour the makers of Marmite have, as the commercial shows.

Love it or hate it? I'd never had Marmite before, and I couldn't wait to find out. dldl dldld dldl ldl dldld

Baked Cod

Monday, 16 May 2011

In 1950, New York Times science editor Waldemar Kaempffert wrote an article about what miracles the world might see in 2000. At a time when modems hadn't been invented yet, he predicted that access to The New York Times would be possible 'in your home, in the streets, in the trains and cars that carry you to your work, in the bargain basement of every department store'. Video phone calls, TV via phone lines, and faxes that cost next to nothing were also predicted. As was hair removal cream, though it wasn't foreseen that said cream would become a taboo for men: they'd rather die before they let anyone know they use it!

Ayam Panggang (Grilled Chicken)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The hallmark of a good roast chicken is crispy skin, right? Nah, not necessarily. Crispy skin requires hours of air-drying and I can't be bothered most of the time. It's good enough for me if the skin is nicely browned so that there's a 'roasty' aroma.

What? That's good but not very sexy? Ok, let's sex it up a bit.

Lather the tanned chook with lots of sambal that's full of spices and enriched with coconut milk, then stick it back in the oven. As the spicy paste bubbles away merrily in the heat, it caramelizes and forms a crust, transforming the ordinary roast chicken into – tadaa! – Ayam Panggang. How's that?

Black Pepper Crab

Sunday, 17 April 2011



Rule number one of crab handling: Make sure it's dead before cutting the string! Ask the crab politely, whilst tapping its legs with a knife or chopstick, 'Hello? Hello? Are you dead?' If it nods its head or says, 'Yes, I'm dead,' beware of the crafty crab! If there's no response and the legs aren't moving, then and only then should the string be cut. I never forget the rule so no, I wasn't bitten. I was just kidding!

Sambal Stingray (I)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


I was in a restaurant somewhere in India. When the waiter came to set my place, a diner sitting nearby said something to him. It was all gibberish to me but I could tell that the tone wasn't too friendly. Next, the waiter trotted off with the banana leaf he had just laid on the table. And then he came trotting back with a stainless steel plate.

What the . . . ? Oi! Gimme back my banana leaf!

Herbal Mutton Soup

Thursday, 7 April 2011

My mother cooked just about everyday, and not once did she cook mutton, lamb or goat anything – not once. Hence, my knowledge of cooking anything that goes 'Meh-eh-heh!' or 'Baa-aaa!' is pretty paltry. I learn on the job which is, if you ask me, a fun way of learning.

I cooked some lamb chops once. Said chops were marinated with pineapple juice, fresh rosemary and salt, then pan-fried till medium-rare. The chops were delicious but I had a small problem. You know how lamb chops have bones that are curved? I couldn't brown the curved part which had no contact with the pan. Lamb chops served in restaurants are completely seared though, as far as I can remember. How do they do it? Grilling or roasting wouldn't work because the meat would be overcooked by the time the bit which curves inward is brown. The only way I can think of is with a blow torch! Or maybe frying with lots of oil, like almost deep-frying?

Prawn Paste Chicken

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

I could smell the fermented prawn paste once the bottle was open. Phwoar! This is potent stuff!

It wasn't belachan, which is quite harmless until it's toasted or fried. Nor was it Penang hae ko, which is absolutely benign because it's got lots of sugar.

What I had was har cheong, a liquid prawn paste made in Hong Kong. It was a very appetizing grey – oh yum! – and the label on the bottle said, so reassuringly, 'Cooked [sic] Before Eating'. Thanks for the warning! You bet I will!

Your first whiff of har cheong might make you think of a rotting rat or, as a friend puts it ever so nicely, a mortuary with no power supply. But once you take a deep breath – be brave! – you'll get the aroma that explains why fermented prawn paste is cherished in Malaysia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and some parts of China. That's, what, easily several hundred million people? Oh hang on, I almost forgot Singapore. That adds another few million who eat lots of belachan (but don't make any).

The 'Mee Siam Mai Hum' Mystery

Sunday, 27 March 2011


During one of his speeches a couple of years ago, the Prime Minister said, 'Mee siam mai hum.' He was relating how he would order the noodle dish, mee siam, without cockles.

The PM was perhaps making an attempt to connect with commoners who eat humble stuff, like me. But the speech set tongues wagging, to put it mildly, because mee siam doesn't have cockles, ever.

The harsher critiques thought the PM's little boo-boo showed how disconnected he was with everyday life. But I think there could be another explanation for his culinary faux pas. What he actually wanted to say was mee siam without tamarind, or mee siam mai assam. How do I know that? Take a look at his grandmother's mee siam recipe, extracted from Mrs Lee's Cookbook (Mrs Lee being said grandmother):

Run your eye through the list of ingredients for the gravy. See? There's no assam in Grandma's recipe.


So, confronted with the commoners' version that always comes with assam, the PM would say mee siam mai assam. But that fateful day, no thanks to a slip of the tongue, he said mai hum instead.

That might be one mystery solved, but I'm still scratching my head. Every single mee siam I've ever eaten is slightly tangy with assam. When I have a craving for mee siam, it's the spicy sourness that I long for. Why on earth would anyone make mee siam without assam?