The Beguiling Aroma of Pandan

Vanilla might be the most pervasive dessert flavor in Western cultures, but in Southeast Asia, where I live, there’s another ingredient that trumps vanilla in its ubiquity and in being, well, just as basic as vanilla. I’m talking about pandan.
Pandan—…

Vanilla might be the most pervasive dessert flavor in Western cultures, but in Southeast Asia, where I live, there’s another ingredient that trumps vanilla in its ubiquity and in being, well, just as basic as vanilla. I’m talking about pandan.

Pandan—the more common term for pandanus amaryllifolius, a species of screwpine shrub—is a plant with long, slender leaves. Imagine the languid leaf segments of a palm tree bundled up into a waist-high shrub—that’s what pandan looks like. It’s sometimes referred to as “Asian vanilla,” and though pandan is as popular in this region of the world as vanilla is in the rest, the similarities between the two end there.

Read More >>

In Malaysia, Banana Plants Give More Than Just Fruit

When I think about bananas, my mind wanders beyond the realm of fruit, smoothie fodder, and the perennial slipping-on-banana-peel gag. Because in Malaysia, and many other Asian countries around the equator where bananas grow in abundance, our cuisines …

When I think about bananas, my mind wanders beyond the realm of fruit, smoothie fodder, and the perennial slipping-on-banana-peel gag. Because in Malaysia, and many other Asian countries around the equator where bananas grow in abundance, our cuisines are laden not just with the fruit of the plant, but its droopy, fan-like leaves too.

While banana leaves are far too fibrous to be eaten raw or even cooked, they serve as excellent wrappers for food. Just like how parchment paper keeps fish en papillote moist and steamy, and how the grape leaves in Mediterranean dolmas hold and concentrate the juices of the meat and rice within, banana leaves can do the same.

Read More >>

Mincemeat Pies: The Stars of My Holiday Dessert Table

Mince pies have a misleading name. (There, I said it.) For those unfamiliar with the classic British Christmas dessert, they’re little fabled tartlets the size of peanut butter cups, commonly filled with raisins, sultanas, cranberries, and other dried …

Mince pies have a misleading name. (There, I said it.) For those unfamiliar with the classic British Christmas dessert, they're little fabled tartlets the size of peanut butter cups, commonly filled with raisins, sultanas, cranberries, and other dried fruits, all macerated and cooked in heavily-spiced brandy or port. As their name suggests, mince pies traditionally did at one point have minced beef or lamb mixed in with the dried fruits. Some versions even used suet (beef fat) or lard to bind the filling together. Thankfully, most modern iterations of mincemeat—the filling of mince pies—have done away with the “meat” part, opting instead for the agreeable boozy dried fruit filling that’s ubiquitous in England, especially around the holidays.

While mince pies aren’t all that common in the U.S., they're a non-negotiable festive tradition in the U.K., like watching the Queen’s Christmas message on the telly. For me at least, they come to mind when British food writers like Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson wax lyrical about them, or in random movie cameos, like that scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Ginny awkwardly feeds Harry a mince pie.

Read More >>

I Didn’t Grow Up Eating Chips—I Ate Crab Stick Crackers

In the great span of my snack-filled life, there’s no other junk food that I’ve indulged in more than crab stick crackers.

Photo by Amazon

Yes, crab sticks. You know, …

In the great span of my snack-filled life, there’s no other junk food that I’ve indulged in more than crab stick crackers.

Photo by Amazon

Yes, crab sticks. You know, those finger-sized logs of crab meat with an artificially colored coat of lipstick-red on top, and a glistening underbelly of white.

Read More >>

This Is the Best Cut of Salmon You’re Not Cooking

What is the best part of a salmon?

Sushi bars might favor fatty salmon and beady salmon roe; poké places will treasure the leaner, tauter flesh; and pan-fried salmon fillets might be the perennial dish du jour at brunch spots, served with a barely dre…

What is the best part of a salmon?

Sushi bars might favor fatty salmon and beady salmon roe; poké places will treasure the leaner, tauter flesh; and pan-fried salmon fillets might be the perennial dish du jour at brunch spots, served with a barely dressed salad and a side of sweet potato fries, no less. But for me, the best cut of salmon has always been the collar—that sickle-shaped chunk of flesh between the head of the fish and its belly.

Read More >>

The Nostalgic Chinese Egg Dish I Made My Own

For many second- or third-generation Chinese immigrants, myself included, fān qíe chǎo dàn (or stir-fried tomatoes and eggs) is the third dish we learn to cook from our parents. First and second would probably be instant noodles and perfect rice-cooker…

For many second- or third-generation Chinese immigrants, myself included, fān qíe chǎo dàn (or stir-fried tomatoes and eggs) is the third dish we learn to cook from our parents. First and second would probably be instant noodles and perfect rice-cooker rice (with a rice-to-water ratio measured with fingers, not with cups).

In other words, you don’t need much cooking experience to make tomato eggs; in fact, it comes together in less than 15 minutes, even if you’re a kitchen novice. At its core, it’s just tomatoes and eggs scrambled together in a pan, finished off with some Shaoxing wine and sesame oil to give it that Canto-Chinese aroma.

Read More >>

Japanese Chocolate Truffles Are a Gooey-Center Lover’s Dream

Every time I travel home from Japan, I return with a small suitcase’s worth of chocolate truffles. More specifically, Royce’s Nama Chocolate truffles. And judging from the long lines at the duty-free section at Tokyo’s Narita Airport whenever I’m there…

Every time I travel home from Japan, I return with a small suitcase’s worth of chocolate truffles. More specifically, Royce’s Nama Chocolate truffles. And judging from the long lines at the duty-free section at Tokyo’s Narita Airport whenever I’m there—with travelers from across the world each stacking half a dozen boxes of truffles in their checkout baskets—I’m far from the only one obsessed.

If you’re not familiar with the name, Royce is a brand of semi-high-end Japanese chocolate, kind of like Godiva (if Godiva were run by Marie Kondo). Their shops and kiosks are found in select malls all over the Asian continent (and some in the U.S. too), but nowhere else is Royce more popular than in its home country of Japan. And in their range of products—chocolate bars, bite-size chocolate discs, and even potato chips coated in chocolate—there’s none other that sparks more joy than their Nama Chocolate truffles.

Read More >>

11 Delicious Reasons to Visit This Eclectic Malaysian Street

Petaling Street has kept much of its old charm, despite the rapid growth of Kuala Lumpur.

Photo by Jorge Láscar

Welcome to Your Friendly Neighborhood Guide, a…

Petaling Street has kept much of its old charm, despite the rapid growth of Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Jorge Láscar

Welcome to Your Friendly Neighborhood Guide, a series of travel itineraries from locals who love their hometown haunts, nooks, and crannies so much, they're inviting us over for the inside scoop.


Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is celebrated for many things: the Petronas Twin Towers, better known as the setting of the 1999 Sean Connery film Entrapment; our expansive (and expensive) shopping streets and malls; and a mishmash of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences—the three main cultures of the nation—that makes it difficult to encapsulate its spirit in a sentence, or in an article for that matter.

Read More >>