What could possibly be better than sharing food, wine and conversation with good friends? Ok, maybe a great many things, but as far as dinner parties go, we and four friends have something pretty fantastic going on.
The idea was sprung from a casual plan to have dinner together. I realised that we all come from different places and that trying each of our cuisines would be a great way to not only get to know each other better, but also each others cultures and backgrounds.
Six different cuisines.
Lots of good food!
JCL volunteered to go first, brave man! He hails from Martinique, where food culture is characterised by a blend of French and Creole cooking. Much is prepared with seafood, such as salted cod, crab and langoustine, and the local markets supply tropical fruits and veggies.
I initially thought that we would just go to restaurants, and so JCL would be the most challenged to find a decent Caribbean restaurant in Hong Kong. And true enough, apparently he doesn’t think there are any, so he decided that he was going to cook it all, by himself! He set the bar high, and we had to follow.
And so our dinner party circuit started and evolved. I was Number Two, and was really nervous because I have never truly cooked a full Chinese or Indonesian dinner in my life. It turns out that in getting to know friends’ cultures better, I was actually learning more about my own! It was also my first time buying most of my ingredients at the wet market, it was smelly noisy, crowded, and downright fun! All in all, the meal involved 3 hours at the Wan Chai wet market, 4 hours of cooking, and 2 hours of talking to my grandmother!
While I was cooking, PB set up the flat – he did a pretty darn good job, didn’t he?
At the market, we found little Chinese zodiac charms and thought they would be a nice alternative for place setting name tags, and they were nice souvenirs of the evening too.
I have always admired the pretty place settings in glossy magazines, and yet I am usually so busy and rushed (because more often than not, I start cooking too late), and the table is set in a very random manner, cutlery, glasses and napkins strewn haphazardly across the table. This time, with the help of a very able PB, everything was just perfect!
I decided to focus on my Indonesian Chinese heritage for this meal, and the only thing English about it was how much we were going to drink!
I had to raid my mother’s recipe book for most of these (secret) family recipes, and thus many of them cannot be divulged on this blog. However, if you are really interested in trying these recipes out, please email me and maybe we can sort something out 🙂
A Duo of Starters: Indonesian Perkedel & Chinese Spring Rolls
My Oma’s Perkedel
The recipe is one that I have put together after chasing my grandmother around the kitchen and trying to decipher her method of cooking. Like all grans who make exceptional food, her recipe book is in her head. It’s in her hands as she feels for consistency, and in her taste buds as she adjusts the seasoning. Hence, there is no rhyme or reason behind it, but I think I managed to get this one down correctly:
You’ll need (to make around 20 patties):
3/4lb/340g minced beef
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 tsp nutmeg powder
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 of a beef stock cube
3 heaped tbsp berambang goreng (fried shallots)
1 egg (whole yolk and half the white), plus 1 egg (beaten) for frying
♥ Peel and chop the potatoes in large pieces, then boil them until they are soft, but not disintegrating, about 15 minutes. Mash them and then continue to cook over low heat with the butter so it dries out a bit.
Note: if you boil the potatoes too long, they will absorb too much water and the patties will be soggy and fall apart)
♥ Mix the minced beef with the rest of the ingredients, then shape into round, flat patties.
Note: As a little trick to keep these babies from falling apart when frying, my Oma then steams them or cooks them in the microwave first.
♥ Heat some oil in the frying pan, dip each patty in the beaten egg, the fry until crispy.
|Berambang Goreng (fried shallot)|
SAUCE: Finely sliced raw Chinese shallots mixed with kecap manis (sweet soya sauce) make a wicked dipping sauce.
My Mum’s Spring Rolls:
|A photo of the spring roll filing – guess away!|
The main seasoning elements are light/dark soya sauce, sesame oil, shao xing cooking wine, and that stuff that my helper very aptly calls “Magic Powder” (a.k.a chicken powder, a healthier substitution for MSG). A little bit goes a long way! Use white pepper rather than black, and less salt as there is a lot of sodium in soya sauce already.
For the spring rolls, fry each of the individual elements together, then mix them all up. It’s cooked, so all you have to do is a taste test, and if you feel it’s not flavorful enough, adjust the sauces until you think it tastes good! 🙂
Wrap your filling in wrappers – you’ll find them easier to roll if the wrappers are still cold (don’t defrost them completely), and they’ll hold better when frying. Serve with Thai sweet chili dipping sauce.
|Spring roll wrapper|
|Thai Sweet Chili Sauce|
2nd Course: Fried & Steamed Chinese Dummplings
(“Jiaozi”, or 饺子)
For special dates on the Chinese calendar, whether it’s Chinese New Year or mid-autumn festival, we make jiaozi! We all sit at the kitchen counter and wrap at least a few each. Usually my mum and I do most of them, but it’s a good chance for everyone to gather and have fun.
Serving them is said to bring luck, as they resemble the yuanbao golden ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. The name also sounds like the word for the first paper money in China, the jiao 角.
I prepared this for our second course, and everyone had a go at wrapping. The boys lost patience with it quickly, whereas the girls saw it as a challenge to make the prettiest ones. They say the most beautiful jiaozi are those with 5 perfect pleats. JC got it pretty much the first time around, I think they were even better than mine!
I’ve found this recipe which is pretty darn close to my mum’s, you can click here to check it out.
If, like me, you had no idea what Chinese chives look like, here you go.
|Or fry ’em up pot sticker/guotie/锅贴 style!|
To fry your dumplings, heat a couple of tbsp of oil in the pan, just enough to lightly cover the bottom of the dumplings. Arrange them prettily in a fan, and fry on medium heat until the bottom of the dumplings are nicely browned. Now add a slurry of 1 cup of water mixed with a tbsp of corn starch, add that to the pan and cover to steam the dumplings until most of the water has gone. Lift the cover at the end to evaporate the remaining water, cover the pan with the serving plate and flip the pan.
2 tbsp soya sauce
2 tbsp white vinegar or dumpling vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 inch of ginger, finely minced
1 hot chili, sliced finely (optional)
One of the things that our friends liked about this meal was all the difference sauces for each of the dishes – they added character and flavour, and I tried to prepare them all in advance so I wasn’t rushing right before serving.
Caramelised Pork Belly
(similar to Hong Shao Rou, or 红烧肉)
You’ll need (to serve 6):
2 onions, peeled and sliced roughly
700g or 1 1/2 lb pork belly, cut in 2 inch cubes
6 tbls dark sweet soya sauce (Kecap Manis)
4 tbls brown sugar
4 tbls fish sauce
chinese lettuce, to serve
This dish is super simple and will impress the socks off of any guest. True, pork belly is not the healthiest cut of meat, but if you try to buy the imported Australian pork belly (from a Park ‘n Shop Taste or International that has a meat counter service), you can some find some more meaty cuts. Much of the fat melts away and reduces as you cook it.
♥ In a frying pan, saute the sliced onions in a little vegetable oil until softened but not browned, then transfer to a heavy saucepan.
♥ Wipe the frying pan, then use it to brown the pork bely pieces on each side over high heat, then transfer to the saucepan as well, draining the oil.
♥ Add kecap manis, sugar and fish sauce. Add water until it covers all the meat. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and let it simmer for at least an hour. Then remove the cover and simmer further until the pork is tender and the sauce is boiled down to a dark, flavourful glaze.
This was a great dish for me to serve, as I could prepare it in advance and then just heat it before serving.
If you are not going to serve this dish immediately, only simmer until there is still a good amount of sauce left in the pan (about 2-3 inches of it), this way the meat will stay moist. Once you are ready to serve it, cook it once more over low heat until the sauce reaches a sticky glaze, and serve on a bed of lettuce.
|Caramelised pork belly|
|Bean Sprouts with Tofu Puffs and XO Sauce|
|Sweet and Sour Tiger Prawns|
|Whole Steamed Garoupa