Friday, April 30, 2010

Adina Batik Shop

While driving my motorcycle around one fine Saturday morning, I happened upon the following kampung house/shop.  Adina Batik is a both a shop that dyes cloth using the batik method and a retail outlet in the Kuantan kampung of Tanjung Lumpur, across the Kuantan River from Kuantan town.  Batik is one of the more famous craft skills in Malaysia, but there are few home-based businesses doing the craft, making my "discovery" a pleasant one.

I first got into batik when I moved to Malaysia.  I purchased the book Batik in the Start-A-Craft series, written by Joy Campbell.

I also took a one-day class from a lady who showed me the basics and got me started.  For our first (and only) project, my daughter and I took new white cotton pillowcases and made simple designs using hand-held copper wax pens (called cantings or tjantings) that allow for freeform design, and simple copper block stamps that provide a consistent pattern.

The Adina shop uses only cotton or silk, and as shown in a photo, the material is stretched out onto a wooden frame where the freehand designs can be drawn in hot wax.  Dye is painted on, by hand, allowing for fine detail and a mix of colors.  After fixing the dye with chemicals in a vat, the wax is removed through washing with hot water.

Inside the house is a one-room retail outlet with an excellent assortment of both material, and finished products, mostly women's outfits and men's shirts.  The prices are very reasonable for such high quality work.  A short-sleeve shirt is around RM85, while long-sleeve runs RM95-120.  The material is sold in 4-meter lengths (typical) and around 1 meter wide, and runs around RM230 for silk, with cotton costing slightly less.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thosai Telur

Following on last week's blog post, I did successfully make thosai telur although there is GREAT room for improvement.  I used the following recipe, from the book The Indian Spice Kitchen (Manisha Bharadwaj):

2 2/3 cup any variety of rice (1 pound)
2/3 cup split, skinless black lentils (5 oz; called urad dhal)
1 teaspoon salt
1 onion or potato cut in half (for greasing the griddle)
6 tablespoons corn oil

1. Soak rice and lentils separately for at least 4 hours in plenty of water.
2. Grind to a paste (separately) in a blender, adding water as required to make a thick batter.
3. Mix the two batters together, add salt, and leave to ferment in a warm place for at least 8 hours.
4. Heat an iron griddle or heavy skillet.  Dip the cut onion or potato in oil and smear over pan.
5. Stir the batter and pour a ladleful into the middle of the skillet.  Spread the mixture quickly with a circular motion starting in the middle, using the back of the ladle.
6.  After a minute, pour the egg onto the top of the thosai.  With a large griddle, one can get away with using an entire egg on a large (10-12 inch) thosai.  With my wife's small pan, I could pour in a small amount of egg. Thus, I scrambled 3 eggs in a separate dish, and then ladled a small amount of egg onto each thosai (see photo).
7. Turn over and cook the backside.  In restaurants, they will fold a large thosai over in half, not cooking the topside directly.

Some cookbooks suggest throwing out the first thosai as it serves to 'season' the pan, and may not be as good as the subsequent ones.

My thosai batter turned out alright, but I had to add water to get it to 'settle down' (the overnight fermentation produces a lot of gas bubbles), and make it thin enough to spread thinly.  Still, I ended up with a thicker thosai than one gets at Tamil restaurants.  I also ended up with egg that ran off the thosai mountain onto the pan.  (Not so good.)

My favorite thosai maker suggested that I did not have a griddle that was hot enough, or big enough.  Here is a video of his setup, which produces absolutely delicious, crisp and crunchy thosai.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Garam Masala

I got inspired this week to try to make my own version of thosai (dosa, dosay, dosey) and tandoori chicken. I started off by collecting and grinding a set of spices for garam masala. I used the following recipe from the book The Food of India, but one can find many versions of garam masala elsewhere:

1/2 cup cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 cinnamon sticks (5cm each)
12 green cardamom pods, bruised
5 black cardamom pods, bruised (couldn't find; substituted more green pods)
10 cloves
1/2 nutmeg, broken
4 blades of mace (couldn't find; skipped)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 whole star anise
5 bay leaves

All spices are dry-roasted in a pan (I use my non-stick wok) over low heat (I used 4 on my scale of 1-12). When the aroma becomes strong, but before any burning occurs, remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Afterwards, grind in a coffee mill or electric blender. Store the mix in airtight conditions in the freezer and it will last for months.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Indian Food

Malaysia, with its three primary races (Malay, Chinese, and Tamil Indian), has a great variety of food choices on offer: Malay, Chinese (many styles), Thai, Indian (North and South), and the occasional western style. Having tried all styles, our favorite is easily that of Indian food, both northern and southern cuisine. Of them all, my favorite is biryani rice (nasi briyani in Malay; sometimes nasi minyak = oily rice) with spicy chili chicken (ayam varuval).

Eating out with a Malay friend recently, I had the nasi briyani with spicy chicken while he opted for what is called banana leaf rice (nasi daun pisang) because the white rice and condiments are served on a clean banana leaf. The briyani can also be served as such, but I opt for the steel plate for personal reasons (I don't want food spilling down into my lap!).

I also opt for a dried chili that has been marinated in yoghurt for two days, dried in the sun (or oven), and then deep-fried until crisp. One or two crushed and distributed over the rice adds a bit of heat, but more importantly a nice burnt flavor. I still cannot pronounce the name of the chili (though several Tamil have tried to teach me), but one of my Indian cookbooks calls it moru milaggai (marinated yoghurt chillies).

Several years ago I purchased a great book which describes how to prepare the South Indian style of food.  The South Indian Cookbook (what else could it be titled?) by Devagi Sanmugam gives recipes for authentic Indian food. Although seemingly unavailable on, there are several alternatives.

South Indian Cookbooks

Friday, April 9, 2010

Redang Island Just Got Expensive!!

There are several islands off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia that have been popular over the years, first with the backpacker crowd, then with the locals, and finally with the rich-and-famous, who typically want higher-end accommodations. Islands such as the Perhentians (Big and Little), Redang, Tioman, and Kapas have enjoyed growing popularity albeit slowly, which is good for sustainable development.

Thus it was with shock that I read this morning that the state government of Terengganu plans on setting a minimum hotel price of US$500 (~RM1600) per room per day! The goal, of course, is to close down low-cost beach cottage hotels that do not have sufficient sewage treatment facilities. This is understandable, but considering the high cost being implemented, the island -one of the finest in the world- will be off-limits to all but the rich. Is this really the road that Terengganu wants to take?

The knock-on issue, of course, is that pressure from the low-end of the market will be put on the remaining islands, and there will be motivation to put into place eventually higher-price requirements there also.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pahang State Mosque

The Sultan Ahmad Shah state mosque in Kuantan, also called the Pahang State mosque (Masjid Negeri Pahang) is an impressive structure smack dab in the middle of Kuantan. After living in the Kuantan area for several years, but only seeing the mosque from the outside, I had the opportunity this past week to take a brief tour inside. A visiting British couple were keen to visit a mosque and as we were near, we stopped by. A very friendly lady (a Hajjah, meaning that she has made the Haj trip at least once), brought us in and gave a fairly concise explanation of how the mosque is utilised for prayers, especially for Friday's prayers, the main prayer day of the week.

This mosque is huge, and has a very impressive domed ceiling. Looking closely, one can see Arabic calligraphy along the base of the dome's rim. There are also beautiful blue and gold stained glass windows. It was built over the period 1991-1993, and is easily one of Kuantan's most notable features.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Iranian Cherry Juice

While looking for something interesting to drink at lunch time, I was pleasantly surprised to find a box of Sour Cherry Juice, something that I love but rarely find. After buying it, I read the labels all around (English and Arabic script) and was surprised to discover that it is a product of Urmia, Iran. As an American citizen, we cannot get Iranian products in the USA, but of course those items are available in Malaysia, which trades with all nations except Israel and (maybe) North Korea. In fact, most of the orange juice that we purchase comes from the Middle East, most notably Oman and Yemen. As people who were raised on orange juice from either Florida or California, it has been interesting to discover the non-USA sources for such items. In the end, trade benefits nations and brings peoples closer together.

A brief web search showed me that Urmia lies in the northwest corner of Iran, up against the border with Turkey, and is in a rich agricultural region. In addition to cherries (obviously), the region is known for its grapes, apples and tobacco. Just to the east of the city is a large lake -Lake Urmia- which probably helps to give it a mini-Mediterranean climate; thus the ability to grow fruit. This is not unlike places in the USA (Flathead Lake, Montana; Traverse City, Michigan) which, although in the snowbelt, can produce cherries due to the moderation of the winter temperatures by the large body of water nearby.