Sunny Tse of Café Malacca reveals the secrets of Singaporean and Malaysian cooking.
Text by Vincent Leung
What is a simple Nyonya dish?
Try Nyonya curry chicken. Fry a sliced onion until golden, then add 1 tsp garlic and 2 tbsp dissolved Malaysian curry powder. Fry until fragrant, then pour in 500ml coconut milk and 500ml water. Simmer for 15 minutes with 5g curry leaf. Add half a chicken and simmer until cooked. Nyonya curry is known for a thinner sauce; to make it thicker or spicier, add more curry powder.
How do you choose seafood for black pepper crab?
You should not judge a crab solely by how lively it looks. The flesh should also be firm when pressing. We mainly use crabs from Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The Vietnamese crabs weigh about 500g and are more common. Sri Lankan crabs are double or even triple the size of their Vietnamese counterparts, and are more expensive and difficult to find. Pre-order them in larger wet markets such as Wan Chai or Bowrington Road.
How is assam laksa different from curry laksa?
The broth ingredients in assam laksa are not fried, unlike curry laksa. The noodles are topped with raw lettuce, cucumber, pineapple, onion, mint leaves and ginger flower shreds and it tastes less oily and more refreshing. The soul of assam laksa is fermented shrimp paste produced by migrant Fukien fishermen in Penang, where the dish originates. The paste is incorporated in the broth and served in a spoon with the toppings, reducing the sourness and amplifying the umami flavour. Although it smells strong at first, my customers are often amazed by the magic touch it gives to the laksa.
When making Hainanese chicken rice, how do you keep the chicken moist and tender?
The key is to control the temperature and time of “soaking” the chicken. Boiling shrinks and toughens the meat; instead, simmer the chicken gently at 70˚C-80˚C for 35 minutes to keep the meat soft and retain the jus – the principle is similar to slow-cooking. After cooking, drop the chicken into iced water to increase the skin’s elasticity. Frozen chicken is a no-no. Use a 1.2kg chilled or fresh chicken.
Can you suggest a simple pandan dessert?
Pandan pancake roll is delicious and fun to make. Finely cut the pandan leaves and blend with water. Strain out the lumps and combine the remaining liquid with flour to make a batter, which you can use to make pancakes. Natural pandan gives the pancakes a beautiful deep green colour and much better flavour than using essence oil. For the filling, stir-fry palm sugar, coconut flakes and half a piece of pandan leaf. Remove the leaf before spreading the filling onto the pancakes and rolling them up.
After a hot, spicy Singaporean meal, what’s a good way to cool down?
Locals like Job’s tears water to soothe the spicy heat. It’s easy to make – simply wash 250g of Job’s tears and boil with two pandan leaves for two hours until it reaches a thin congee-like consistency. This recipe makes 24 cups. Only the liquid is served in Singapore – drink it hot or cold, with or without sugar. Other popular drinks include iced calamansi juice and rose syrup with milk.
Head chef, Café Malacca
Tse spent more than 20 years at Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong before joining Traders Hotel, Hong Kong. To prepare for his new role at the hotel’s Café Malacca, he travelled to Malaysia and Singapore to study local culture and cooking techniques to deliver authentic regional dishes.