My cousin S told me, that to celebrate Popo’s birthday this year, a pot-luck dinner has been organised. Each cousin will bring one of my grandmother’s “daily dishes”.
The somewhat simpler meals, she said. I’m doing soy sauce chicken and minced pork omelette!
Gary- Chicken Curry.
Barb- Chap Chye.
Oh! How I wish I could join them!
Ours is a Straits-born Family.
The local word identifying us is, Peranakan. The culture like the Straits of Malaya and Indonesia is vibrant and warm. The family is large, prone to drama. The food we eat is a riot of flavour and colours.
My grandmother fell sick, the year I quit working for LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore.
I spent that year in pursuit of the foods of my childhood. My grandmother was still lucid then.
One of the dishes I learnt to make was, the Ayam Buah Keluak. This dish has to be in our vocabulary, the mother of all dishes. It’s simply back-breaking to create. And like my friend Serene (https://brunoandtammy.co/2015/09/08/simply-serene/), another bona fide Nonya once said- Unless you grew up eating it in your grandmother’s kitchen, it is impossible to ever understand what the Ayam Buah Keluak should taste like.
So here’s my grandmother’s Ayam Buah Keluak, if you are feeling adventurous.
- Soak the buah keluak nuts for 2 days to get rid of soil and dirt, before actually starting the cooking process.
- 2 days later- scrub the nuts clean.
- Using a small hammer, crack the mouth of the nut. Dish out its meat, set this aside.
- Add salt and sugar into the nut mixture. Pound it all up. Roll it into a ball.
- Wrap it up, and refrigerate, revisiting on the actual cooking day.
- On the cooking day, marinate a chopped chicken and some pork ribs with teriyaki sauce/soya sauce/salt. Then re-fill the nuts with the mixture.
- Prepare the rempah (spice paste).
- You will need chillies, blue ginger, turmeric, shallots, buah keras nuts, lemon grass (use only the white bits), and tamarind paste.
- Prepare the tamarind juice by adding water to the paste, and sifting out all the seeds.
- Slice everything else up as finely as possible.
- And then, pound everything up. This to me, is the most arduous bit. Some people cheat with using the blender. The rest of us, don’t.
- Pounding releases the juices you need for the rempah, in a manner that blending does not.
- When the rempah has been pounded into a fine paste, the actual cooking process can start.
- Fry the rempah up.
- Add the chicken and pork ribs. Add tamarind juice as you cook along, making sure the stove is set to high heat.
- Add a dash of belachan.
- Add the nuts.
- You could possibly add salt and sugar to taste.
- Keep on cooking.
- Just as the meats are about to be fully cooked, lower the flame, and allow everything to simmer to the end.
- Once everything is cooked up, allow the pot to cool down.
- Next, I separate the meats, the nuts from the stew/broth mixture.
- I then blend the stew/broth so as to ensure there are no fibrous bits of rempah floating about.
- When that is done, I put the meats and nuts back into the broth.
- Lastly, I put the entire pot back into the fridge for storage.
- Remove from the fridge the day after or 2 days after, for re-heating, and then only is it ready to be served.
Bon Apetite! Or as Popo would say, Makan, sini, makan.
- Photo credit include: Simon, Cousins S & B.