Can’t Talk, Eating (Slight Return)

It was our turn to host our annual quarterly dining club dinner. As late as two weeks before the scheduled day we still had no idea what to make, or what theme to use to unite the courses. While we dithered, we had the opportunity to attend Hidden Singapore, a popup dinner by chef Tsei Wei Lim, co-chef/co-owner of the now departed Journeyman restaurant. While waiting for our table I mentioned to one of our fellow diners that we couldn’t decide on a menu. On the spur of the moment, perhaps inspired by the dinner to come, I said “Maybe we’ll just cook Asian street food,” which got a positive response.

Once committed, we began the frenzied work of pulling a new menu together. This is what we came up with:

Shrimp Toast

A classic appetizer, accompanied by a two-part cocktail. The blue liquid is pear flower tea, and the shot of yellow liquid is a mix of lemon simple syrup, homemade buddha hand citron vodka, and ginger liqueur. Mix them together and this happens:

Otak Otak

The first of three dishes I shamelessly lifted from the Hidden Singapore menu, otak otak is a fish custard made from flaked mackerel, aromatic spice paste, egg, and coconut milk. It is traditionally wrapped in betel leaf, but I used Korean sesame leaf instead. The custard is steamed in a banana leaf wrapper and opened at the table. In addition to the rice, we served two sambals: sambal olek, available in most stores, and sambal belacan, which I made from red chilis, lime juice, and toasted belacan – fermented shrimp paste.

We served a Jasmine Blossom cocktail: jasmine green tea infused gin, lychee syrup, and prosecco garnished with lychee fruit and fresh raspberries. It disappeared before anyone thought to take a photo.

Takoyaki

Takoyaki, a classic Osaka street snack, is made from octopus (tako), which we no longer eat due to the critters being so smart. We substituted shrimp to make ebiyaki instead. They’re balls of batter cooked on a special griddle, filled, and then rolled to cook on all sides. I encourage you to watch a video of a pro making takoyaki and to hold that image in your head instead of imagining me struggling to make perfectly spherical snacks. They were served with the traditional garnishes of takoyaki sauce, Kewpie mayo, powdered nori, and bonito flakes, which “dance” when the dish is served hot:

Yakitori

A Japanese classic: grilled chicken thigh and negi (jumbo scallion), blistered shishito peppers, and cucumber pickles.

This course, and the rest that followed up to dessert, were accompanied by a sparkling unfiltered white wine from the Czech republic:

Beef Rendang

Another dish appropriated from chef Lim, the rending was beef short rib fried in an aromatic spice paste, then braised in coconut milk and tamarind paste until all of the liquid cooked off. Garnished with kerisik (toasted unsweetened coconut) and scallions. When we ate this at Hidden Singapore, one of our dining companions said “You should make this.” And so we did.

Cendol

Our last lift from Hidden Singapore, cendol is coconut shaved ice with noodles made from mung bean flour and pandan juice, garnished with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup.

Taiyaki

This Japanese street snack is a sweet fish-shaped waffle filled with red bean paste. We served it with green tea mochi, chocolate and green tea Pocky, and a green tea Kit Kat bar. Behind it you can see the final beverage, Thai iced tea with black boba:

We concluded the evening with a wee dram of Yamazaki 18 single malt whisky.

We learned a lot of new techniques and ingredients, from working with some of the most awful-smelling stuff on the planet (belacan) to preparing spice pastes and playing with new appliances (takoyaki maker and taiyaki pans). Now I need to think of a meal that would justify my buying a freeze dryer and an ultracentrifuge.

Videos and some photos by Cecilia Tan (@ceciliatan).

P.S. – I realized it’s been over year since my last post. Should I keep doing this? Perhaps more often? Let me know in the comments.

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