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Tim Anderson's Blog - Malaysian Experiment


Malaysian Experiment?

April 2012

By now, I hope many of you are more familiar with Malaysian cooking and have a well-stocked cupboard of Malaysian staples to supply the arsenal of delicious and simple Malaysian dishes at your disposal. (If not, you've got some revising to do! Go read my old blog posts and recipes.) But of course, variety is the spice of life, and I can't expect you to cook Malaysian food for every meal. However, even if you cook Malaysian meals only occasionally, Malaysian ingredients should find a happy home in your kitchen as you find ways to work them into your culinary repertoire – regardless of what sort of cuisine you usually cook.

Take kecap manis and kecap masin, for instance. I often think of these two Malaysian soy sauces as a duo of superheroes, like the Batman and Robin of flavour, here to save food from the perils of blandness. Used in conjunction, they add an incredible depth of flavour to a wide range of foods; salty, umami tang from the lighter kecap masin, and a rich, deep sweetness from the kecap manis. Add a few teaspoons of both to stews, ragouts, or pies, and see what a difference they make. With a clove or two of garlic and some fresh herbs, they also make a stupid-simple marinade for meat – they're especially good with pork – and lend an intriguing, moreish, savoury quality to all manner of stocks, soups, and sauces. A bit of both in your spaghetti bolognese isn't going to win you any authenticity points with Italian mammas, but it will win you big flavour points with your family. And the almost treacle-like sweetness of kecap manis even works in desserts, underlining the richness of chocolate brownies or salt caramel sauce.

Then there are the aromatics. Kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, galangal, chilli, tamarind, and curry powders are what give Malaysian food so much of its complexity and irresistible fragrance, and they can have the same effect on your everyday cooking. Lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf freeze well, and can be thawed out quickly to lend another dimension of flavour to all kinds of dishes – simply add a few pieces to your stock when you make a risotto, or infuse into milk to make pannacotta, crème brûlée, or custard. Or you can create a devilish homemade liqueur by infusing them for a week or two into some vodka with sugar (Malaccan palm sugar if you have it), to be served straight from the freezer as an aperitif or digestif at a dinner party or barbecue. The sweet and sour tang of tamarind makes a perfect ingredient for simple vinaigrettes or seafood marinades (fantastic on prawn kebabs), and curry powders can be rubbed directly onto your meat for a Sunday roast or dusted over potatoes as they come out of the oven. Malaysian herbs and spices may seem like they only belong in Malaysian dishes, but in actuality their applications are limitless. All you need is a little creativity.

I must also mention belacan. With its tremendously pungent aroma, belacan may strike you as a difficult ingredient to work with. But when it's cooked, that pungency transforms into a mellow yet intense base note of umami, amplifying the inherent savouriness of meaty dishes. One of my favourite ways to use belacan is to mash it up with a little vegetable oil until it forms a workable paste, which I rub into the surface of steak or lamb before grilling or frying. The strong, deep flavour of the shrimp paste marries beautifully to the richness of the meat for an exquisitely lush and satisfying mouthful. A little belacan added to the cooking oil will also add leagues of flavour to stir fries and fried rice, as well as simple pasta dishes like vongole or puttanesca – use it as you would anchovies.

One of my favourite things about learning about Malaysian food has been finding new, exciting ingredients that I can use to enhance my cooking or come up with new dishes altogether. Having a good stockpile of Malaysian ingredients on hand is of course useful for making authentic Malaysian food, but you may be surprised at just how versatile they are in all kinds of cookery.

Trust your senses and don't be afraid to experiment!

Tim Anderson's Blog - A Healthy Spring

A Healthy Spring

March 2012

Winter is finally breathing its cold last breaths, and as spring's rejuvenating air sweeps steadily across Great Britain, it is a time for a little self reflection. This is the time of year when many of us look in the mirror and ask: how the hell did I get so fat?

With New Year's resolutions long since shrugged off and cast aside like laundry hung on a treadmill, now is the time when we all start to panic at the prospect of fitting into our summer clothes, having lost none of the weight we so responsibly packed on to hibernate through the long, harsh winter. Some of us may still be able to taste a lingering air of sherry and Christmas cake in our mouths when we first wake up. It's nothing to be ashamed of – festivities aren't festive without plenty of good food and drink – but of course, most of us could do with a healthier lifestyle, especially as bikini season (or banana hammock season for the fellas) fast approaches.

And besides, as the weather changes, so do tastes – hearty, fattening winter fare like stews and sausages seem less and less appealing as the days grow longer and warmer. It's a season of revival and newness, a season for lighter, livelier food, a perfect time to start eating more Malaysian cuisine.

A lot of Malaysian cuisine is based around fresh vegetables and seafood, and learning a few simple Malaysian recipes is a perfect way to utilise wonderful seasonal produce to make lighter meals. Take assam laksa, it uses fresh mackerel as its base, so it's chock full of omega 3 and vitamin B12, and it makes good use of one of Britain's most abundant, affordable fish. It's a really lovely and satisfying supper for cool spring evenings – hot, but not heavy.

Some of Britain's most delicious vegetables are coming into season soon, and Malaysian cooking is a perfect way to harness their bright, sweet flavours and nutritional value. Purple sprouting broccoli makes an amazing stir-fry, garnished with a few chillies, some garlic, and Malaysian seasonings like kicap manis, sambal, and belacan. Likewise, asparagus is a fantastic addition to a mee goreng, and Jersey Royal potatoes are beautiful in a Malaysian curry – especially with some fresh prawns or mussels thrown in.

No discussion of spring produce is complete without a mention of lamb, and there are all kinds of lovely, healthy ways to prepare this wonderful meat using Malaysian ingredients and recipes. Rub a few lean lamb chops with belacan, kaffir lime leaves and a touch of chilli, then pop into the grill- this makes a simple but hugely flavourful dinner. Or whynot make a lighter version of the classic lamb curry, kari kambing, by omitting much of the oil and replacing the coconut milk with yogurt.

Malaysian cooking typically uses an arsenal of pungent herbs, spices, and seafood to achieve strength and complexity of flavour, and so it doesn't rely on animal fats and simple carbohydrates as much as a lot of Western cookery. With fresh British produce and a fully-stocked Malaysian larder at your disposal, you'll be frolicking in skimpy swimwear with confidence by June. The food is so good, you won't even miss all the extra calories.

Tim Anderson's Blog - The Malaysian Street Food Tour

The Malaysian Street Food Tour

January 2012 - The Malaysian Street Food Tour: Keep On Truckin'

The right context, I have always argued, is an important element to any eating experience. So it would stand to reason that the best place to eat Malaysian street food is on a Malaysian street, and the best food to eat during a cold British winter is the old British classics... right? As I discovered through the Malaysia Kitchen Street Food tour, something close to the inverse may be true.

I love British food and the UK food scene in general, but I must say street food is something I've sorely missed since I moved here three years ago. Ever since my college days in Los Angeles, I've lived off street food. Back then it was tacos, burritos, and quesadillas sold out of trucks, on perfectly breezy nights both sober and less so. The issue of which taco truck was the best on the boulevard was debated with passion and jingoistic loyalty. We loved our trucks, so much so that we thought nothing of waiting nearly an hour to get our food and didn't mind that snarky Beverly Hills types ignorantly referred to them as "roach coaches."

When I moved to Japan, I lived in Fukuoka, which is on the island of Kyushu, Japan's dirty south. Aside from murderous late summer humidity and the occasional typhoon, the weather on Kyushu is warmer and more conducive to outdoor eating than other parts of the country, and so I took many of my evening meals at yatai, the red-lanterned street stalls that lit up the backstreets and bank sides of Fukuoka city. Hearty pork ramen and gyoza dumplings or simply grilled meat on a stick were the perfect pick-me-ups before or after a big night out.

And of course, all my travels around east Asia were fuelled by street food. In South Korea, it was spicy rice cakes, blood sausage, and waffles; in Hong Kong, stinky tofu and tea-stained eggs; in Taiwan, beef noodles and dumplings; and in Burma, there was grilled squid, fried chicken, and samosas. If memory serves me correctly, on my first trip to Thailand I don't think I had a single meal within four walls; everything I ate came from a stall, a cart, a truck, a bicycle, or just a basket balanced on someone's head. And I ate well – very, very well. The only reason I deviated from the street food path on my second trip to Thailand was because I was a travel agent, and I was forced to evaluate hotel restaurants. Dreadfully boring, that.

In 6 years of travelling and eating, I'd developed a love and appreciation for the food of the street, so I was dismayed to discover that such a culture doesn't really exist here in Britain. The basic units for casual, inexpensive eating in Britain are the pub, the cafe, and the home – all of which I love, but they don't replace the experience of a hot meal enjoyed in the air of a cool night. But then that's just the problem – British nights (and days) aren't really cool, they're downright cold, even in the summertime. Couple the weather issue with a beloved pub culture that dates back for centuries, and it's not surprising that street food never really took off here.

That is, until now.

The recession, while in many ways tragic and dispiriting, has had in my opinion a positive impact on the way people dine out in the UK. Increasingly, people want value for money, so we've seen a thrilling boom of eateries that are unique and delicious, but still affordable, with the creativity and skill of fine dining applied to casual scenarios. In 2011 counter service trumped table service as the country devoured exciting and exotic food at prices that make eating out a day-to-day activity. And at the centre of this activity was an exaltation of street food.

But what of the weather? The British have always been admirably defiant in the face of terrible weather, almost going so far as to celebrate it. While a cold and damp climate may not seem suitable for dining out doors, there may be no better context for enjoying something hot, spicy, and aromatic. Malaysian food fits the bill perfectly – when we took to the streets with the Malaysia Kitchen Street Food Tour truck in late November, it was a joy to see how our nasi goreng, chicken satay, and char kway teow brought visible warmth to the cheeks of all who tried them.

London, Nottingham, and Manchester are a world away from Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, and Sandakan, but that may be precisely why our Malaysian street food went down as such a treat. Who couldn't use a little exotic escapism during these bitter winter months? With its lively aroma’s, sweet sauces, and fiery chillies, Malaysian cooking can transport you, if only for an instant, to a more equatorial state of mind. Yes, we had the occasional confused shopper trying to order burgers. But after one bite of our food, their faces lit up – the thought of burgers vanished, and all they wanted was more Malaysian food.

Luckily, you don't have to wait for the Malaysia Kitchen truck to roll into your town to get your spicy street food fix, because these days there are more Malaysian restaurants in the UK than you may realise. To find the Malaysian restaurant nearest to you just click on the restaurant page. Not to worry if there isn't a restaurant nearby, don't forget that Malaysian food is easy to cook at home, and the right ingredients are readily available on the internet!

Tim Anderson's Blog - My Malaysian Valentine

My Malaysian Valentine

February 2012

I hate February. It is my least favourite month. I'm not a fan of November, either, but at least in November the bad weather is novel and even sort of refreshing, and besides, there's Christmas and New Year to look forward to. But by February the short days and cold air have long outstayed their welcome, and every time I step outside I feel like shouting up at the sky, "Enough already!"

But there are ways to chase the February blues away. Jogging helps (when it's not raining). So does beer. And of course there's the Super Bowl, although I can understand it if not many of you are interested in staying up until 3am to watch a confusing sport, often unfavourably compared to the far more popular rugby.

Call me a romantic, but my favourite way to break up the late winter doldrums is to celebrate Valentine's Day. (Cue eye rolling) I know, I know. It's the sappiest of holidays, mostly advocated by greeting card companies and purveyors of cheap chocolates, and if you're single it can make you want to commit suicide – or homicide. But hear me out.

Even for romantics, the rituals of Valentine's Day can become a dreadful chore after so many years of chocolate, roses, and overpriced lobster dinners. It should be fun and exciting for couples, so why do we turn to the same old steakhouses and stuffy French restaurants year after year? Typical Valentine's meals are heavy, overly formal, and criminally expensive – hardly mood-makers for an evening of love, if you get my meaning. A meal that's truly romantic requires spice, colour, a sense of excitement and a touch of the exotic – but by now, Indian and Thai have grown tiresome. It's got to be Malaysian.

Anybody worth dating will find typical Malaysian aromas of kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, chilli, and coconut irresistibly intoxicating, and these days, the UK boasts some truly atmospheric Malaysian restaurants. Up north, you can visit Norman Musa's Ning in Manchester for a three-course Valentine's feast of satay, curry puffs, whole fried sea bass, chicken curry, and light, tropical sorbets. In London, there's Suka at the Sanderson Hotel, which boasts an authentic Malaysian menu served in one of the city's most stylish venues.

Or better yet, you can impress your date by cooking a Malaysian feast yourself. Classic dishes are remarkably easy and very satisfying, and they fill your house with an incredible perfume. And remember not to skimp on the chilli – they're an aphrodisiac. The pain signals your brain receives from chilli heat cause your body to release endorphins, resulting in a light, woozy buzz. My old college roommate and I used to challenge each other to do shots of Tabasco sauce for this very reason. Also, we were idiots.

If you're single, I may have lost you already. But Valentine's Day is a perfect opportunity to have some friends around, grab a few beers or a bottle of gin, avoid overbooked restaurants and nauseating cooing couples, and knock up some awesome rendang, laksa, or char kway teow. At the very least it will help provide an escape from the gloomy February climate. Which we all need, regardless of relationship status.

Tim Anderson's Blog - Every Night is Malaysia Night

Every Night is Malaysia Night

October 2011 - Every Night is Malaysia Night

Every Night Is Malaysia Night

It's all too easy to get stuck in a rut. I've always been the kind of person who bores easily, so I'm constantly trying new things, pushing myself to have new experiences and encounter new flavours. Even so, I find myself too readily falling back on what I already know: going to the same pubs and restaurants, watching the same TV shows, cooking with the same ingredients. When you're busy you don't have time to mess around. You slip into a mindless complacency and forget that the world is yours to explore, and it's far too big and diverse to get bored in.

What do you do on a Friday night? Maybe you relax at home with a takeaway (there's no shame in that), watch a movie and generally zonk out. Or maybe you hit the pub, the one roughly halfway between your office and the train station, and stay there for a few hours until somebody suggests you all go to Pizza Express or something. Or maybe you go to the cinema, which can so often be a surprisingly stressful ordeal, what with all the monstrously overpriced snacks, 20 minutes of advertising, and the inevitable person who persists in talking throughout the film. (Or maybe you are that person, in which case: shame on you!)

We go out on Friday night to relax and have fun, and yet so regularly we end up doing things that are neither relaxing nor particularly fun. One of the best Friday nights I've had in recent memory was Malaysia Night, a massive takeover of Trafalgar Square in celebration of all things Malaysian. To my knowledge, there's nothing quite like it in London, and it was amazing to walk around the square and experience the palpable happiness and pride exuded by the exhibitors, vendors, and visitors alike. Traditional dance, arts and crafts, and travel info were all on colourful, enthusiastic display, but of course, I came for the food.

And what food it was. More than 20 Malaysian restaurants had set up shop, which was great to see, because in honesty I didn't even know there were that many Malaysian restaurants in London! It opened my eyes to a whole new food culture on my doorstep that I hardly knew existed. I am not ashamed to say I stuffed my face, which I have a tendency to do when surrounded by delicious food. First up was rendang with roti canai from Pelangi – incredibly tender beef, braised for hours in a sauce of coconut, lemongrass, and ginger, served with traditional flatbread. Succulent and aromatic, it's no wonder this is considered one of Malaysia's national dishes.

Next, I sampled some specialities of the Terengganu region, keropok, a delicious sort of fish sausage, and some fish crackers which were absolutely amazing. Imagine prawn crackers made with mackerel and less grease; they're exceptionally moreish and make a great snack or accompaniment to a variety of other dishes. I then moved on to the Tukdin stall, where I devoured a few of their delectable curry puffs: flaky pastries concealing a lush, satisfying potato curry, like a sort of refined Malaysian pasty. The kind of food I could happily eat several times a week, simple yet undeniably tasty.

As my internal fuel gage approached full, I settled on a final dish, sambal sotong from Delima: tender chunks of cuttlefish smothered in a brick-red, fiery hot sauce. It was so good I greedily snarfed the entire plate, even though I was full to the point of discomfort.

Like I usually do at good food festivals, I was disappointed with myself for getting too full to carry on eating, because there was so much more I wanted to try. But I left with an understanding of the British Malaysian food scene that I didn't have before; the sheer amount of restaurants there excited me, and the food was revelatory.  With so much good food available, there's no need (and no excuse) to settle for bland, boring, and safe! I am determined to shake up my Friday night routine every now and then with a visit to my local Malaysian. Malaysia Night comes just once a year, but with so many great Malaysian restaurants around, there is no reason every night can't be Malaysia Night.

Fancy a Malaysia night in? Don't forget that Malaysian food is cheap and easy to make at home! See my first Malaysia Kitchen blog for more info.

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