Winning Malaysian cookbooks: From Kristang to Kelabit


Pesta Nukenen is celebrated by the Kelabit in the highlands of Sarawak

Six Malaysian authors marked their spot in world culinary literature at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards (GWCA) 2016 in Yantai, China.

Melba Nunis’ A Kristang Family Cookbook won the Women Chef category while Datuk Fazley Yaakob’s My Sucre Story took the top prize in the TV (Outside Europe) category. Other winners are Johor Palate: Tanjung Puteri Recipes by Kalsom Taib and Hamidah Abdul Hamid in the Culinary Heritage category and Pesta Nukenen by Rurum Kelabit Sarawak in the Charity and Fundraising category. Mohana Gill’s Happylicious placed second in the Family category while Dr Tee E. Siong’s Malaysian Diet, The Plain Truth was third in the Institutions, Health and Nutrition category.

Here’s an introduction to the winning books.

A Kristang Family Cookbook

Author: Melba Nunis

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

Price: RM142.80

This beautifully produced and photographed book deserves the award it won. We need more cookbooks of such quality. Even though a number of cookbooks on Kristang food have been published through the years, this book makes us fall in love with the cuisine all over again and discover that little bit more about the Eurasian community in our midst.

str2_cookbookjune_jg_1A celebration of Portuguese, Malay, Indian, Chinese and Western cooking influences, it reminds me of how fortunate we are to live with such culinary diversity. It’s charming too that the family got in on the action with Mama Mel doing the cooking and daughters Alison Joan and Cheryl Anne the writing.

Flipping through the book, I make a mental note of all the recipes that I hope to someday try: the famous Kari Ambila, the various keluak dishes, stuffed crab, Squid Ink Sambal, and Salted Fish Pickle. Dare I try the Feng, that infamous dish of dry curry of entrails? The Coconut Cake (Bula Koku) and Pineapple Tarts look really good! And I am so pleased to find a recipe for Epok-Epok Sayur, a vegetable- and meat-stuffed pastry that has gone missing from our culinary landscape.

One more recipe that I want to try from the book is the Kaya jam. Though I have made Kaya many times, her recipe seems to use very little sugar – just 50g to 10 egg yolks (and oh, I just realised she uses all yolk and not the whole egg!).

So you see, there is something new you can learn from this book even though the author is sharing recipes passed down through the generations. And if you want a taster of the dishes before you start cooking them, hop to her restaurant, Simply Mel’s in Bangsar South, Kuala Lumpur, where you can even get your copy of her book signed.

The book won the Best in the World award in the Woman Chef category. Well done, Mel. – Julie Wong

Pesta Nukenen

Publisher: Rumah Kelabit Sarawak

Price: RM80

str2_cookbookjune_jg_2Pesta Nukenen is that little-known food and cultural festival held in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, and this book does a great job of bringing it to the rest of the world. Don’t worry, it’s the first time I have heard about it too, despite writing about food for years and despite the fact that the festival has been held for 10 years – the book celebrates its 10th anniversary. All this makes the content of the book enormously fascinating and absorbing to me, and a mountain-high heap of discovery.

My only connection to that part of the world is the Bario rice I sometimes buy; Bario is where the festival is held every year in July and it is also known as the Bario Food and Cultural Festival. The area is the preserve of the Kelabit, an ethnic group once known for their bravery in headhunting and resourcefulness, now extended to their culinary prowess celebrating the wealth of the rainforest.

Discover jungle leaves, shoots, roots, fruits and flowers, wild grubs and honey in the diet of the Kelabits.

The soul of the cuisine is best summed up by the book’s editor, Datin Nikki Lugun, in the introduction: Kelabit food alone does not represent a cuisine – it is the meaning and tradition surrounding ingredients, the preparation, the cooking, the combination of flavours and the when and where of eating, that determine the makings of Kelabit cuisine.

So that’s what you are in for with this book – no, there are no recipes but plenty of pictures and lucid description of the dishes. We recommend you buy this book and make your way to Bario next month where rice cooked in foraged pitcher plants await – you may be thrilled to know that you can swallow the rice along with the entire plant. The festival is happening from July 28 to 30. – JW

str2_cookbookjune_jg_3Johor Palate: Tanjung Puteri Recipes

Authors: Kalsom Taib & Hamidah Abdul Hamid

Publisher: Kalsom Taib Publishing

Price: RM150

The food of Johor comes alive in this book. So too its history and culinary heroes, and the persistence of the authors in digging up the stories and original recipes, some of which were almost buried in the sands of time. They travelled to every corner of Johor to hunt down legendary cooks and descendants of the Johor aristocracy to share their recollections and verify the recipes. Some of the recipes are from four generations of their family, a line of talented cooks.

The book amasses 240 recipes showing the wide diversity of Johorean cuisine straddling influences of the Javanese, Bugis, Arabs, British, Chinese and Indians. This book forms an important record and comprehensive mapping of the food of Malaysia’s southern region, presented in great and sincere details, for the first time. It deserves a place in every Malaysian’s cookbook library. – JW

str2_cookbooksjune_malaysiandiet_s6_1Malaysian Diet, The Plain Truth

Author: Tee E. Siong

Publisher: University of Malaya Press

Price: RM26

Is it possible to maintain good health, and maybe even a trim waistline, while living in the food heaven that is Malaysia?

According to Dr Tee E .Siong, the answer is yes: “There is nothing right or wrong, good or bad about Malaysian food. There are only good and bad eating habits,” writes Dr Tee. Dear God, those are words every food lover in Malaysia needs to hear after beating ourselves up for loving local fare, albeit a tad too much.

Now, before you think that the author is giving you the green light to swallow whole that second helping of nasi lemak, think again. Dr Tee, who is the president of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia, shares that the secret to healthy eating in Malaysia lies in the choices we make.

His book attempts to prove how we can have our cake – or in this case roti canai, char kway teow, murtabak – and eat it too. Now excuse me while I have a nice cooling bowl of cendol to go with my spicy nasi lemak. – Sharmila Nair

str2_cookbooksjune_mysucrestory_s6_1My Sucre Story

Author: Datuk Fazley Yaakob

Publisher: MPH Publishing

Price: RM39.90

Datuk Fazley Yaakob has come a long way since he won TV’s Celebrity MasterChef Malaysia competition in 2012. He put his established singing and acting career on hold as he focused on honing his cooking skills, enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu Paris and opening his SukaSucre Bistro in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. Now, Fazley is also a cookbook author.

The bilingual book is sectioned into five categories – “Growing Up With My Uwan In Seremban”, “Ibu, Mentor And My Angel”, “And The Winner Of Celebrity Masterchef Malaysia Is...”, “Bonjour! My Life In Paris”, and “Sweet Beginnings: My SukaSucre Bistro” – and tells the story of his humble beginnings up until now.

He shares 26 recipes that vary in themes and cuisines, ranging from food that he loved making with his grandmother like Karipap Pusing Sardin, to Yuzu Infused Brioche, which he learned during his stint in Paris.

The recipes are clear and concise, and even make dishes like Smoked Beef With Toasted Eclair and Smoked Catfish In Tempoyak seem doable at home. – SN

str2_cookbooksjune_happylicious_s6_1Happylicious

Author: Mohana Gill

Publisher: Rhino Press Sdn Bhd

Price: RM60

Simple, easy to follow recipes have always been Mohana Gill’s priority when it comes to her cookbooks. It is no different with her sixth and latest work, Happylicious. The colourful and heavily illustrated pages of the book feature recipes that encourage parents to enter the kitchen with their young ’uns to create not just food, but also lots of happy memories together.

A proponent of conscious eating and healthy food, Mohana’s recipes are all vegetarian and use lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Newbies will rejoice in the chapter entitled “Food Requiring Little Or No Cooking” that includes recipes for smoothies and salads. The other chapters, on “Breakfast”, “Snacks”, “Dinner”, and “Desserts” also feature fuss free recipes that can be easily recreated by parents working with young children in the kitchen. – SN

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