Share and share alike

I've been a steamboat person ever since I could remember. Perhaps way back then, it wasn't so much the food that mattered but the whole concept of cooking right at the dinner table. Probably the closest I ever got to cooking at age 5, there was always the excitement of being allowed to dip my ladle-ful of noodles into the hot soup for a quick boil-up. Nowadays, I associate steamboat dinners with warmth (and not just from the portable stoves), lots of laughter and long conversations over the steaming boat. In a way, they are a test of how at ease you are with the people you are eating with - the cooking and sharing requires some level of familiarity.

Shahzan Inn Kuantan
Lot PT 240, Jalan Bukit Ubi/Jalan Masjid,
Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia.

Over the weekend, we chose to celebrate Father's Day and my mum's birthday with a steamboat dinner. From the pictures, you could probably gather that even before the stoves started going, it had all the makings of a fantastic dinner. In my book, 3 things set a steamboat meal apart - the freshness of the ingredients, the soup and the chilli sauce to go with it. That night, it was definitely check, check and check.

The classic chicken soup (I especially like it when its got loads of soft, sweet chinese cabbage in it) and the zesty tom yam variety (which I usually cannot get enough of).
The end of a steamboat meal is usually marked by some frenzied soup-slurping because, really, that's when the soup is at its best, with the sweetness and flavour of the ingredients infused into it. This time around, the fresh river prawns and mussels, special additions to the meal, really gave the soup depth and character. The just-cooked prawns also went excellently with a sauce one of us concocted - a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and sliced chillies.

Fried crab in salted egg yolk - one of my favourite styles. The yolk coated every part of the crab so you get that distinct taste of salted yolk in each bite. Part of the fun is making sure you've gotten every bit of yolk off the shell.

The Peking duck which kept everyone going back for more. The skin crisp, the meat tender and the sauce the right balance of sweet and salty - it brought back delightful memories of the Peking duck I had in Beijing. This has been as close as it has gotten to that, and probably healthier too.

"Aya, you all give things can take out price take first wan or not?"
Red eggs - the traditional Chinese celebratory item.

"Should we cut with the eggs still around the cake?"

Brandishing the butterfly sword.

We didn't just have the makings of a fantastic steamboat dinner, we had a fantastic steamboat dinner. Good steamboat, finger-licking good crab, that wondrous crispy duck, great company, 2 cakes and more than a dozen red eggs to top it all off - we were spoilt rotten that night, every single one of us.

Steamboat - the ultimate made-for-sharing-food.

First things first.

I'm not sure if it's the denseness of the air or the neon signs above the mamak restaurants or the smell of roti canai at 4 in the morning - but something definitely tells you you're home. After an extended journey home, we arrived a tired, rumpled bunch, hungry for supper. I hit the mamak place closest to where was was to spend the night, eager for the much-awaited roti canai. Bliss.

Anyway, the days after were a flurry of food excursions - it was a bit like getting reaquainted with old friends. You take for granted the familiarity of a good old plate of char kuey teow, or a bowl of curry noodles.

Char kuey teow and yong tau foo from the coffee shop we know only as "blue roof" in Petaling Jaya. I'm not sure why we came to calling it that since the roof isn't blue. Anyway, the stall with the fried all-kinds-of-everything is probably the most popular one there. My grandmother likes the fried glass noodles and they do a pretty good char kuey teow. The only thing amiss about it was that it lacked garlic chives, something I never knew to appreciate when I was younger. I have to admit now though, that char kuey teow seems incomplete without the customary "ku chai".

The yong tau foo was the best I've had in ages - but then again, that doesn't come as a surprise since it's been ages since I've even come close to yong tau foo. I've always preferred the soup version to the dry version, mainly because the dry version can go terribly wrong if they don't get the gravy right. Must haves in my bowl of yong tau foo - stuffed okra, stuffed fried brinjal and those deliciously crispy beancurd sheets.

Something tells me I should probably find out the name of the coffee shop but that's the way it's always been here - we know only the locations and refer to the shop any way we please.

When it's bittersweet

Light, liberated - like you can finally close your eyes and take in that huge gulp of fresh air that you've just been longing to take. The Friday afternoon that we'd been waiting for (for what felt like forever) finally came about and with the sudden onslaught of freedom we felt like caged animals being released into the great big city that is London, all with only one thought in mind - so much to do, so little time!

No matter how little time there is, there's always time for a quick stop in Chinatown for a meal. One phonecall to Ju Vern and 30 minutes later, we were on the bus, heading towards Chinatown for some hor fun in Wong Kei, probably the restaurant with the cheapest hor fun around at only 3.50 GBP a bowl. For the price, I daresay that they're pretty generous with the crispy roast pork. With Ju Vern's craving for beef noodles satisfied and me delirious from the end of exams, we set out to tackle Oxford Street.


After a Saturday spent out and about (and meal times all messed up) we decided that it was time for dinner at midnight. With a little arranging and strategising, we managed to pile into Dominic's car (yes, all 8 of us) to go on a food-hunt (it's really quite a hunt in London at that hour).

"Okay, I'm definitely ordering something with bacon in it because, well you know"
-Anusha, on her last round of McDonald's in London for four months-

Where else would we end up but at good old McDonalds, where it's free McFlurries all around?

"I am a bag"
-Sapna, trying to stay out of sight when we heard police sirens on the road-

There didn't seem to be a more appropriate place to have breakfast at on Sunday, the day we were to leave for home, than Central Cafe. 5 minutes walk from halls and affectionately known as "little cafe", it's a cosy place run by some really nice people, with music-themed photographs lining the walls. We stumbled across it after a particularly difficult paper back in January and it has been our little source of after-exam comfort ever since.

Anusha's baked potato topped with bacon, avocado and pesto.

My spinach, olive, onion and cheese omelette.

Reasonably priced, the food is pretty good (the omelettes are a favourite), and the portions are big - you can see why we keep going back. They have some nice Turkish dips and sauces that go really well with everything and at no extra charge, too.

It was a little surreal sitting at the table at breakfast, with our usual orders of ginger beer and coke, knowing that it would be 4 months before we would be back again.

Leaving London was a confusion of emotions. As we pulled away from the halls, with Dominic and Kuhan standing out in the rain, waving goodbye, I couldn't help but feel a slight pang of sadness. On the somewhat silent ride to the airport, a part of me was excited at the prospect of coming home and the other desperate to take in the sights as the rain went away and the sun came out again.

But really, with more than one place she can call home, could a girl get any luckier?

With a spoonful of honey

I developed a slight fascination for honey a couple of months ago after discovering that it makes an interesting addition to pretty much anything. After scouting around (I also discovered that it isn't one of the cheaper condiments in the supermarket), I finally got a jar from Tesco and for a couple of weeks immediately after, proceeded to use honey in any way that I could.

I experimented with the stuff I knew already, generally, just to see how different everything would taste with a spoonful of honey added to it. The honey stir-fried noodles was something that I particularly liked.

Noodles (I used instant noodles
Capsicum, cubed
Mushrooms, sliced (I used fresh closed-cup ones)
Large onions
Sweet cos leaves

Oyster sauce
Soy Sauce
Black pepper
Ground basil

The noodles should go into some boiling water, but for not too long because you want them just slightly undercooked. Soggy, sticky noodles are something I like to stay away from. Once the noodles are about halfway done, drain the water and set aside.

With a little oil in the pan, saute the onions, and add to them the capsicum cubes and mushroom slices. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, black pepper and ground basil to taste. Once the capsicum and mushroom bits are about cooked, the noodles come back into the picture - add them to the ingredients in the pan along with the sweet cos leaves and about a tablespoonful of honey. Some taste adjustments would probably be needed at this point - I usually go a little crazy with the black pepper. Give everything 2-3 minutes and the noodles are ready to go.

I have to admit, oyster sauce, basil and honey seem like a rather odd combination. Sometimes I think that I can't help but get the western and eastern influences muddled up - it's as if I cannot escape adding a dash of Asia into everything.

What can I say - you can take a girl out of Asia but u can't take Asia out of a girl.