It’s been awhile since I blogged about food which is rather odd considering how it actually occupies this little brain most of the time. It’s almost lunch time here as well and I am certain that I will be famished before this post is up cause I am posting about Hainanese Chefs in Malaysia – they’re amazing.
Hainanese came to what was then Malaya in the late 19th Century from their home on the small island of Hainan in southern China. Like many Chinese, they came seeking a better life and a way of supporting their families in China. Many of the Chinese clans that came soon found a niche in a particular trade or expertise based on their skills. However, the Hainanese came late to the party and many of the more popular and lucrative trades like tin mining, timber, shipping and retail had been taken up and dominated by other clans. The Hainanese ended up becoming domestic help to rich Straits born Chinese families or to the British colonial masters of that time. Many worked in the kitchens where they had to learn to cook Western food. However, before long they developed their own interpretation of Western cooking which was adapted through a fusion of their traditional flavours, available local spices and adjustments to local tastes. Essentially a form of east-meets-west fusion cooking style. The result is simply delicious.
When I was growing up, Hainanese chefs were in high demand and highly regarded. Many opened their own restaurants and others served as exclusive chefs for holiday bungalows in many hill resorts. Regrettably, there are much fewer Hainanese chefs today. Many of them stopped due to changing circumstances brought about with the British leaving after independence. Many of the chefs also failed to pass on their skills to a new generation of apprentices. However, though less common, their legacy still lives on.
For me, three of their signature dishes includes the famous Hainanese chicken rice, the Hainanese Pork Chop and the roti babi (pork stuffed in fried bread). I’m not a big fan of chicken but the rice which is flavoured with chicken fat and garlic smells wonderful and tastes even better. The Pork Chop or chicken chop is an example of their fusion cooking. Cooking for the British, they had to learn to cook chops but they made it their own by creating a sauce based on Worcestershire Sauce (often sold under the brand of Lea and Perrins), which consisting of malt vinegar, sugar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind extract, limes, cloves, soy sauce and others, is itself a fusion product of the British Empire’s far-flung colonies. Net result is yummy. I still go out of my way for a chance to eat an authentic Hainanese Pork Chop and usually sneak in a Roti Babi as well. Roti babi is essentially spiced minced pork with crab meat of asian influence, stuffed into something similar to French toast of European influence. I am feeling very hungry now.
So let me leave you with a couple of pictures and let me go get some lunch. Excuse the drooling, please.