There are some flavours that are almost universal in their appeal. Pandan is such a flavour. Pandan’s power lies in its versatility. It is not limited to Asian dishes. I made pandan pannacotta earlier this year, to serve as dessert for my Chinese New Year meal. I made the pannacotta in a rabbit mould and this resulted in the wobbly little creature above. In the UK, pandan can be bought from most Oriental supermarkets. If you live in London, Golden Gate Cake Shop on Macclesfield Street sells pandan layer cake. My sister and I have since started obsessing over pandan macarons. Since being back in KL, I have had them twice. They are, as you can imagine, seriously delicious. These can be ordered specially from The Huckleberry Cafe. I have not seen this concoction sold anywhere else.
I find it quite strange that in a city like KL – where there must be the highest number of foodies per capita in the world and the most interesting mixtures of flavours and fusion food, I have yet to see pandan used in other European desserts. Pandan coconut meringue pie, pandan cream puffs, pandan coconut crepes…mmmm I can see so many possibilities! Someone, make ’em a reality!
I love living in a big city where it seems like the world is always within reach. After having lived in London for nearly one and half years, I have only just discovered the tiny strip of Korean eateries on St Giles High Street. Here, in this little pocket just off Tottenham Court Road I feel like I’ve been transported into a Korean film.
And here away from the maddening crowds of Oxford Street, I tried Kimchi Jjige for the first time. This is a dish that uses a combination of ingredients that epitomises the best flavours for my palate- spiciness and sourness.
Traditionally this is a hot pot of leftovers- made using old kimchi and cooked with beancurd or tofu and either pork or beef. It reminded me of my favourite Chinese New Year dish, a spicy and sour soup, again made with leftovers from the Reunion Dinner feast.
Now that the days are darker and the air crispier, nothing is as warming as having a bowl of kimchi jjige with some rice.
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 kayafor 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 iskuih 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.