February 26, 2010

Goodbye, Lunar New Year & Steamed Rice With Spare Ribs in Fermented Black Bean Sauce 送別新年與豉汁排骨蒸飯

Time flies by. The 15-day long Lunar New Year celebrations will come to a conclusion this Sunday. The 15th day of the first month of Lunar New Year (農歷新年) is known as “Chap Goh Mei” (十五暝 or 元宵節) locally, which is a name derived from the southeastern Chinese dialect of Hokkien (福建話). (There are many Chinese descendants here who can trace their roots to the Hokkien-speaking Chinese province of Fujian.) Among the overseas Chinese communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei, Chap Goh Mei is our version of Valentine’s Day. (We do celebrate Western V-Day, too! Not me though! =P)

In Penang, Malaysia, single Chinese women would stand by the river and toss tangerines into the water. Why? We single ladies are eagerly awaiting the very special man in our lives to pick it up, which reminds me so much of the good old message in a bottle. What a fun when there’s so much mystery surrounding it!

According to C, my co-worker who hails from Penang, Gurney Drive is the place for single ladies to toss their wishes nowadays. Of course, that isn’t open to only singles. Married, widowed and divorced women are welcome to toss their wishes into the sea, too! She did invite me for a stay at her hometown this weekend. Too bad, I can’t due to other commitments! Sorry, C! I promise I’ll visit Penang one of these weekends and snap lots of pictures! Thank you!

Anyway, ‘nuff said! Here’s to share with you some of the meaningful moments from my Lunar New Year before it ends. On the Second Day (大年初二) of every New Year, my family never fails to visit my mom’s hometown in Malacca (or Melaka.) We’d usually have a quick breakfast and then hit the road. This year though, both my baby brothers refused to join my parents and I because they claimed the whole deal was “boring.” Yes, they’d been part of this ritual growing up in this family. Sadly, they now would rather stay home and glue themselves to the computer playing online games. Sigh … I only came to appreciate family and kinship even more after my 3-year stint in the U.S. One day, these brats will learn their lesson! (As the eldest, I’ve failed a big part here … I can’t teach them!)

Malacca isn’t that far from Kuala Lumpur. When we behave while driving on the crazy roads here, it usually takes us a little less than 2 hours to get there. Most importantly, we were there to catch up with our relatives. I was also there to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was indeed relaxing with its slower paces and simpler way of life.

Sugar cane plantation by the road

The moment we landed there, it was a little past noon. My aunt already had lunch ready to feed eight hungry bears, including her daughters, grandchildren, my parents and I. Feeling stuffed after lunch, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood with my darling camera.

The Malay neighborhood next door

Green unripe starfruits

It was quiet. I felt relaxed. I snapped and snapped – until the sound of a lorry broke the silence and brought me back to the ground. I saw eight or so happy little Malay kids running excitedly towards the vehicle. Curiosity killed the cat. I, too, made my way toward the lorry.

A messy trunk: beverage, trash & prop for lion dance

The crowd grew as each second vanished. It was a good – a truly Malaysian crowd. We had Chinese, Malay and Indians standing side by side anticipating its "awakening." Each of us waited patiently. The kids sure went wild when the Lion finally “woke up” and started to “dance.” It was my first lion dance (舞獅) experience in 3 years.

Besides businesses, some wealthy people would hire a lion dance team to perform the ritual on their compounds. They believe it will bring them good luck and prosperity in the year to come. It was no doubt a stunning performance! The crowd reveled and cheered. But, my inner thoughts traveled deeper than that.

I stood and observed. My camera told me to watch and listen. I obeyed. In minutes, tears started rolling down my cheeks gently. I was still sane. I was simply touched by the innocence and tolerance shown by the people. Stubbornly mirroring on my own beliefs at the same time, I couldn’t help but sighed. Malaysia is such a lovely country, if only it’s more innocent and liberal. It’s such a shame that it’s been blemished by fallen angels. I’ve said a thousand times how I wish I don’t have to abandon this beautiful land. But, I have to leave Her eventually. While in search of a better life and equal opportunities, my family is left with no choice.

I hope you won’t be turned off by my sentimentality. Despite my efforts in trying to be a rational reasoning animal, I sentimentalize easily. Anyway, I guess we’re getting sick of cookies, huh? It’s time for a change. (Well, I’m sort of. But, I don’t mind having them around me 24/7. They’re a handy snack!)

I’ve been meaning to share this fabulous dinner idea with you. But, I think I’m suffering from attention deficit disorder. I just keep getting distracted. Argh …!

Dim sum (點心) is a southern Chinese specialty, which literally means “touching the heart.” At authentic dim sum restaurants, light dishes are served. To touch someone’s heart, I suppose these hors d’oeuvre are, traditionally, made painstakingly with love. They’re only meant to be taken as a light snack, not a meal. But, we always end up stuffed in the end. Hahaha …!

Made when I was in the U.S. Taken in March, 2009.

Steamed spare ribs in fermented black bean sauce (豉汁排骨) can be found at many dim sum restaurants. Ask anyone who’s had authentic dim sum, he or she has probably heard of or even tried these ribs. Fermented black beans (豆豉) lend a pungent and sharp, salty and slightly bittersweet flavor. They're an acquired taste. Joining forces with other seasonings and spices, you’ve got yourself a savory marinade. Immersing the ribs for hours in this unique blend gives you utterly flavorful ribs.

To steam these spicy ribs together with rice, it renders you an easy fuss-free meal. Thanks to my favorite Hong Kong-based blogger Siukwan for sharing this fantastic idea! In Chinese, we call this type of dish 一鍋熟, which literally means “cooking with one pot.” I’ve been making this one-dish meal since I was a student in the States. And I always have a side dish of stir-fried or blanched vegetable to go with it, making it a complete meal after a tiring day at school or at work. What’s best is you can prepare the marinade and marinate the ribs ahead of time – and it requires no additional oil to cook them because they’re steamed. Healthy!

Steamed Rice With Spare Ribs in Fermented Black Bean Sauce 豉汁排骨蒸飯 (Adapted From Siukwan’s)
Serves 2 persons
*Typical of Chinese cooking, the recipe is just a guideline. Please feel free to adapt it to suit your own palate. I guarantee you that many of the (B) seasonings can be found at Asian grocers, especially when you're residing in the West.*

240 g (pork) spare ribs -- washed to clean well and pat dry, then cut them into smaller sections

1 Tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda

1 fresh small red chili pepper 紅辣椒仔, diced into tiny bits
**I used dried ones when I was in the States, which worked just as good. That obscure small town only had fresh jalapeño peppers. Sad, huh? Obsession for Tex-Mex food!? Probably.**
1 Tbsp fermented black beans 豆豉, diced into tiny bits if possible
***When I was in the U.S., I used those jarred ones that had been soaked to preserve in oil. Because they were already mushy, I simply mashed them up.***
****The ones I'm using are a hot variant of the regular ones, are also jarred and mushy. If you so happen to have these spicier ones, omit the chili pepper.****
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 Tbsp oyster sauce 蠔油
1 tsp light soy sauce 生抽
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp granular chicken bouillon 雞粉
A little bit of sesame oil 麻油, or to taste
Pinch of ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsp cornstarch

240 g jasmine rice 泰國香米
240 g water

Sweet soy sauce 甜豉油, to taste (optional)
  1. Combine the cleaned spare ribs with (A), then leave aside to tenderize the meat for 1 hour
  2. After the 1 hour is up, wash the spare ribs very well to remove the baking soda; drain well or pat dry to remove excess water
  3. Marinate the spare ribs together with (B) for 30 minutes, covered (to avoid unnecessary "visitor," LOL!)
    *****I've tried marinating the ribs for 4 hours and up to overnight, covered with cling wrap and refrigerated, which makes them taste so much better, I think.*****
  4. Place a steaming rack over the wok, then fill it with enough water until it's about 5cm/2 inches below the rack. Cover and bring it to a full rolling boil over high heat. Alternatively, you can steam the whole deal in a steamer, if you have one.
  5. Wash the rice to clean, then drain well. Combine the rice together with 240 g water in a "stove top-friendly" bowl (i.e. heat-tolerable), then place onto the steaming rack. Steam over high heat for 20 minutes or till almost cooked. In other words, the 240 g water should have been almost soaked up by the rice and the rice itself should look "swollen" and rather "fluffy."
    To cook for a bigger crowd, I cook it in the rice cooker. Simply cook the rice in the rice cooker till it's almost cooked -- like what's described above -- then, proceed with the following steps.
  6. Uncover the lid of the wok, steamer or rice cooker, then transfer the ribs and marinade onto the rice -- making sure they spread out so that they can cook evenly. Cover again and cook or steam over high heat for 10 minutes or till the meat is cooked through.
  7. Turn off the heat or the rice cooker. Dish out and serve hot. If you like, splash a bit of sweet soy sauce over to serve.
Here's to wish everyone a Happy Chap Goh Mei! (在此恭祝大家元宵節快樂!) Play hard and have lot of fun before Lunar New Year festivities end!


pigpigscorner said...

Can't believe it's the end! It felt like I just baked cookies yesterday. This looks so good! I love to order this at dimsum restaurants but have never tried cooking it.

Anncoo said...

Nice photos shoot, Pei-Lin. And the spare ribs look so tempting, feel hungry now....

Ellie said...

Beautiful pictures as always. You captured the spirit of CNY. Now you are making me homesick. Love the recipe. My mum made it a lot when we were home.

Sonia (Nasi Lemak Lover) said...

Pei Lin, sorry I'm late for this post. All are very nice shots, you really captured the spirit of CNY. See you later.

Happy Homebaker said...

Thanks for sharing your photos, it was more than 10 yrs ago since I visited Malacca! I used to travel to Penang and KL for work, at least once a month during my first job as an engineer. That was almost like 20yrs ago!!! My kids have been pestering us to bring them to Malaysia, because they claim that ALL their classmates have been to Malaysia, and my younger one doesn't even have a 'stamp' from JB's custom ^=^'

I like your 豉汁排骨蒸飯, will try it out soon, I love one pot dish, I hope I am able to steam the pork ribs together with the rice in the rice cooker?!

Angie's Recipes said...

Beautiful pictures as always!
The custom of the single ladies standing by the river and tossing tangerines into the water is fun.

Christine said...

Pei-Lin, my father used to order this 豉汁排骨蒸飯 when we went to Chinese restaurants. Your recipe and photos make me really feel hungry....

faithy, the baker said...

Spare ribs looks yummy...

Awesome photos! :) Can tell from your photos that the sun is very glaring! Sooo hot isn't it? Weather been so terrible!

petite nyonya said...

Hey there! It was so, so nice meeting you today! Didn't know yr mom is from Malacca. If I had known sooner, we could perhaps meet up in Malacca too over CNY and go for the famous 'satay celup'! Well, next time perhaps. :) Am sure we'll meet up again :). Have a great day Pei-Lin!!

Food For Tots said...

It has been ages since I last visited Malacca. Miss the Malacca Portugese food. Hehehe! Can you believe that I (as a Penangite) haven't seen the tangerine tossing event? Your shot has improved a lot as compared to 2009. In fact, very pro now! Keep it up!

Swee San said...

i'm a chinese cook noob.. so we can get fermented black bean sauce here ? what's it called in chinese ? (in han yu pin yin hehe)

I love ordering this at dimsum restaurtns too..

tigerfish said...

I can imagine the fragrance of 豉汁排骨 infused into the rice...

Tuty @ Scentofspice said...

Pei Lin,
Thank you for bringing the tropics to us. It's been far too long since I visited Malaysia.

Ju (The Little Teochew) said...

A beautiful post! Thank you for giving us an inside peek into the real Melaka. I loved all your photos. I feel your words. I really do. You have a way of reaching out. :) Best wishes in whatever path you choose. And that dish ... it's delicious! I think most of us have eaten this, and you certainly made a wonderful version of it.

Jo said...

I too can't believe CNY has come and gone. I hope you had a great time. Your trip to Melaka looks like fun.

Big Boys Oven said...

that little bi was so well captured in the tune of the music, awesome celebration!

Su-yin said...

Looking at your photos really makes me miss home! The spare ribs look yum, will have to try cooking this one day (and so I add to my list of recipes to try...) :P

Joanna said...

Hi Pei Lin,
Great pictures! It was really nice meeting you the other day. Do take care and keep up blogging !

homeladychef said...

I wanted to leave a comment, but decided to cook something first after looking at the steamed rice with spare ribs. It made my hungry worse!

I would like to see lion dance in my homewtown, I missed it again. Your photos remind me of lion dance in my hometown. hehe...

noobcook said...

nice photos of how you spent your CNY. I love and miss Malacca. The spare ribs dish look really yummy too, I really like fermented black bean sauce.

Bakeling said...

Hi , nice to meet you here . Thanks for the comment you left to me .

I always read your post but never leave any commnet.

I am very impressed with your photos and even tell my friend " Hey , you see this girl , she can shoot good photos and do a long write up , how can she do that ? Why can she write so much ?

I was "shocked" by your pineapple tarts with 3 types of patterns ! I told my old classmate when she came to my house and showed her your pineapple tarts post , and said "This girl must be crazy ! How can she baked pineapple tarts with different methods !(

Impressive with your patient !) and yet I can't even make one !

youfei said...


I used to dislike this dish..but I'm growing to like it..hehe

I think it's nice to be able to cook it but I'm no good cook at all! I can only bake =XX

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Again, I'm so sorry for getting back to you this late! But, I really appreciate the kind feedback that you've given me! You've made my day, you know!

@Anne & Jeff: Yea, I know! CNY just slipped away before us ... =( ... I wish I have more time to indulge myself in cooking/baking/photography/writing. Nowadays, I simply don't have ... ever since I started my life as an 8-hour-per-day office lady ... if you get what I mean. Sigh ... Yeap, this dish is my fave, too!

@Anncoo: Thank you for the feedback! Yours are always perfect! ;)

@Ellie: Thank you for the kind words! Glad that at least these photos have given you a ride back home to Malaysia. It's such a lovely country by itself, minus the corruption. Sigh ... I also enjoy reading about your stories! And yes, this is definitely a comfort food! Lovin' it to bits!

@Sonia: Hahaha! Thank you! I'm still learning as a photography novice, too! It was so fun meeting you ladies up in person! We need to have this again!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Again, I'm so sorry for getting back to you this late! But, I really appreciate the kind feedback that you've given me! You've made my day, you know!

@HHB: Hahaha! Then, I think it's time for you & Mr. HHB to bring your 2 boys to Malaysia during school break. Actually, we've got lots of places to go for a vacation. Really ... it's a matter of preference, LOL! I know, when I was younger, I kept telling my parents, "Why I still don't have a stamp on my passport from the Singapore customs?" In fact, Singapore was my first trip abroad. LOL! And, I'm so proud of it! Please try the recipe out! Yup, I steam the ribs together with the almost-cooked rice in the rice cooker when I'm making for 5 persons. ;)

@Angie: Too bad, I've not tossed any so far ... still single ... Hahaha! I bet it's a custom unique to Penang and any places with many Hokkien speakers. Oh, and thanks so much for the encouraging words!

@Christine: Thank you! I know we Cantonese especially love this! You're such an amazing cook. I'm sure you can whip this up easily. ;) You've blogged about it if I'm unmistaken.

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Again, I'm so sorry for getting back to you this late! But, I really appreciate the kind feedback that you've given me! You've made my day, you know!

@Faithy: Thank you so much for the feedback! Yea ... It's been damn hot and sticky lately ... But, we've been getting lots of rain here in KL these past few days. What about Singapore?

@Joslynn: Hahaha! It was a pleasure talking to you, too! We're so gonna have a gathering like this again--bigger and merrier! LOL! So greedy ... Tell you what, I had my first satay celup in the States, not Melaka! Surprised! Why? I also dunno about that ... I guess I must have had too much chicken rice balls in Melaka since young! Hahaha! Yea, I'm gonna visit you in Melaka the next CNY. Watch out!

@Lai Kwan: Thank you for the encouragement! You've not seen people tossing tangerines into the water!!?? And you're Penangnite!? LOL! 佩服!佩服!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Again, I'm so sorry for getting back to you this late! But, I really appreciate the kind feedback that you've given me! You've made my day, you know!

@Swee San: Thanks for dropping by, dear! Yeap, at any supermarkets, pasar pagi, kedai runcit ... It's called "dou ci" in Mandarin & "dou si" in Cantonese. Boy, I love this dish, too ...

@tigerfish: Thank you! Reading your comment makes me drool ... Hahaha! You've pushed the button! Argh!

@Tuty: Oh, you're most definitely welcome! It's my pleasure to bring my culture into the living rooms of others! Just like what you're doing now! What a fun! When you come to visit Malaysia (specifically Kuala Lumpur), please let me know! I'd love to meet up with you!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Again, I'm so sorry for getting back to you this late! But, I really appreciate the kind feedback that you've given me! You've made my day, you know!

@Ju: I'm very grateful for the encouraging words you've given me here! It's pushing me to get better, like an unstoppable force. Thank you! And don't you agree it's fun to introduce others to your culture? Thank you! I'm sure I'm not the only one who goes crazy about this dish. ;)

@Jo: Either do I! Lunar New Year is officially over ... No firecrackers ... No red packets ... Sigh ...

@Big Boys Oven: Thank you for stopping by! Isn't the boy cute!? I wish I could take him home with me and adopt him as my son. Oops! I've gone too far here ... LOL!

@Su-yin: Thank you so much, gal! I just feel so bad for you for not being able to meet up with us all! Am glad that my pictures have brought you the feeling of home in your London apartment. Let's cross our fingers hoping we all can meet up someday. Please! I'd love to! Do blog about it once you've tried it, too, K? Love reading yours. ;)

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Again, I'm so sorry for getting back to you this late! But, I really appreciate the kind feedback that you've given me! You've made my day, you know!

@Joanna: Thank you so much for taking the time to visit here. I had so much fun talking to you! Really! I think I talked to you the most that afternoon. I "stole" you away from your mom, LOL! Dear, whatever happens, remember to have fun whilst studying in the U.K. Like what I've told you that day, cultural exchange is the most exciting and the best thing ever to happen to international students like us. For me, it's changed my life; otherwise, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now. Don't let go of any opportunities, yea? Take care, dear! Have a safe flight to Sheffield in May! ;)

@homeladychef: Oops! Sorry that I unintentionally did this to your tummy! It went on a hunger strike! Hahaha! It's not CNY without lion dance actually. When I was in the States, I missed lion dance so much ... amongst many other things. And I guess no one would be willing to put on costumes and props to dance in the -30C to -20C winter, outdoors. LOL! I think your hometown is KL, right?

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Again, I'm so sorry for getting back to you this late! But, I really appreciate the kind feedback that you've given me! You've made my day, you know!

@noobcook: Melaka is such a beautiful place, isn't it? It's my second home in Malaysia, after KL. Glad that you love this dish, too! The flavor of fermented black beans is indeed unique & acquired! LOL!

@Bakeling: Now, it's my turn to thank you for coming by! LOL! Well, I guess the thing with me is I don't blog 4 to 5 times per week. Mostly, it's just once or the most, two. I don't have the time to blog so often. I'm a perfectionist when it comes to photography, food styling and writing. In fact, I write to earn a living. So, I pretty much write 24/7. Hahaha! And as a writer who writes English as a second language, I have zero tolerance for typos. That's why I'd rather write slowly and meticulously ... I don't sit there and blog my heart out. Get what I mean? As for my pineapple tarts, nah ..., I consider one unsuccessful because I ain't satisfied with them. Why were you "shocked?" LOL! There's nothing to be surprised about, I think. It's just normal kitchen experiment. ;) When it comes to the love of my life, I tend to be real patient. Maybe I'm a lil' insane, too! Hahaha! I'll definitely come visit yours often. ;)

@Youfei: Hey there! Hope life's treating you well! Yea, like I said, fermented black beans are an acquired taste ... I only came to like it as I got older. Nah ... Stop being silly! I know you can cook. How about with an oven, eh? I'm so gonna get you that cookbook someday, which I've told you about sometime before Christmas. Remember? ;)

COLARGOL said...

beautiful story, beautiful pictures, congratulations and thank you

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Sorry for this late of a reply!! Thank you for dropping by!! Thank you for the encouragement, too!

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