My wife’s curry, simply sedap
(Picture shows my article in the Malay language newspaper, Berita Harian, of 8 September, 2011)
If not held during the fasting month of Ramadan, my wife, Khairon, would have joined the “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” drive mooted by freelance writer Florence Leow on Sunday, 21 August 2011.
My wife is a great curry cook. Of course, she is not a curry-only woman; she can cook Malay dishes and even some Chinese cuisines. But her curry is mouth-watering.
Never mind about the taste, even the appetizing aroma of her curry being cooked had brought my former Peranakan Chinese neighbour sniffing to our door after catching its waft from one floor down where she lived.
“Wah, you are cooking curry, right?” the lady, whom my wife called “Auntie”, said at our door, and added: “I could smell your curry from the second floor as I was coming up. It’s so sedap.”
“Sedap” means delicious in Malay.
My wife got the hint. When finally the curry was cooked, my wife gave a bowl of it to her and she accepted it, breathing in the aroma with great pleasure.
A couple of days later when the Chinese lady met my wife, she said in compliment: “My husband enjoyed your ‘power’ curry. Ada kick-lah, it’s so different from that we sometimes buy from the Indian stall.”
Yes, even I, after our lunch or dinner, would slurp the remainder of the curry in the bowl like soup. It’s so lip-smacking good!
There are many types of curry, such as fish curry, mutton curry and chicken curry, each with its own set of spices and my wife can cook all the types deliciously, but my favourite is fish curry. So too was my late father-in-law’s, an India-born Singapore citizen.
It was from him that my wife learned the skill of cooking the curry.
My wife’s father would insist that he cooked the curry with fresh spices. The method of preparing the spices was by crushing them with the batu giling set. The batu giling, now almost extinct in Singapore, comprised a thick granite block base with pock-marked surface and a smooth-surfaced granite roller. The various fish-curry spices would be, portion by portion, crushed into a wet paste by the action of moving the heavy roller repeatedly over the spices along the granite block.
Whenever her father brought home the fish and the fresh spices my wife, then a teenager, would slink away in distress because the job of crushing the spices always fell on her. There was no escape because she was the eldest of the four daughters in the family.
Like a supervisor, he would give step by step instructions. When the curry was eventually ready, it was lavishly eaten with white rice and home-made spiced lemon condiments, called achar.
Curries have been prepared in various ways in many parts of the world but India leads the way for the best curries because of the right kind of spices available there.
It was the lure of these spices that had brought the Europeans to the East. Kerala, an state of India facing the Arabian Sea, was the most famous spice country, and the frequent destination in the spice trade sea route of the Portuguese, the first European spice-hunters. Back in Portugal, curries were eaten by some curry-enthusiasts, describing one particular type as “devil in the stomach” because it was upsettingly spicy but irresistible.
The Devil’s Curry is a popular dish available today in the Malaysian state of Malacca, a former Portuguese colony, especially in eating outlets in the Portuguese Village.
My wife’s curry is devilish too – not “hotly” devilish but “spicily” devilish and that made our neighbour come sniffing to our door to ask: “Your curry is so shiok! What’s its secret?”
“Shiok!” refers to the “Wow!” factor in scrumptious taste of food.
My wife replied: “According to my father, the traditional “batu-giling” does the trick. It does not crush the spices into powder but only into very fine bits, and it is these that give the ‘shiok’ feeling.”
My wife is still able to retain the sumptuous taste and strong aromatic smell of her father’s preparation because she is able to buy the spice paste, called masala, from an Indian woman in the nearby market, who still prepares the spices in the traditional batu giling way.
Perhaps if the “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” initiative is made an annual affair, Ms Leow and my wife could get together for a curry-cooking stint next year and come up with Singapore’s multi-cultural version, naming it Angel’s Curry.
But for Eid ul-Fitri (Festival of Charity), commonly referred to as Hari Raya, she won’t cook curry; she always cooks mutton briyani, also “ada power”, which refers to the briyani as “powerful” or “powerfully delicious”.
(This article appeared in the Malay language newspaper, “Berita Harian”, of 8 September 2011, with the heading Kari ‘power’)