Archive for the ‘coconut milk’ Category

Sri/Seri Kaya

Is kaya a custard or a jam? Cracking my head over this semantic question has kept me from posting this recipe — not even that, but mere notes on ingredients — which grandmother noted down. She has listed two sets of quantities, the one on the right originating from her friend, “Mrs S.K.”.

Grandma wrote ‘coconuts’ but experienced cooks would know she was referring to the number of coconuts needed to produce the correct amount of coconut milk (here’s how to do it using grandma’s traditional grater).

According to Wikipedia, the name srikaya, usually shortened to kaya, is derived from ‘the word meaning “rich” in Malay’, and being based on eggs and coconut milk, rich it certainly is! Locals hoping to cut down on their cholesterol intake know that this is one food to reserve for occasional treats only :).

I’ve only ever known this as kaya, and grandmother’s notes are the first time I’ve seen it called sri kaya, which leads me to surmise that the full name was in common usage in the past but has long since been shorted, with the original word now disappeared from popular knowledge.

The use of coconut milk also pandan leaves (in most kaya recipes) points clearly to Southeast Asian origins, either Malay or Indonesian, and the Philippines have their own version as well. Kaya is also very much associated with Straits Chinese (nonya) cooking, which is hugely influenced by Malay and Indonesian cuisine. A popular type of nonya steamed desert is kueh salat, glutinous rice stained with blue colouring from the butterfly pea flower (bunga telang) and topped with kaya.

However, perhaps what Singaporeans think immediately at the mention of kaya is kaya toast, which some overseas friends have told me is their favourite Singapore food :). Kaya toast is found in traditional local coffee shops, known colloquially as kopi tiam, which historically have often been the preserve of the Hainanese community.

Many Hainanese worked in the food industry, often as personal cooks for the colonials as well as wealthy Asians. Bread and toast formed a daily staple in colonial Singapore, and not just amongst the European population. In Hainanese kopi tiam, western bread in the form of charcoal-grilled toast was spread with sweet, rich local kaya.

These days, traditional enterprises have adopted modern business strategies, Ya Kun Kaya Toast being one of them. With humble origins in the 1930s, it is now a franchise in six countries outside of Singapore with a distinct branding leveraging off its long history and a nostalgia for the old days.

Grandma’s notes won’t help you much if you don’t already know how to make kaya, so this webpage describing someone else’s grandmother’s kaya method might prove very useful. Although I’ve never made kaya myself, I’ve heard it requires plenty of patient stirring to get a good consistency. Nowadays, many people use a microwave shortcut, a slow cooker or even the jam function on a bread maker. What’s also becoming more popular now is a vegan, eggless pumpkin version that is not only healthier but much easier to prepare.

So — custard or jam? well, actually I don’t think it matters :).


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This is not in my grandmother’s handwriting and it’s indicated in the title of the page that this is ‘Aunty Rosie’s’ recipe. Wonder if this was Aunty Rosie’s handwriting? This is way before my time as I have absolutely no idea who ‘Aunty Rosie’ is!

The use of ballpoint pen and self-raising flour (when was that introduced in shops?) indicates that this recipe was added in later years.

Pandan Cake A
Pandan Cake B

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This laksa recipe is clearly labelled ‘laksa lemak’, to distinguish it from the completely different dish of Penang laksa. I’ve heard that every region in Malaysia has its own style of making laksa, but still, the basic difference would be whether it has coconut milk (lemak) or is the sourish, fishy version (Penang style, closer to Thai laksa).

Along with poh piah, this is one of my all-time favourite dishes. We still eat it regularly at home.

In the last ten years, my grandmother – always one to keep up with new thinking on healthy eating – replaced the high-cholesterol coconut milk with tinned evaporated milk. It works very well and you don’t actually notice the difference. However, I’ve started reading the labels on tins and found that evaporated milk has a lot of added ingredients which aren’t milk at all! In future, I’d like to try to adapt the family recipe with some other coconut milk replacement instead.

The original recipe also calls for you to make your own fishballs, but I can’t remember my family doing this; we usually just bought ready-made fishballs from the (super)market. These days I myself don’t eat ready-made fishballs or fishcakes because they tend to contain MSG and chemical preservatives.

Another interesting adaptation in my grandmother’s notes is the use of spaghetti instead of laksa noodles (1 box for 7-8 people). The original recipe calls for ‘laksa flour’ which I assume refers to flour to make the noodles, a kind of thick beehoon. As it’s not so easy to get laksa beehoon, spaghetti is the most convenient alternative with a similar shape.

‘Daum Kesum’ is also known as laksa leaf. My dad dislikes the taste of any kind of little leafy garnishings but I believe that laksa just doesn’t taste right without these leaves. ‘Saffron’ is listed here, but as I noted in another posting, I think it really refers to turmeric. You can see in the alternative ingredients/quantities list at the end, it’s called ‘kunyit’, which is turmeric. And don’t forget, ‘D. Prawns’ refers to dried prawns for pounding to make the rempah, whereas the fresh prawns are for eating whole/sliced together with the noodles.

As for the alternative list of quantities (dated 1960) at the end of the recipe, you’ll have to experiment and decide which set of quantities works best for you.

Laksa Lemak PtA

Laksa Lemak B

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Chicken Satay

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A sambal for vegetables – either cabbage, French beans (also referred to here as cheng tau, Cantonese for ‘green beans’) or ladies fingers.

Sambal 2

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This is the start of the sambal series. Look out for more sambal recipes over the coming days.

Blimbing Sambal with Prawns

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