I was at my school’s carnival in August and as usual was attracted by the mee siam that was on sale there. The promoters told me that the mee siam was from a recipe published in the cookbook that they were selling as well. They had a copy on display and I was impressed by the recipes of dishes that I used to eat when I was a child but somehow are no longer available. So instead of buying the mee siam, I bought the book (as if I am going to cook it).
The huge 534 page book (including index) is written by Late President Wee Kim Wee’s daughter, hence the title. Mrs Wee is a marvelous cook and the author took 21 years to compile her mother’s recipes, painstakingly measuring the ingredients that her mother never had to do as she relied more on skills and experience.
The book includes short biographies of President Wee and his wife, as well as warm anecdotes from friends who know the couple. Filled with beautiful colour photos of their lives, the essays make intimate readings.
The cookbook itself is divided in appetizers, vegetables, pork and poutry, savouries, seafood, desserts, condiments and garnishes, the last bit a very essential part of Strait’s and Chinese cooking. Examples are fried garlic bits, Chinchalok Patah and Cantonese Pickled Green Chilies.
The general information in the last section is especially helpful for cook idiots like me. There are measurement table, the different variety of tofu, local fish and herbs, methods of food preparation, various cutlery from local kitchen, and other guides that we take for granted. I can say this is the encyclopedia for local cooking.
So, what are the recipes that caught my attention? One was Pig’s Brain Omelette. Grandma used to cook for me as a child and when I showed this to friends, they too were brought back to their childhood when they ate the various concoction of pig’s brain, whether it was steamed in egg, or double-boiled in soup. Speaking of pig brain would inevitably bring up the subject of how they used to help their mothers clean the brain by using a toothpick to slowly pick away the membrane.
Fans of Nonya Kuehs would be delighted in the many kueh recipes like Kueh Dadaa. I think this book has the full local desserts including those which we can’t find in the dessert section of kopitiam.
If you like to cook your own hawker fares like Tah Mee Pok, Mee Siam, Laksa, Nasi Lemak, etc, it’s all here. My mother in-law used to make Bak Chang and Eu Png (or Zu bee png in Teochew) and both recipes are available too.
The cookbook really starts you from the basics and while this is the normal way to cook decades ago, new-age cooking means taking short-cuts. Hence, my friend who got this book said she improvises (or cheats) by buying ready-mix for the recipes. Since I hardly cook, I cannot comment.
But if you want to cook like your grandmother, this is the perfect book to start learning.