Udang Asam Pedas

Serves 4

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Usually, the word “asam” denotes the use of tamarind in Nyonya cooking as found in many of its dishes. Here, however, we have a dish that defies the use of that local ingredient. But the dish’s sour element comes from the different sauces of tomato ketchup, sweet chili sauce, and white vinegar, seasonings borrowed from English colonial times. 

In addition the above sauce ingredients, this relatively easy dish packs a lot of flavor from the ginger root, garlic, oyster sauce, white pepper, and dark soy sauce, all contributing to a complex sauce that will make you want to savor every drop coating the shrimp shell before peeling it. In addition, the young celery leaves and spring onions bring in more herbal aromatics and texture to the dish. To avoid overcooking the shrimp, mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl, and pour it into the pan once the shrimp is no more pink on the outside. If you cannot find young celery, you can substitute it with celery leaves or cilantro that are chopped fine.  

After cooking this, don’t be surprised to find yourself licking every drop of this fantastic sauce. 

400 gm medium to large shrimp, heads off, with shells on

Vegetable oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled & cut into thin long wide slivers

2 inches (5 cm) ginger root, peeled & cut into thin wide slices

2 Finger Hot red chili pepper, stems and seeds removed & sliced fine

Sauce ingredients: 

2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

¼ teaspoon white pepper

½ teaspoon dark soy sauce

½  teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon rice or white vinegar

1-2 stalk young celery leaves (Cantonese: kahn choy), sliced 1-inch (2 ½ cm) long

1-2 stalk spring onion, cut 1-inch (2½ cm) long

If shrimps are not deveined, follow these steps:

Holding the shrimp in one hand, hold a small serrated knife in the other hand, and start at the top of the first shell after the head. Cut into the shell and into the flesh all the way until before the last segment before the tail, deep enough to expose the vein – do not go deeper than the vein. Remove the vein and dip it with the fingers in a bowl of water to release it.

In a wok or pan on medium-high heat, add 4 tablespoons oil, and fry garlic, ginger and chili for 1 minute or less until aromatic and slightly golden brown. Add the shrimp, and stir them for 1 minute or until they appear just cooked on the exterior. When cooked, lower flame to medium-low.

In a bowl, mix the ketchup, chili sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper, dark soy sauce, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Add sauce to pan. Bring sauce to a simmer and let it reduce until thick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in green onion and celery leaves for 1 minute. Serve immediately.

My ebook on the Baba Nyonya Peranakan culture is now available for ALL COUNTRIES at USD $9.99. Please visit the main page or CLICK HERE.

Apom Balik

Basically this is a pancake that is enriched with the use of creamy coconut milk, molasses-like palm sugar, and pieces of the durian fruit or banana that gives it a strong and rich flavor that is distinct and hard to describe – pancake a la Nyonya.  

When the durian fruit is in season in Malaysia, you can smell it everywhere you go, especially in the markets or near stalls where they are sold. This thorny fruit exudes a flavor and smell that are so pungent that you either have a love or hate relationship with this exotic fruit. The Peranakans have incorporated the custard-like flesh of this Southeast Asian fruit in this dessert in which the fruit’s assertiveness is lessened by its cooking.  

I distinctly recall watching my paternal grandmother making this on a specific occasion. It was raining but she was determined that her grandchildren were going to enjoy this snack. Under an overhead ledge by the kitchen, she made a small charcoal fire in a portable burner as she poured the batter and cooked the pancakes with such attention and care. I stood next to her as I observed the whole process with anticipation, and she would give me the first few pancakes for me to eat while they were still piping hot. It was the perfect snack for a cool wet afternoon; there were indeed some benefits that came along with being the cook’s assistant!

If you do not have an Apom mould pan, one with round deep indentations, you may use a non-stick pan or silver-dollar pancake pan, but make sure that the pancakes are not too big, or too thick, about 3 inches (5 cm) in diameter. If you cannot find fresh durians, you can find frozen ones in Asian markets (or you may make this with just ripe bananas which is equally delightful), although the strong sulfur oxide-like smell will not be present, which may be a relief for some sensitive noses!

Makes around 25 pancakes

50 minutes

150 grams palm sugar (gula melaka) or light brown sugar

1 stalk pandan leaf, folded and tied into a knot

5 tablespoons water 

½ head/ 1 cup coconut shavings, fresh 

(or ¾ cup canned coconut cream or 1¼ cups canned undiluted coconut milk)

250 gm bleached wheat flour, all-purpose, not self-raising

½ teaspoon baking powder 

¼ cup water

1 piece durian fruit or 1 large ripe banana, flesh only and cut into small pieces

Apom mould, silver dollar pancake or regular nonstick pan

Vegetable oil

In a saucepan, add gula melaka or brown sugar, pandan leaf, and 5 tablespoons water. Bring to a simmer for 3 minutes until it is a thick syrup consistency. Pour into a bowl and let cool.  

Squeeze milk from coconut shavings into a bowl. Add enough water to squeezed shavings, and resqueeze to make a total of 1¼ cups of squeezed coconut milk. If using canned coconut cream, mix it with water until you have 1¼ cup liquid. If using canned coconut milk, do not dilute this mixture.  

In a large bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. Add the sugar syrup into the batter and mix well. Slowly pour the coconut milk into the batter and mix well. Add some water bit by bit (around ¼ cup) and stop once the batter has reached a condensed milk thick consistency that pours into a constant stream. Add the pieces of durian or banana. Stir well to avoid lumps.

Heat the round Apom mould or a skillet on medium-low flame, oil it with a few drops of oil, and wipe off the excess with paper towel. Add just enough batter to cover the bottom (3 inches/5 cm diameter on a skillet), even batter out with a spoon, and cook until the top is quite set but still barely wet on the top. Fold pancake towards the middle and let the two halves stick by pressing down firmly – if the middle is still too runny, cook on both the folded sides until it is set. Remove and set aside. Take pan off heat.

Repeat process by first stirring the batter well, lightly oiling the pan, and wiping off the excess oil with the used paper towel. 

Serve pancakes hot or at room temperature.  

My ebook on the Baba Nyonya Peranakan culture is now available for ALL COUNTRIES at USD $9.99. Please visit the main page or CLICK HERE.