Saturday, 14 May 2011

Vanishing Flavours

"When pestle meets mortar, aromas are released, flavours blend and appetites are whetted. The pungent scent of freshly pounded spices mixes with the smell of burning charcoal in the kitchen, bringing the warmth and promise of a traditional home-cooked meal made with love."

Shortly after my interview at MPH, I was given an assignment: Suggest the back cover text for what was then an upcoming cookbook for Peranakan dishes. Mortar and Pestlebecame my first project as an MPH books editor.

It didn't take long to write the copy, since I looked at my own memories of an old-school kitchen. I remember the kerosene smell and the smoke from the charcoal stove and Mom's sambal belacan, made the old way using the mortar and pestle. The sambal was so good, it went into almost everything.

Does this make me a watered-down Peranakan? I've been wondering about that.

Working on this cookbook took me down memory lane a few times. The author's own recollections of her formative years, one much like my own, brought back that electric effervescence of childhood Chinese New Years, primary school, childhood games and so on. One time, while editing the manuscript, I found myself back under the huge saga tree near home, hunting for its jewel-like, bright red seeds. Good thing I didn't swallow any of them; it never occurred to me that the seeds are toxic.

I did a whole lot of research for Mortar and Pestle, and learned a lot as well. Of course, the editing process wasn't smooth sailing all the way, and I have to concur with much of what was raised in the review. All I can say is, as I will say about current and future projects, is that I and everyone else involved did our best, given the circumstances then.

Overall, it's not a bad book. Mostly cookbook, partly memoir, and all Peranakan. And with my copy, I have a handy reference for some simple Peranakan recipes to try; a nearby Jaya Grocer has all the ingredients for black glutinous rice dessert.

Of course, not all Peranakan dishes are included here. Some of the recipes look simple, but one asks if the iPad generation, so used to things happening at the push of a button or three, would deign to lift a mortar to pound chillies for sambal belacan.

Even if I do find the time and place to reconnect with my roots, I doubt I'll ever make a sambal belacan or nyonya-style chicken curry that's as good as Mom's... or Dad's.

From Angelina Teh comes this repository of the author's fondest Peranakan kitchen memories. Featuring recipes and other culinary heirlooms handed down to the author by her elders, Mortar and Pestle: Aromas from A Peranakan Kitchen documents Teh's efforts to preserve the essence of Peranakan cuisine.

Teh was so inspired by the delectable Straits Chinese dishes and delicacies her grandmothers used to cook that she decided to honour the legacy of her grandmothers by documenting these recipes for posterity.

Though trained in art and design, she now enjoys the more challenging task of caring for her toddler. Teh lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Mortar & Pestle
Aromas from a Peranakan Kitchen

Angelina Teh
MPH Group Publishing
183 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5997-20-4

Buy from


Post a Comment

Got something to say? Great! Rant away!