Christmas dishes from around the world: Spicy Asian favorites

Continuing our series that celebrates Christmas dishes from around the world, this week Weekender travels afar to the Philippines and Malaysia for some traditional Asian food served up during the holiday season.  

Crispy Pata is a favorite among Filipinos who absolutely love pork. This highly aromatic and delicious dish will take center stage at the dining table this Christmas. Chef Elvin Facturanan is the chef at Dragon Inn in the Mirco Center in George Town and he showcases this important dish from his home country.  

 

Ingredients: enough for two good portions  

  • 2 1/4 lbs pork leg (bone in), chopped into two or three pieces 
  • 2oz chopped pineapple from tin (reserve juice) 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder (for pork) plus 20 grams (for sauce) 
  • Oil for shallow frying 
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 2oz sugar 
  • 1 tsp cornstarch 

 

Begin by scoring the pork skin all over, which looks decorative and also aids in crisping the skin later. Then cover the pork in the cinnamon, salt and pepper and leave in the fridge overnight to marinate. (It’s important to buy pork with the bone still in if you can as this adds greatly to the overall flavor of the dish.) Place the pork in a large pan and fill with water so it just covers the meat. Add the chopped pineapple and boil until the meat is cooked, around 45 minutes to one hour. Then drain the pork, but reserve the cooking liquid for the sauce. Fry the pork in oil in a large frying pan or wok until crispy, about 12 to 15 minutes. 

To make the sauce, put the cooking liquid into a pan and add pineapple juice (about 50 ml), cinnamon and sugar. Boil until the sauce reduces a little, then add the cornstarch and boil gently until the sauce is nice and thick and glossy. You can brush the cooked pork with this or you can serve it on the side as a sauce.  

Chef Elvin says that the dish is generally served with elaborate vegetable carvings to decorate the serving platter, a clever skill that he learned while working in one of the Philippines’ most luxurious hotels, the five-star Cebu Plaza Hotel in Cebu City. If you are not so skilled in the art of vegetable carving, you can serve with a salad of grated carrot and cucumber and some steamed rice. Chef Elvin says the dish is invariably followed by another Filipino staple: Kakanin, which is a sticky rice made from rice, sugar and milk. 

 

Nyonya Lam Mee 

Our second Asian favourite comes from the Nyonya culture of Malaysia. The Nyonya culture comes from the inter-marriages between Straits Chinese and Malaysians, a particular culture all its own that has created a unique cuisine passed down from generation to generation. Rachel Chew is Malaysian and works at Dragon Inn. She has kindly shared with us her family’s recipe for Nyonya Lam Mee, a mouth-watering combination of noodles, soup, meat and vegetables with a fiery kick of sambal, a chili-infused condiment. She says the dish will be served at many celebrations, including birthdays, as well as at Christmas in Malaysia. 

Ingredients: enough for two good portions 

 

For the noodles: 

  • 1lbs of raw shrimp in their shell, deveined 
  • 2oz bean sprouts 
  • 8oz long egg noodles, known as “longevity” noodles in Malaysia 
  • 1 chicken breast 
  • 1 tbsp sugar 
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce 
  • ½ tsp salt & ½ tsp pepper 
  • 3 eggs 
  • Red bell pepper or chili strips, spring onion, coriander leaves and fried shallots to garnish  
  • Pork rib bones or chicken bones, if using (for the stock) 

 

For the sambal: 

  • 5 small shallots, chopped 
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped 
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste 
  • Juice of a lime 
  • 10 small fresh red Thai chili 
  • 5 dried chili 
  • Oil for frying  

 

Begin by making the sambal. Pound the shallots and garlic in a pestle and mortar, then add shrimp paste, lime juice, fresh chili (for color) and dried chili (for heat). Continue to pound until you have a thick paste. Fry in oil until the wonderful aromas are released.  

Next, make the noodles. Marinate the chicken breast in the salt and pepper, sugar and soy sauce for about half an hour in the fridge. Then take it out, cut into strips and stir fry in oil until cooked through. Leave to one side in a warm place. 

Boil the shrimp in 1.5 liters of water. Once pink and cooked, reserve the cooking liquid and peel the shrimp. Put the shrimp to one side and keep warm, and place the shells back into the cooking liquid and boil again to make a stock. At this point you can also use pork rib bones or chicken bones as well to enhance the flavor of the stock. Once the stock is nicely flavored, strain and remove the shells and bones. Put the stock to one side and keep warm.  

Boil water in a pan and quickly add the bean sprouts then almost immediately take them back out of the water, as you want to blanch them to retain some crunchy texture. Place to one side and keep warm. 

Cook the noodles in boiling water until tender. Strain. 

Make an omelet with the eggs and cut into fine strips once cooked.  

Assemble the dish by placing the bean sprouts in a large serving bowl, followed by the noodles, then the chicken and then the cooked shrimp. Place the chopped egg on top and garnish with red pepper or chili strips, spring onions, fried shallots and coriander leaves. Just before serving, pour over the stock, but this must be done just before you eat, otherwise the noodles will soak up the liquid and you will be left with no soup and very fat noodles, Rachel says. 

Serve with the fiery sambal either on the side (for the faint-hearted) or on the top of the noodles (for the brave). 

Nyonya Lam Mee

Nyonya Lam Mee, a Malaysian dish typically served during celebrations, including Christmas.
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