Pandan: A magic ingredient

My uncle came over the other day with a carrier bag full of pandan leaves for my mother. He picked these leaves from his garden where his one plant has truly grown in abundance.

I remember being a kid and spending Sundays in my uncle’s coffee shop, where he would make kaya for the week. Kaya literally translates from Malay to mean rich. Like a jam, it is a spread made from coconut milk, eggs, sugar and pandan leaf juice. My sister and I would fight to hold the giant wooden spoon to stir the mixture while my uncle cracked the eggs in.

Pandan leaves emit a superfragrant smell. For this reason it is used to perfume many of my favourite dishes. Added into cooking, the kitchen is rich with the aroma. Used with coconut it enhances the taste and smell of coconut and turns food a light green colour.

Knotted and added to cooking rice with coconut milk, you get nasi lemak, Malaysia’s favourite breakfast. Juiced and marinated with chicken, then used to wrap the chicken, you get Pandan Chicken, a Thai/Malaysian dish.

Pandan as a magic ingredient does not stop at savoury food. In Asia, it is also used in making cakes. I spent this trip in Kuala Lumpur looking to buy some Pandan Layer Cake, a chilled cake, sometimes topped with dessicated coconut. Last week, I found 2 different types of layer cake. The Indonesian variety, a dense cake made of many layers and the one I love, which is chilled and is made up of layers of sponge and pandan flavoured jelly. Another favourite is kuih bangkit, a cookie that is flavoured with pandan and a staple treat during Chinese New Year. I found some being sold in Chinatown the other day and snacked on the fish-shaped cookies, pretending that it was still Chinese New Year.

Pandan leaves are available to buy from the Chinese supermarkets in the UK. I remember seeing it for sale in Pat’s Chung Ying on Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Although available to buy from the Chinese supermarkets, once I head back to London, I am going to miss seeing the many foods made with pandan on menus and in bakeries. Before I leave, I will be clutching on to some leaves and soaking in the wonderful fragrance.


The Roti Man

Like the jingle of the ice-cream man van, kids growing up in Malaysia are also familiar with the Roti Man’s beep. In the days before giant supermarkets and 7-Elevens, the Roti Man served communities. Housewives would buy their roti (or bread) while their kids would eye packets of Twisties or cream buns.

I guess I never really quite noticed how strange the concept is. The Roti Man rides a kapcai filled with a variety of bread, crisps and sweets. Everything is packed in plastic sacks and tied to a steel frame attached to the back of the kapcai. As you can see below, more plastic sacks filled with baked goods are tied to the handlebars.

Not unlike the ice-cream man, when the Roti Man beeps the horn, the ladies and the kids run out of their houses with some small change. They skip back to their houses, armed with all sorts of goodies: raisin bread, buns filled with vanilla or chocolate cream, roti kelapa (sweet dessicated coconut) and fairy cakes, smiling to themselves.

Flowerbombdive Milky Disco Time-Travel

Listening to All Flowers Must Fade by Daniel Wang, I want to dive into the sunbleached flowers in the photo above.

I cannot remember where this photo was taken. Somewhere in London, sometime in the late summer last year with my Lomo Colorsplash.

The beauty about film processing is that if you keep your rolls of films for years, you forget what’s on it. Going to collect your photos is a little like getting a present or a surprise. I am waiting to develop my Holga photos. I have about 6 rolls of 16mm film taken from the last few years. It’ll be like a little flashback, and I imagine, would smell like a flowerbombdive. This is milky disco time-travel .

Working Hard and Playing With Your Food

Part of the joy in eating for me is the journey and the process.

I love that you see the food and know that eventually you’ll taste its deliciousness. You just need to work for it. Just a little. But it is all worthwhile. It really is. My sister took me for a Thai meal the other day and we had the best combination of flavours ever in the form of the starter Miang Kam. Betel leaves are sprinkled with diced ginger, toasted coconut, dried shrimp, diced lime and shallots, peanuts and birdseye chillies. Wrapped up, and eaten, it is the most wonderful blending of flavours.

In a different category, we have food that make you work hard. Shellfish, especially crab, if eaten in Asian countries is prepared in its shell. Tables are set with little hammers and pliers for diners, alongside chopsticks or forks and spoons. When there is a crab dish, conversation usually goes dead because of the level of concentration in getting that little sliver of flesh. I am a dedicated crab-eater. I love having a strategy, and to have to think of how best to unshell the crab. All that work for a little bit of food. Sunflower seeds, groundnuts (or monkey nuts as they are known in the UK) all fall under this category. It’s all about showing how much effort you’re willing to put in. I believe the tastiness comes from the anticipation of the food.

Spring rolls, fajitas, Vietnamese pancakes, crispy duck pancakes spring to mind as interactive food. What fun! Playing with your food is more than allowed, you have to. I just love having this blank canvas for you to add little bits of ingredients to. And wrapping it up and knowing that you created this and you’re going to eat it.

Food when unrushed is oh, so delicious. Fingers working, eyes watching it come together, nose smelling the fragrant ingredients, ears listening to Plat Du Jour perhaps and tongue, probably salivating.

Redouble Check Confirm

I say man. We got to redouble check confirm if this has been preponed or not. After, you have to gostan if not korek. You think abourrit and tell me after you think youlah. Thanks you.


abourrit – about it

gostan – to go astern

I say man – an expression of surprise

korek – correct

preponed – to bring forward, the opposite of postpone

redouble check confirm – confirm

thanks you – thank you

you think you – think for yourself

If you want to arm yourself with some Manglish you should learn these words.

Remix Romance

Here’s a sweet little Scandinavian treat. Fans of Swedish pop chanteuse, Sally Shapiro will be glad to hear that Remix Romance was released a few weeks ago. Disco Romance was released last year and although not particularly known, this 80s-influenced album made it to the best top albums lists including ones on Boomkat and Pitchfork. Very nice, especially in today’s world where packaging is almost everything. As you can see, the album cover is not sleek at all. So much so that Vice announced that it is the worst album cover they’ve ever seen. As dire as the album cover seems, the album is perfect for synth-pop enthusiasts.

I have had this album on my ipod for over a year and refuse to give it up. Just when I was thinking that really, I should move on, my love affair with this is given a breath of fresh air! Remix Romance has been handpicked by Johan Agebjörn, and has some gems from the likes of Junior Boys, Lindstrøm and Juan Maclean. I bought Jackie Junior from Phonica and it’s lush but the one that I have been listening to over and over again is The Cansecos remix of Hold Me So Tight. It is pure joy.

So there you go. If you thought you had listened to Disco Romance one too many times, go out and get Remix Romance.