Sweet Potatoes – a “Nyonya” Sweet Delight

Last weekend my partner suggested that we take a drive to Springvale, a southeast suburb 20 km from Melbourne CBD. It is a diverse community, a cornucopia of rich and colourful blend of cultural background – Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, Thai, Indian, Sri Lankan, Greek. I have noticed some Africans as well. The main shopping district is huge in comparison to Richmond and Footscray – the other Melbourne suburbs with a large Vietnamese ethnicity background.

Walking around Springvale township is like stepping into a different world – a world of Asia. It is interesting and may look a bit daunting for those posh nosh who has never been to Asia. The streets and a couple of the new shopping centres are a bit chaotic and seem out of place. We went there with no preempt on what to expect. We stumbled into a newish Shopping Centre where there were lots of Asian people. It is a Centre with fresh produce stalls with no boundaries selling fresh meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits and other Asian produce. At the middle of the Shopping Centre is an open atrium. We took an escalator up to the first level for a single purpose. Our tummy is rumbling. We saw a familiar restaurant signage outside the building – “Gold Leaf“. It is our favourite Yum-Cha place in Melbourne, located at Harbour Town, Docklands. We were both delighted to find a Gold Leaf branch in front of us as we walked into the Centre.

There was a small queue outside the restaurant.  A spectacled maitre’d stood in front of a wooden podium. “Next! Name? How Many? Please wait there until your name is called.” One after another before we were next. The turnover was quick among the die-hard Yum Cha fan.

While waiting for our name to be called, I looked down the open atrium and saw a group of middle age Asian men playing Chinese Chess “Xiangqi“. Sitting and facing each other on a long stretch of tables joined together, each of them looking intense to make the next move, with spectators crowding around their back anxiously waiting to see who will triumph in the end. I find this interesting, not because they were playing Xiangqi, but because this is actually happening here in Australia. It is multiculturalism at its core in Springvale.

After a satisfying yum-cha at Gold Leaf, we took the escalator back to the ground floor and did some grocery shopping. I was browsing through the different type of fresh produce wondering to myself what vegetables should I get. Then, something caught my eyes. It was the purple skin sweet potatoes. This was the first time I have seen a purple skin sweet potatoes. I was tempted to buy one, but wasn’t too tempted. I walked further down. Then I saw the pale “off white” skin sweet potatoes. I could not believed my find. And, next to this variety of sweet potatoes was the more common copper orange skin sweet potatoes which we see all the time in a grocery supermarket. What came next to my mind was I have to buy each one of this sweet potato variety. Each variety is quite different in its colour (skin and flesh), texture, flavour and intensity of “sweetness”.

P1120402I have always cooked with the most common bright orange variety sweet potatoes, which was nice as a savoury vegetable dish baked in the oven or mashed.

My take on the 3 types of sweet potato is a “Nyonya” style sweet dessert served warm in a coconut soup. The last time I have tasted this coconut rich warm soup of sweet potatoes was back in Penang when I was boy. It was a long forgotten dessert rarely served in a restaurant, but popular with the Straits Chinese “Peranakan” food culture.

This recipe is simple to make and if you are a coconut and sweet potato lover, you will find this warm dessert perfect for a cold winter chill next to a fire place.

Ingredients

1 purple skin sweet potato

1 pale “off white” skin sweet potato

1 copper orange skin sweet potato

1 banana

2 pandan leaves (optional for added aromatic fragrance)

1 cup coconut cream

4 – 5 lumps of crystallised rock sugar

1/2 cup pearl sago

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Preparation and Cooking

1. Remove the potato skins. Cut into cubes and soak in water to prevent discolouration. When ready to cook, place in a steamer and steamed for 10 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are cooked.

2. Wash sago a few times in a pot. Fill the pot with water and bring to slow boil to cook the sago. Continue to stir the sago until sago turns translucent. Rinse and soak in cold water.

3. Combine the pandan leaves and crystallised rock sugar in 4 cups of water in a medium size pot. Bring to simmer until rock sugar has completely melted. Remove and discard the pandan leaves.

4. Place the cooked sweet potatoes into the sugar water. Mixed in 1 cup coconut cream. Mix through then add the cooked sago. Slice 1 banana into 2 cm thick and add into the soup. Adjust the coconut soup to taste. Add more water, coconut cream or sugar if needed.

5. Scoop a combination of different sweet potatoes and coconut soup into a small bowl. Sit next to the TV or in front of a fire place. Enjoy the sweet warm delight of sweet potatoes in coconut soup.

It is a Sweet of a Smile – My take on Sweet Potatoes in a Warm Coconut Soup 🙂 

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