Yesterday I met up with my family for dinner at a place in my brother’s neighbourhood. The place specialises in clay pot style cooking. It is a family run business with the front half of the house converted into a dining room. Yes, anything is possible in Malaysia, even if it is a house in a residential street. The guarantee of such a place is that you are rest assured you are eating at someone’s house, which has an informal feel of a home cooked meal. 🙂
Penang is so famous for food that it is impossible to try every eating places. The varieties span from street food (“hawker stall”) to a small coffee shop (“Kopitiam”) to a proper established restaurant with trained chef, rather than a home grown cook passed down the generations.
The place we went to last night is simply called “Clay pot Restaurant”. As the name implies, all the dishes in the menu is cooked in a clay pot.
Clay pot cooking is a technique of cooking food using an unglazed clay pot. The process involves warming the unglazed clay pot in luke warm water for 15 to 30 minutes to absorb water before cooking, then filled with the food and placed on a stove (in the past, my mum used a small terracotta handmade stove filled with charcoal). The walls of the pot help to diffuse the heat. As the pot warms, it releases the water as steam. The food inside the clay pot loses little of its moisture because it is surrounded by steam, creating a tender and flavourful dish. This style of cooking is healthier than stir frying, as little or no oil is used in the cooking. Nutrients are normally sealed into the food in the steaming process.
At the restaurant which was paid by my brother, we ordered a clay pot herbal chicken, a clay pot garlic prawns, a clay pot red bean curd pork, a clay pot soy sauce pork, a clay pot “petai”, “kacang botol” and “lady finger” (brinjal) cooked in sambal sauce. There was a vegetarian garlic stir fry “Dou Miao” and a few herbal drinks. All for MYR$115, or under AUD$40!
Clay pot Herbal Chicken – cooked in chinese medicinal herbs, slices of ginger and spring onion. The herbs used are Goji Berry and Dong Quai. Oops, I had Dong Quai many times in the past but never knew its significance and properties. Click on the link to read more in Wikipedia. 🙂
Clay pot Garlic Prawn – this definitely has a Penang/Malaysian touch to the dish, with added spices and curry leaves from a traditional Chinese style garlic prawn dish. It was almost a cross between a Chinese garlic prawn and Nyonya Assam Prawn. The flavour was garlicky and yet pungent with the curry leaves.
Clay pot Red Bean Curd Pork – this dish was very different from the other dishes. It has a strong, unique taste and flavour due to the red fermented bean curd (“Nam Yue”). It was a salty dish.
Clay pot Petai, Kacang Botol and Lady Finger in Sambal Sauce – this was a very delicious, fragrant and spicy dish. It was a long time since I had petai and kacang botol as they are not common in the Asian supermarket in Australia, not even in the bigger cities, I think.
Petai is the bright green seeds in a long, flat edible beans from the plant “Parkia Speciosa”. It has the size and shape of a plump almonds and has a rather peculiar smell, but cooked with other ingredients such as garlic, chilies, small prawns and sambal makes an excellent unique dish. It is most commonly used in South East Asian cooking.
Kacang Botol, also known as Winged Bean comes from a tropical legume plant. It is long and has four wings with frilly edges; thus, the name. The bean has a similar flavour to an asparagus and best cooked in sambal.
The clay pot sambal dish above is a good example of a unique Penang dish, combining the different texture and flavour of the vegetables to make a truly unforgettable meal and experience.