noodles

Siamese Laksa (Penang Laksa Lemak)

Whilst I have had many wonderful experiences working with Masters of Malaysian Cuisine (MOMC) as a guest chef on MOMC@Heart, the undoubted highlight was being invited to feature on MOMC’s Malaysian Heritage Cuisine series in association with MAFI (Malaysian Ministry of Agriculture & Food Industries). What an honour it was to work alongside some of the greatest Malaysian chefs in the business, but also to have the opportunity to share one of my favourite family recipes – Siamese Laksa!

Also known as Penang Laksa Lemak, Siamese Laksa is unfortunately somewhat eclipsed by Penang’s most famous laksa – Assam Laksa. More’s the shame as Siamese Laksa is wonderfully aromatic and its rich broth isn’t as divisive as the hallmark sour fishy “love or loath” broth of Assam Laksa. In fact, given the choice, I would opt for a bowl of Siamese Laksa every time!

Based on a much loved family recipe handed down from my late Grandmother and preserved by my aunt, Rohani Jelani, this is a recipe of many parts. Though it might seem intimidating, the ingredients are relatively easy to source and the actual cooking time, albeit intensive, is actually quite short. Nonetheless, the results are worth the effort!

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Khao Soi Gai / Chiang Mai Chicken Noodles

Though longstanding regional rivalries make it painful for me to admit, of all Malaysia’s neighbours, Thailand is undoubtedly our closest culinary contender when it comes to claiming the crown of being South East Asia’s greatest food destination.

Arguably the other great S.E. Asian powerhouse of complex flavours, Thai food may be geographically akin to Malaysia, yet the two cuisines remain fiercely distinct. Of course, it will shock no one to know that, for me, Malaysian food comes out tops over our Northern neighbour every time, even though it’s a closer run race than you’d imagine! What ultimately clinches it for Malaysia is it’s diversity. Of course there are many regional Thai dishes that reflect the local communities, but for the most part Thai food is represented as a unified national cuisine, unlike the wonderfully muddled menagerie that is Malaysian food.

Of course, one thing the two have in common, are noodles.

A self-professed noodle-eating fiend, I wholeheartedly believe that noodles make good cuisines great, and Thailand is responsible for some of the best noodles out there: Pad See Ew and Pad Kee Mao are personal favourites, and I’m even partial to wolfing down a decent Pad Thai. But aside from the famous wok-fried varieties, heartier and soupier Thai noodles seem more elusive than you’d expect. Thankfully, Khao Soi (or Chiang Mai Noodles), pick up the slack rather nicely.

Arguably Thailand’s most famous soup noodles, Khao Soi is also one of the easiest Thai dishes to make at home. Hailing from the country’s Northern region, versions of this wonderful dish can also be found in neighbouring Lao and Myanmar. Whilst most of the ingredients are accessible to anyone with a local Asian Supermarket, Khao Soi‘s laksa-like broth is nevertheless a heady brew of aromatics and depth. Makrut (Thai) lime takes centre stage here, adding a vibrancy to an otherwise rich coconut broth. As such, fresh Makrut Lime Leaves are essential, though the Makrut lime zest is easily replaced with regular lime.

Another ingredient not to be omitted are the fried wonton skins – of course these add some crunch, but ultimately when soaked in the spicy broth, they are transformed into deep-fried nuggets of joy – pure yumminess.

As I said previously, with dishes like Khao Soi, sometimes Thai food really does give us Malaysians a run for our money!

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Mee Soto

For me, Sunday mornings are all about Sunday lunch.

With little else to distract me, I usually spend my Sunday mornings trawling through my legion of cookbooks searching for a spark of culinary inspiration: that fresh idea; the perfect meal to which I can dedicate these otherwise idle hours to. Alas, more often than not these weekend aspirations come to naught, and instead I find myself reverting to firm favourites for my Sunday feast. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but occasionally my lunch musings do hit the mark and I discover a dish I just have to have.

Most recently this inspiration took an Indonesian turn and I found myself dedicating my morning to making a dish I had never actually had before: Mee Soto. Also popular in Malaysia and Singapore, I was of course familiar with this classic Indonesian staple, yet for all my years living in the region it had somehow eluded me. Unfortunately, with a lifetime of local dishes to discover, my 16 years in Malaysia was never going to be enough to try them all! Not one to dwell on missed opportunities, I decided this was the Sunday I finally found out what all the fuss was about!

Rightly framed as the ultimate Indonesian comfort food, Mee Soto is virtually interchangeable with the more widely known Soto Ayam. The soto, or soup, that forms the base of both dishes is almost identical, though the latter is distinctly soupier and is served with either rice vermicelli or compressed rice cakes. As its name suggests, Mee Soto is instead served with heavier, chewier, wheat noodles and considerably less soto – making for a more substantial meal.

With either dish, the soto is undoubtedly the star of the show: fragrant and nourishing, this heady broth is a powerhouse of flavour. Spiked with many of the classic spices associated with regional curries, this chicken broth is flavoursome without being heavy, as it omits coconut milk which is ubiquitous in most local curries. In its absence, however, it is essential to import as much flavour as possible from the chicken. To this end, it is important to use chicken with both skin and bone, or if using skinned boneless chicken, a good stock is required to achieve the requisite depth of flavour.

Another aspect of the broth worth considering is the spice paste – traditionally this is added to the boiling broth without being sautéed first, however I prefer to fry off my spice paste before adding the liquid. Perhaps it is all my years of diligently sautéing my rempah, but it is a habit I find hard to kick as doing so elevates and intensifies the spices – plus I find the flavoured oil adds just a little extra body to the broth.

With all great noodle dishes, toppings are of course essential, but ultimately variable depending on the cook – Mee Soto is no different. The typical garnishes are a collective variation of the following: blanched beansprouts, coriander leaves, garlic chives/spring onions, sliced boiled egg, crispy shallots, and fried potato cakes. Aside from the potato cakes and boiled eggs (which add body to the dish), by all means let your personal taste guide you in your choice of toppings.

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Mamak Mee Goreng (Malaysian Indian Fried Mee)

A veritable melting-pot of cuisines, Malaysian food is almost quite entirely a product of fusion. Indeed, like most other confederacies of mostly-migrants, much of modern Malaysia’s food has evolved from the crucible of colonially-induced diversity.

Incubated in the minglings of ethnically-polar groups, Malaysia’s unique schism-cuisines ultimately emerged from these culturally blended kitchens. Chinese noodles discovered Indian spices, whilst Malay ingredients found Western sensibilities; each evolving into their own distinct cultural identities, and ultimately resulting in some of our most acclaimed and cherished dishes. Unfortunately, most of the world has yet to discover the delights of these culinary culminations, but thanks to heritage ambassadors such as Pearly Kee that is beginning to change, with Nyonya flavours (at least) gaining international acclaim. By contrast, however, Mamak food remains relatively unknown outside Malaysia. A marriage of Tamil and Muslim heritage, Mamak food is a heady halal blend of “exotic” spices and local ingredients, and is mostly associated both with the wildly popular Nasi Kandar, Murtabak and, of course, Mamak Mee Goreng.

One of my late father’s favourite roadside treats, Mamak Mee Goreng is a powerhouse of fusion flavour. Consisting of thick yellow noodles fried in a spicy sauce with egg and potato, then lightened with lime – this is a true thug of a dish!

Indeed, this humble meal has it all…quite literally; this is kitchen-sink cooking at its best! With such a dizzying list of ingredients, it is easy to be intimidated, but don’t be. No one version of mamak mee goreng is ever the same, so variations are perfectly acceptable. As long as you stick to a few key ingredients, and nail the sauce, I guarantee you’ll still be tucking into a decent plate of noodles come makan-time.

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

For other noodles recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Penang Hokkien Mee/Har Mee (Prawn Noodles)

When I eventually rule the world, one of my first decrees would be to outlaw throwing your prawn shells away – to do so should be nothing short of criminal! Along with pork and chicken bones, prawn shells are the humble building blocks of that lifeblood of cooking: stock.

A prolific and self-confessed Bone Collector, I freeze every scrap that comes my way; and reckon any home-cook would be remiss if they didn’t have at least one bag of bones lurking in their deep-freeze! For all my boney odds and ends, by far my most prized is my horde of prawn shells.

Pure crustacean gold, these precious cast-offs are where the flavour is really at, and are the foundation of one of my all time favourite dishes – Penang Hokkien Mee. Also known as Har Mee in the rest of Malaysia, this simple prawn noodle dish is a masterstroke of hawker food. Made with a combination of bee hoon (rice vermicelli) and yellow noodles, Penang Hokkien Mee is actually all about the broth.

Made with a base of fried prawn shells and heads, the stock is then lightened with either pork or chicken stock. Add to that a dollop of sambal goreng for kick, and crispy shallots for depth, the broth is almost akin to a bouillabaisse on Asian crack, and its just as addictive!

Like all good stocks, the broth takes its time; but other than that, Penang Hokkien Mee is a surprisingly easy meal to make at home. Though the ingredient list may seem intimidatingly exotic, the dish is actually achievable with even a limited Asian pantry,      I was able to reconstruct this hawker classic without needing any specialist ingredients. Other than substituting the traditional topping of kangkong with watercress, the only challenge you might have is the sambal goreng, but this can easily be made at home. There was a time when crispy shallots/onions were difficult to find in South Africa, but thankfully these days they can be found at Woolworths, saving us the effort of frying our own. The hokkien noodles can be sourced from Checkers, but if you can’t find them, feel free to just use the rice vermicelli on its own.

Aside from that, I suggest you start collecting as many prawn shells and heads as soon as you can – because once you’ve tasted Penang Hokkien Mee, there’s no going back!

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

For other noodles recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Japchae 잡채 (Sweet Potato Noodles with Beef & Vegetables)

One of Korea’s most loved dishes, japchae seems to be one of those dishes that can be found almost everywhere and at any time. Be it at breakfast, dinner or at a party, japchae is almost sure to be a feature. Like so many national dishes in Asia, food can represent so much more than just a tasty meal; in the case of japchae it is all about colour and harmony. Translating as “many kinds of various vegetables” japchae is made with the five colours that the Koreans believe reflect obang saek or world harmony to you and me. Each colour symbolises one of the five universal directions – North (black: beef/mushrooms), East (green: courgette/cucumber), South: (red: carrot), West (white: onion) and, most profoundly, the Middle (yellow: egg).

World harmony aside, the best news about japchae is that it is banting and LCHF friendly! Okay, so there is a bit of sugar in the recipe, but at its core japchae’s sweet potato starch noodles are a great low carb alternative to the regular wheat variety and taste infinitely better than courgette noodles.

Noodles without the carb-induced guilt; now what could possibly be better than that?

To be honest I was a bit hesitant about trying japchae when I first encountered it at a breakfast buffet in Seoul. I had tried cooking with Korean sweet potato noodles previously and it was a bit of a disaster, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it another go. I’m so pleased that I did! Chewy, beefy and incredibly satisfying; from the first bite I knew japchae was going to be one of the first Korean dishes I would attempt to recreate when I got back to my kitchen in Cape Town.

As it turned out, making japchae at home is relatively easy and aside from the sweet potato noodles themselves, all the ingredients are Asian store-cupboard staples. The only real difficulty is that the numerous components of the dish need to be individually prepared and cooked before being assembled, but other than that it is actually pretty straight-forward. Just don’t be tempted to soak the sweet potato noodles for longer than 30 minutes or overcook them as this will affect their texture.

Most of the japchae I had whilst in Korea actually didn’t contain any meat so if you would like to make a vegetarian version of the dish simply omit the beef. If you do, however, want to make a meat version then you can also substitute the beef steak with some mince instead.

For more Korean recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Bún Chả (Vietnamese Grilled Pork, Salad & Noodles)

Bún Chả (Vietnamese Grilled Pork, Salad & Noodles)As I have mentioned previously, I found eating in Vietnam a very frustrating affair, with the best Vietnamese food largely inaccessible to the average tourist. Sadly most tourists (who find themselves on the almost inescapable tourist trail that runs from Hồ Chí Minh City to Hạ Long Bay) leave the country with a scant appreciation of the full potential of Vietnamese cuisine, having being fed on an uninspired diet of spring rolls and, if you were lucky, some mediocre phở. These lacklustre experiences are especially tragic to those tourists who seek out new food experiences. Considering authentic Vietnamese food has such a wealth of flavour, it is a shame that there isn’t more of it on offer to the willing tourist! Coming from a South East Asian food culture where authentic street-food is accessible and transparent, I found the Vietnamese surprisingly guarded about their food – often openly discouraging you from joining them for a simple bowl of noodles on the side of the road, preferring to usher you back to the tourist cafés with their English menus and homogenised Vietnamese food.

Which is why I love Bún Chả! Tasty, cheap and satisfying, Bún Chả makes for a great meal, but above all, Bún Chả is relatively accessible to foreigners on the prowl for some authentic street-food. It has been said that on the streets of Hanoi, “where there is smoke, there is Bún Chả!” and even if you only end up ordering it in a tourist café, it is still tasty and fun to eat!

Second only to the almighty and omnipresent Phở Bò, Bún Chả is perhaps one of Vietnam’s most popular dishes, especially in the North of the country where it is thought to have originated from. Made up of a plate of grilled pork, salad, a dipping sauce and bún noodles (rice vermicelli), Bún Chả is a complete meal in itself. Traditionally the meat takes the form of patties made up of pork mince, but I like to add some sliced pork to the dish as it adds an extra dimension to the overall meal.

Whilst I am unsure of the exact etiquette for eating Bún Chả, I have taken to soaking the meat in the dipping sauce, adding a bit of the noodles, followed by some of the salad. Then, using chopsticks, everything gets shoved into my mouth. It certainly isn’t elegant, but it is damn tasty!

For more braai/barbecue recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click HERE

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Penang Char Kuey Teow 炒粿條

Universally the Noodle-World is typically divided into two distinct camps: soupy or fried. Every great noodle-eating culture has its own unique fried classics – in Thailand the ubiquitous pad thai reigns supreme, whilst yakisoba proudly flies the flag for Japan, but in both Malaysia and Singapore the undisputed king of fried noodles has to be Char Kuey Teow.

Penang Char Kuey Teow 炒粿條Literally meaning “fried flat rice-noodle”, Char Kuey Teow enjoys enduring popularity through-out both Malaysia and Singapore, manifesting in many delicious guises, accommodating a variety of tastes and dietary restrictions. Sliced fish-cake and bean-curd are popular variations, especially with halal interpretations of the dish, but Char Kuey Teow is at its best when eaten in its most authentic form – Penang-style! Like all hawker-fare in Penang, everyone has their favourite Char Kuey Teow stall, the most popular of these can immediately be identified by the snaking queues that lead to them. In Malaysia one should never be put off by a queue for food – invariably they end in a tasty delight that is always well worth the wait!

Stripped back, Penang Char Kuey Teow is a very simple dish made with just a few well chosen ingredients. With the exception of the noodles, the dish is made up of just 6 vital ingredients: prawns, beansprouts, Chinese chives (garlic chives), egg, Chinese sausage (lap cheong) and blood cockles (see hum), although the latter is often omitted locally due to health concerns (and many a runny tummy!). Lap cheong is an acquired taste and is therefore sometimes left out at the request of the customer. Whilst some of the ingredients may sound intimidatingly exotic, they are easily found at most well-stocked Asian supermarkets, although the blood cockles can be trickier to source. These can be left out altogether or substituted with a less exotic mollusc! I often use tinned clams as a substitute.

Another important component of the dish is the cooking sauce. Even though only a few teaspoons are added to the noodles, the sauce can make or break the dish. Given that Char Kuey Teow is classic hawker-fare, authentic recipes for its soya-based sauce are hard to come by, as the exact quantities and ingredients are often a fiercely guarded secret! I have tried a myriad of recipes over the years, but the nearest I have found to the real thing is from Rasa Malaysia, although I prefer to use slightly less dark soya sauce. Although the below recipe’s quantities are for a single serving, the sauce recipe will yield enough to make at least 10 plates of Char Kuey Teow and can be kept in the fridge until needed.

Ingredients aside, the key to making a decent Char Kuey Teow is technique and a hot, hot wok. A wide, well-seasoned wok needs to be kept searing hot throughout and as a result, only individual portions can be cooked at a time. Given the dish’s ferociously short cooking time (just a few minutes per portion), preparation of all the required components is vital – everything needs to be ready and to-hand when you start cooking. A moment’s hesitation can be the difference between success and ultimate noodle-failure!

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Dan-Dan Noodles 担担面

Dan-Dan Noodles 担担面Dan-Dan Noodles are a specialty of Sichuan cuisine and as a result they are not short on spice or flavour. Enjoyed all over China, there are perhaps a thousand versions of these classic noodles but they all have one of thing in common – they’re all ferociously fiery! Lip-numbing and sinus-clearing; these noodles are completely addictive!

Also known as dandanmian, “DanDan” refers to the shoulder-mounted pole that the street vendors would traditionally use to carry their wares; at one end would be the noodles and at the other, the sauce. In the literal sense, the name translates as “noodles carried on a pole”!

Traditionally minced pork is the protein of choice, but if you wanted to, you could always use minced chicken thighs instead. If you wanted to have a completely halal version you could also omit the Shaoxing rice wine.

One of the other main ingredients is chilli oil and whilst you can use one that is store-bought, I would strongly recommend taking the time to make your own – it isn’t at all difficult and it makes a world of difference! Once you’ve tasted the noodles made with your homemade chilli oil you’ll never bother with the store-bought version again. If you would like to make your own Sichuan chilli oil, follow the link.

For more Chinese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Chinese Pantry, please click HERE

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Beef Phở Noodles (Phở Bò)

When it comes to noodles in Vietnam, Phở is the undisputed king of the Land.

From Hanoi in the North to the Delta in the South, phở is ubiquitous and with good reason; it is utterly delicious. At first glance phở may seem like a simple dish of beef broth, rice noodles and herbs, but don’t be fooled. Complex, alluring and fragrant, when it comes to aromatics, phở’s beef broth is legion. The ingredient list for phở is intimidatingly long, but with the exception of a couple of items, most of the aromatics are quite common. Some phở recipes require over 25 ingredients just for the broth alone, so in comparison my recipe is quite accessible.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when making beef phở:

  1. This isn’t a dish for the impatient; the broth takes time, a lot of time.
  2. The correct type of noodle is vital, this being a wide, flat rice noodle. Use fresh if possible, if not use the best dried noodles you can find.
  3. A good selection of herbs is essential
  4. Phở must be served piping hot, there is no waiting on ceremony with phở – dig in the moment it is ready!

If you are interested in reading more about phở and my travels in Vietnam, please click here

For more delicious Vietnamese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

For more great noodle recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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