Tuesday, 3 May 2011
Crete is unforgiving.
As Professor Trefusis says in Stephen Fry’s The Liar, travel broadens the behind and my eight days on this craggy beaut of an island has certainly done that. Sixteen meals of carnivorous feasting was just mixed-grill pleasure.
And so I arrive back on bank holiday Monday - the depression of the Royal Wedding weekend - resolutely craving a week of Asian food. Craving Nonya food in fact.
Nonya flavours are magnificent. The wince of tart tamarind, against the salt-tang of shrimp paste. I grew up with those flavours - so glorious in Penang laksas and satay. The cuisine is the 600 year old offspring of Chinese merchants and local Malay women along the Malaysian Straits. Nonya originates from Malacca, but Singapore has some of the greatest Nonya food I know. Personally I think this is the best food in the world - and I don’t say this lightly - the best of both Chinese and South-East Asian worlds.
The things to have in your larder will be a block of tamarind, a bottle of shrimp paste, lemongrass, galangal and chillies - all readily available from your Chinese supermarket.
Unfortunately, bank holiday supermarkets are also unforgiving, so all I managed to pick up was a pack of raw prawns and I had to shave a lemon as I didn’t have any lemongrass.
Still, my hit has begun the process of unbroadening that behind.
Asam Udang (Tamarind Prawns)
Serves 2 and takes 15 minutes max
150g prawns - either legs trimmed off, or for convenience a packet of raw prawns (as pictured)
1 onion sliced
1 stalk lemongrass - bruised (peel from 1 lemon, bruised, if you don’t have any)
4 birdseye chillies - red and green, deseeded and slit lengthways
1 generous tablespoon tamarind pulp mixed with 450ml boiling water
1/3 tablespoon shrimp paste
1 level tablespoon sugar
Push the pulp through a sieve and collect the water in a saucepan. Put the rest of the sauce ingredients into the saucepan.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes uncovered. Let the flavours get to know each other.
Add the prawns and simmer until just cooked.
Serve with rice and a generous helping of garlic broccoli with oyster sauce.