A CULTURAL MELTING POT

By: Jane Borges

A burst of tangy flavours,” a guest remarks, when she bites into a salad of mango with prawns.

But barely has she spoken that the meal unravels itself differently. The tanginess is immediately overpowered by a strong punch of flavours, which once sour, turns dramatically sweet and spicy with every fresh dig into the plate. The lingering aftertaste feels like a riot in the mouth. For foodies, it’s a culinary escapade.

Soup

That’s Singaporean cuisine for you. And sous chef Mohd Amer Hashim and chef de partie Andy Ho Ye Lun, visiting chefs from ShangriLa Hotel, Singapore, only promise to make this gastronomic trip all the more palatable during the ongoing culinary festival, ‘A Taste of Singapore’. The festival began last week and will continue till February 21 at the Asia Restaurant in ShangriLa Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa. It will see a range of delicacies for those with a love for everything South East Asian.

Hashim, who has 32 years of experience in the industry and is currently one of the finest chefs in Singapore, is the man of the moment. He honours the food tradition of his home country like no other. “Since Singapore is a very diverse country, its cuisine too is a cultural melting pot,” he says, adding, “It is a combination of Malay, Chinese and Indian foods. Of late, we have seen Western influences too.”

The confluence of different cuisines, however, has given birth to a fare that is still typically Singaporean, argues Hashim. An example being Peranakan food, which blends Chinese ingredients with cooking techniques that are distinctly Malay.

Hashim, who has strong roots in Peranakan culture, has always been partial to its food because he claims that it has something to offer to every food lover. “You have a choice between spicy and nonspicy food,” he says of Peranakan cuisine. “Not only are the dishes varied, the cooking style is also not restricted to any one particular technique. We have steaming, barbecuing, sauteing, grilling and we also fry. So what you see here is food from two different cultures at its best.”

But what really makes Peranakan cuisine stand out is its inherent freshness.

prawns

“Fresh food comes from fresh ingredients,” Hashim says, explaining, “When we make Peranakan food, we only use fresh ingredients and spices. So you don’t touch ready to eat products. The meat, the seafood and the vegetables must be fresh. Frozen food of any kind is a strict nono. It’s the rawness of these ingredients that gives the food this freshness. And you can feel it with every bite.”

Doling out a tip, Hashim jokes that even a blind man can cook with fresh ingredients. “Because when the ingredients are fresh and the raw products are good, no matter how you cook your food, it still tastes good.”

He points to how he recently received a negative feedback for the Char kway teow a popular noodle dish that he prepared for one of his guests, using packaged noodles. “In Singapore, the noodles are freshly made from rice. Here in Muscat, because of the unavailability of that particular rice, we had to use dry noodles. My guest was disappointed. I had to literally bend down on my knees to explain why we couldn’t serve the authentic noodles.”

For the festival, Hashim has lined up an array of dishes, all keeping in mind the preferences of his guests.

“I have been engaging with the guests here, and asking them what they are looking out for in terms of Asian food. If everyone accepts the kind of food we serve, then life would become monotonous. Customising my food to suit their tastebuds is a challenge that I am ready to take on,” says Hashim.

From the chef’s kitchen

Singaporestyle Chilli Crab

crab

(Wok cooked sizzling crab in a thick tomato and chillibased gravy)

Ingredients

4 mud crabs

300gm onions

50gm garlic

50gm old ginger

20gm chilli paste

1lt chicken stock

200gm chilli sauce

300gm tomato ketchup

100gm oyster sauce

20gm sugar

2 eggs

5gm coriander leaves

10gm corn flour

Method

Wash and brush the mud crabs, cut into eight pieces.

Chop the garlic and onion, and slice the old ginger into juliennes.

Heat up the wok with oil and add in the chopped garlic and onions. Cook until aromatic.

Add in the chilli paste and continue cooking for two minutes; then add in the chilli sauce, tomato ketchup and oyster sauce. Cook for one minute and add the chicken stock with the crab.

Boil for another three minutes. To thicken the sauce add the corn flour and eggs.

Garnish with coriander leaves and ginger juliennes.

Serve with mantou bun or any kind of bread.

SOURCE: Muscat Daily