Auntie Ruby's Assam Laksa - 02 Some Exotic Ingredients

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bunga Kantan: As beautiful as it can get

In the first post, I have detailed out how to prepare the kembung fish broth. I hope you are not put off by the work involved. Just get into it and it will be intuitive after a few tries. But you (and your family & friends) will be rewarded with a spectacular dish.

We continue with the rest of the recipe.

I will introduce some of the exotic ingredients in this recipe.

The ginger flower or torch bud is beautiful both in appearance and taste. Used in Nonya and Malay cooking, it also goes by Bunga Kantan. If you are a sophisticated biologist, you call it etlingera elatior. If you are a plain Joe - like myself - you can just call it the "Rojak flower." It is easily available here. It is a fantastic flavour enhancer. It is also used widely in Thai and other types of Asian salads. It's taste is exotic and rather hard to describe. In fact I am chewing on some now.

Hmm. Hmm.
Wait a sec. Let me try.

It sends an aromatic flowery scent up the roof of your mouth with an exotic numbing effect of an acidic overtone.

You should know that this is just a rhetorical mumbo jumbo verbiage. I am not saying anything. Let's just say that this is best eaten than described.

Ginger flower loses scent quickly and best diced before serving
Recently, someone needed it urgently in Geneva to make curry for a gathering. I vacuum-packed it for a safe sent off.

Belachan: a piece of umami bomb.
Next up is the "funky" belachan. This fermented (tiny) shrimp paste is a umami bomb waiting to explode. It works best with the presence of chili. Some claim that the Penang version is better than the ones from Melaka.

In the same category is the black Prawn Paste ("Heh Koh"or Petis Udang). It has a seductive shimmering texture akin to Marmite. But taste wise, it is sweet and prawny. It is also used widely in Rojak, Penang or here in Singapore. Get it onto your fingers for an excuse to lick it off. It is added to the noodles after they are served. I love to have a lot of it with my noodles.  

Prawn Paste (Hae Kow)
Are you exoticated yet?

Wait. I have more.

Tamarind Paste or "Assam Kor." This is another fruity sour (assam means sour in Malay)  thingy which probably contribute to the addictiveness of this dish. I have done a recipe on Assam Prawns. You submerge the seeds in warm water for a few minutes and then squeeze the fruit from the seeds.
This can pass off as cocoa or chocolate but it is not
And of course, we should also make special mention of the mint leaves. They taste bitter and oh well, minty. It has a taste category of its own. It is very versatile and used in many cuisines. Here it serves humbly as a garnish. Almost as an after thought. But leave it out and your bowls of Assam Laksa can wait. It is indispensable, even with just a garnish status. The broth is so fishy and intense, taking your breath away. I suppose mints can help to freshen it up.   

Mint leaves
Then, you have Assam Keping (right). My Mum's recipe calls for this dried slices of tamarind as it makes the sour taste more intense.

Last but not least is the rice noodles. One can talk a lot about this but there are different varieties: "rough bee hoon" or "Chu mee fen" or the sticky and smooth variety, "Lai fen" which is translucent in appearance with a springy bite, akin to "bee tai bak" (loh see fgun) which I prefer.

Strangely, my Mum preferred the former, the Singapore version (pic below) and often brought them up to KL, reversing the usual food flow. Majulah, Singapura...

I think this post will double in length if I go into the details of the rest of the recipe. So, for the recipe, go here.

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