It's not on the list of 101 Near Extinct Food drawn up by the National Heritage Department but it should be. The rather rare Ayam Buah Keluak is a chicken curry with a distinctive taste of buah keluak, a black nut (Pangium edule) found in South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands.
The dish is found more on the southern parts of the Peninsula, among the Melaka and Singapore Peranakans. Outside of this community, it is not much known.
Not many restaurants serve it and it is seldom cooked at home due to the rather tedious preparation – a hole has to be made in the walnut-like nut (technically a seed) and the oily black paste inside extracted, seasoned, and stuffed back into the hard shell before being added to the curry.
Rich, complex, musky, smokey and earthy, its exotic taste has been compared to the precious black truffle of France.
The reputation of the nut as containing a deadly poison – cyanide – could have led people to avoid the dish. All commercial keluak, however, have been treated and are safe for eating, so it’s not really a kamikaze attempt if you want to try the keluak.
Ayam Buah Keluak and other delectable nyonya dishes are featured at the Parkroyal Kuala Lumpur’s Best of Malaysia: Nyonya Cuisine promotion at the Chatz Brasserie from now until October 12, 2014.
The food is prepared by guest chef Debbie Teoh, an inspired Peranakan chef known for her authentic dishes. The author of Under Wraps, a book on cooking with leaves, is also a co-author of the bestselling Nonya Flavours cookbook.
This is the third year that Teoh has been invited to host the popular food promotion that has garnered a following not just from the Klang Valley. “There are Singaporeans who would make the trip to KL just for dinner,” she said.
There’s added incentive this year; another keluak dish has been added to the menu – one that is even more uncommon, the Pais Buah Keluak, a steamed parcel of almost unadulterated buah keluak wrapped in banana leaf.
Bearing some resemblance to steamed otak-otak, Pais Buah Keluak is made by blending together buah keluak paste, shallot, garlic, candlenut (buah keras), tamarind, and coconut milk, seasoned to taste with salt, sugar and pepper, and wrapped with a slice of white fish fillet such as Jenahak. It is then steamed for about 10 minutes.
“This is almost pure keluak; it takes the pulp of eight to nine nuts to make one parcel,” she said during a media tasting of some of the dishes – which were all unanimously pronounced fabulous – which included Nasi Ulam, salted fish bone curry, fish maw soup, Kerabu Jantung Pisang (a banana heart spicy salad), Ayam Pongteh, and Perut Ikan, a hot and sour stew of pickled fish stomach, pineapple, long bean and wild pepper leaf.
The pieces of pickled fish stomach, the chef proudly declared, were homemade. They were large, premium quality fish innards that had been lovingly fermented for several weeks. It takes love, and a strong constitution to make this as – let’s just say it is rather whiffy.
The Pais Buah Keluak is not part of the buffet spread, but is available as an a la carte order at RM30 nett for two pieces. The Gulai Perut Ikan is also on the a la carte, at RM35 nett per bowl, inclusive of steamed rice.
Other delicious dishes to look out for are Fish Tempra, Lemak Udang Nenas, Telur Cincalok, Nasi Kunyit with Chicken Curry and Sambal Kiam Hu, the famous Melaka Laksa Lemak, Ayam Kapitan, Pai Tee, Ju Hu Char, assorted kerabu, Geram Asam, Itek Tim, and Lemak Sukun.
The buffet dinner is available on Friday and Saturday from 6:30pm to 10:30pm at RM125 nett. During weekends, there is Hi-Tea on Saturday and Sunday from 12:30pm to 4:00pm at RM78 nett per adult and RM39 nett per child. Reservations required.
FREE COOKING CLASS
Say the magic words “I’m a Sunday Star reader” and enjoy a free cooking class on Sunday, September 28 with nyonya chef Debbie Teoh at Parkroyal Kuala Lumpur. Sunday Star readers enjoy the free cooking class when they book for the Best of Malaysia: Nyonya Cuisine Hi-Tea. Each booking entitles you to one seat at the cooking class. The two-hour class will feature three recipes – two savouries including Ayam Buah Keluak and a sweet. It starts at 10.00am, with registration from 9.30am. To confirm a seat for the class, payment for Hi-Tea must be made in advance. For payment details, please call Chatz Brasserie at 603-2147 0088. Don’t forget to say the magic words when you call!