Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Masterclass In Session: AT 19 Chefs Rescue Vintage Malaysian Recipes

I'd wondered about the title of this book. If these recipes are here, are they technically 'lost'?

What's in this collection of recipes under the MPH Masterclass Kitchens series includes some "vintage" dishes that aren't lost yet, but are in danger of going extinct. Rendang tok, for instance, takes hours to prepare and while a favourite of many, I doubt just as many would aspire to make it themselves.

Cover of ‘Lost Recipes of Malaysia’ (draft copy)

Nevertheless, I was delighted with its inclusion. Now, if the water supply would return to normal....

Much has been said of Malaysia's culinary diversity. But beyond the more popular char kway teow, roti canai and nasi lemak are dishes that our forefathers used to make and enjoy, at an era when life was less hectic, people were much closer to nature and made the most of what they grew or reared in their backyards.

Recipe pages in ‘Lost Recipes of Malaysia’ (draft copy)

In the rush towards modernity, memories of simple schoolyard snacks such as asam boi popsicles and skewered sengkuang slices, as well as rendang tok and the less-heard-of banana-stem paratal, are slowly but surely fading away.

Fearing the loss of these traditional flavours, Hellen Fong marshalled several chefs from her cooking school, At 19 Culinary Studio, in an effort to rescue them from obscurity.

Chef profile pages in ‘Lost Recipes of Malaysia’ (draft copy)

Tapping into their own memories and family recipe archives, Fong and her team: Mohd Shokri Abdul Ghani, Goo Chui Hoong (who published her own MPH Masterclass Kitchens cookbook, Khairil Anwar Ahmad and Ezekiel Ananthan) have come up with this collection of Lost Malaysian Recipes, a culinary time capsule that's sure to take us back to a Malaysia some of us still remember.

"By 'lost', we don’t mean recipes that are no longer available," Hellen Fong explains. "Instead, this cookbook aims to retrace and recreate some of the vintage Malaysian recipes that may have been changed along the way to cater to the modern palate and lifestyle."

Lead pages for chefs and recipes in ‘Lost Recipes of Malaysia’ (draft copy)

After a brief introduction to the history of Malaysian food and the myriad of ingredients that can be found in a typical Malaysian kitchen, we get to know each of the chefs in this book and the recipes they share with us.

"It took us a while to track down these recipes, ensuring to the best of our abilities that they are indeed authentic," says Fong. "And now, we encapsulate them into this book to keep them safe from being lost and forgotten – a treasure to leave a lasting impression on Malaysian cuisine."

Though only a small selection of what this country's long and rich culinary history has to offer, this book will have you hungry for a taste of that history and curious about what these chefs have not dug up.

Lost Recipes of Malaysia
Hellen Fong, et al.
MPH Group Publishing
194 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-202-4

Buy from MPHOnline.com

Monday, 28 April 2014

News: Johor Frees Libraries, Etc

Last week, Johor announced that it will abolish public library fees:

"[Johor's Chief Minister] Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin hoped that the new initative would help to increase the membership currently at 350,000. The libraries recorded some one million visitors.

...From today, those registering as new members no longer have to pay RM5 for children and senior citizens, RM10 for teenagers and RM20 for adults aged between 18 and 50 years old.

Good news, I suppose, but like the Chief Minister says, the challenge is "how to attract and encourage youngsters to read books and other materials".


  • The producer of a Taiwanese TV drama called The Palace: The Lost Daughter is alleged to have ripped off the storyline from Taiwanese novelist Qiong Yao's Plum Blossom Scar. Qiong's works also include Princess Pearl (Huan Xu Ge Ge), Six Dreams (Liu Ge Meng), and Green Green Grass by the River (Qing Qing He Bian Cao).
  • Mali librarian Abdel Kader Haidara, "The Brave Sage of Timbuktu" who fought to save priceless manuscripts from rampaging Islamists.
  • George Psalmanazar, the fake Formosan who fooled 18th-century London. Like the story of Pedro Carolino's hilarious English-language guide, I also read about Psalmanazar in one of those Reader's Digest Amazing Tales books, though I can't recall if both were in the same publication. These days, invented personalities boost TV ratings.
  • Q&A with big-data literary critic Franco Moretti, who wants to study bad books, preferably without reading them. So it sounds like he wants to run all these books through an algorithm that determines whether a book is good or bad. Would the output be better than human-written reviews (or hatchet jobs) and fun to read?
  • Elizabeth Minkel went to the London Book Fair where the biggest takeaway were the free tote bags. "There are pens, too," she adds, "but the totes are where it’s at."

    But no solid, long-term solutions to what ails traditional publishing. "With books," Minkel says, "the endless debate about the medium, the cheap and dirty ebook versus the august printed page, always seemed to obscure the book publishing industry’s somewhat shaky revenue models to begin with: attempts at changing the industry, the bare-minimum embrace of technology, look like weak computerized bandages on older, deeper wounds."
  • OMG OMG OMG, one half of this duo went on a trip and wrote a book about it. Guess what I'm going to get next.

Friday, 25 April 2014

MPH Warehouse Sale 2014

In case you haven't noticed the buntings around a certain part of Petaling Jaya: the Sale is on from 13 to 18 May, at this address:

MPH Distributors @ Bangunan TH,
No 5, Jalan Bersatu,
Section 13/4, Petaling Jaya
Call 03-7958 1688 for directions

Hours: 8am to 6pm

And the map to the venue is here. It's the same place, since we haven't gone anywhere.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

News: Obits, Awards, and Derpless In Gawker Media

Several writers left us early April, including Sue Townsend, creator of Adrian Mole and Clarissa Tan, "journalist, gopher, reviewer of TV" at the Spectator in the UK.

The late Clarissa Tan at Readings @ Seksan's, 28 June 2008

I can't remember if this is the same Clarissa Tan who appeared at Readings sometime in 2008, but from a picture I took, she was holding a copy of what looks like the Spectator, so I guess she was. Some of her writings in the magazine can be found here, including the piece she read at Readings, which won her the Shiva Naipaul Prize from the Spectator.

...Right, now for some happy news. First, congratulations to Tan Twan Eng for making the shortlist for the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, which features an interesting line-up. Looks like Tan's not done reaping accolades yet. Will there be more sour-grape munching, I wonder?

And because of its relatively swift rise as a brand, cutting-edge local pulp fiction publisher Fixi won The Bookseller International Adult Trade Publisher Award. Juga kerana berkat rajin hulur tisu, agaknya.


  • "Authors on rock star-style tours, animations of famous fictional characters, merchandise based on children's stories – all these are now in the armoury of Britain's biggest publisher as it fights back against the decline of the high-street bookseller." In the wired age, Penguin Random House hits the road to bring books to the public.
  • From Jason Kottke: A study that says "foraging harvester ants act like TCP/IP packets". Anyone who's a fan of Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld series might recognise a device that does use an "anternet" of sorts: Unseen University's computer, Hex
  • "Life is too short to read a bad book". Too right. So my editing job might be jeopardising my reading, too.
  • The new editor of "slangy Internet site" (Gawker) apparently wants it to sound less like a slangy Internet site. Good luck.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

What's Cooking Next

Here's a sample of what's cooking in the hell's kitchen that is my workplace (and do keep in mind that they are drafts; final versions may differ):

Yes, we're doing quite a few cookbooks, besides ... other stuff. Admittedly, these are pretty good-looking projects. Hope I didn't spoil some surprises.

More to come when these are ready.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Murky Depths

Not too long after I received this book, my contact at the distributors' side left the company, and production started picking up after that. I haven't been back at the warehouse, rooting through the book pile for stuff to review.

Not that I have the urge to - yet.

After months being bogged down by work, life and poor health, it feels strange to be published again.

I kind of miss it.

Yes, it's also kind of funny that this came out at a time when we wish we have running water 24/7. Here's hoping the current turbulence in our lives eventually goes away.

Murky depths
A novel with deep, dark secrets

first published in The Star, 08 April 2014

Is Wally Lamb's We Are Water the definitive post-racial, post-9/11 American novel?

Its premise sounds simple enough: Annie Oh, artist and divorced mother of three, is about to marry Viveca, the woman who helped further her career as an artist.

‘We Are Water’ by Wally Lamb
Her decision shakes up her family a bit, not least because Annie was already seeing Viveca while her marriage was on the rocks and her son, a born-again Christian and army nurse, objects to his mother's same-sex marriage.

Not to worry, we will get more than just Annie's family trying to adjust to their mother's new direction in life and getting along with the new (mum?)in-law.

Besides Annie, her children and her ex-husband Orion (what's with that name?), the numerous narrators in the novel include an elderly art curator and several other characters from Annie and Orion's pasts.

A seemingly unrelated interview with said curator and his tale of the mysterious death of a black artist – the type whose genius only surfaces decades later – leads to Annie's introduction and the art she produces.

As the story progresses, we get hints of something terrible that happened during Annie's childhood that might have fuelled her "angry art" and have repercussions for her family and the day of the marriage.

We get an idea that Annie's is not a typical American family. Originally a red-headed lass with Irish roots, she'd married Orion who is of Italian-Chinese descent. By the time she meets the Greek lady Viveca, her children are already grown up. Besides her army-nurse son, Annie has two daughters: one's an earth-mother type and the other is young, hip and dreams of Hollywood stardom.

But this portrait of the new post-racial American family is not quite all hunky-dory, either. Under the glittering surface of the Ohs' fa├žade lie murky depths where secrets lurk. All of them have something to hide from the world and each other, but perhaps nothing as dark as what Annie had tucked away in her memories.

One complaint is that the pace at which the long story of this family (over 500 pages) unfolds is painfully slow. While much of the backstory is meant to give the characters more depth and character, I found a lot of it as enlightening as white noise.

The again, I generally follow the news and goings-on in the United States more than of what goes on at home, so a lot of it sounds all too familiar.

With regards to the Ohs' first-person narration: the tone is mostly ranty and whining. We have details that add meat to the characters, their ways of thinking, and motivations, fears and hopes, but half the time they just seem to be venting. It's like reading a blog by a dysfunctional family.

At some point, their troubles and secrets no longer matter, as this reader, bogged down by fatigue, started skimming in haste towards the ending – which, I suppose, bears the promise that, no matter how difficult the past and present, there's always light at the end of the tunnel. And family will always be family.

I'm not particularly impressed by this novel; reading it was like a rough tumble in a white-water raft. However, those with a penchant for novels that plumb deep, dark family secrets will find Lamb's turbulent, turbid waters a satisfactory, if challenging, dip.

We Are Water
Wally Lamb
HarperCollinsPublishers (2013)
561 pages
ISBN: 978-0-00-753284-1