| NEW YORK
NEW YORK May 20 Southeast Asian chef and author
Christina Arokiasamy likes to say that when the flavors dance,
that's Malaysia, and she's on a mission to awaken palates to the
unique pleasures of her native cuisine.
"Americans tell me they love the Asian flavors of India,
Japan and Vietnam but they don't know what Malaysian is and now
they're discovering it," she said after a tasting event in New
Last year the Malaysian government appointed the
46-year-old, who was born in Kuala Lumpur, trained in Bali and
Thailand and now lives in Seattle, Washington, their food
ambassador to the United States.
Arokiasamy, who wrote the part memoir, part cookbook "The
Spice Merchant's Daughter," spoke about Malaysia's melting-pot
cuisine, the ginger and lemongrass growing in her garden in
Malaysia where she also has a home, and how Asians will travel
for good peanut sauce.
Q: How did you learn to cook?
A: I trained in Bali, Indonesia, at the Four Seasons and in
Thailand, at the Four Seasons as well ... but my mother was the
best culinary artist I could ever find in the whole wide world
and taught me everything I needed to know about the
underpinnings of our cuisine. She was a spice merchant and she
could whip up any spice you could imagine as if she had a wand.
Q: Why did the Malaysian government appoint you food
ambassador to the United States?
A: Marriage brought me to the United States. While I was
writing my book I had a cooking school in Seattle, Washington
... I have taught everybody, from mothers to CEOs, to cook
Malaysian foods and understand the underpinnings, which is why
the government of Malaysia came to me.
Q: What makes Malaysian cuisine unique?
A: Malaysia is beautifully situated. For over 500 years
seafarers, missionaries and other travelers passed this
peninsula on the way to their destination and many broke the
journey there. Ships converged and bartered, sharing ingredients
they carried, so spices were going from Chinese ships to English
ships. Then came the colonizations: in 1611 the Portuguese, in
1641 the Dutch and then in 1824 to 1957 the British. This area
has had so many different cultures coming together ... When
you're tasting a dish from Malaysia you are really tasting a
melting pot of these cultures coming together in one cuisine.
Q: Why do spices play such a large role in Malaysian
A: Tucked between Thailand and Singapore, Malaysia was the
spice mecca of the world. Even Christopher Columbus came
searching for the spices.
Q: What grows in your Malaysian garden?
A: If you walk into my garden you understand you are walking
into a little green spa. In my area you would see lemon grass
planted all along the streets. And ginger flowers just blooming
so beautifully. You can't escape the perfumes, and that's how we
Q: What are some staples of a Malaysian pantry?
A: If you want to marinate a chicken or a fish, then ginger,
lemongrass, shallots and garlic ... and we all have peanut
sauce. Just as New Yorkers will travel for the best pizza,
Asians would travel to find the best peanut sauce. Malaysian
peanut sauce is unique. It has a pinch of tamarind that lingers
in your mouth.
Malaysian Chili Sesame Prawn
1/4 cup Lingham's chili sauce
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
5 tbsps peanut or canola oil
4 fresh garlic cloves, minced
3-8 red chili, finely chopped
1 lb Tiger prawns, cleaned and shelled
1/2 cup low-sodium quality chicken broth
1 tbsp cornstarch or rice starch mixed with 3 tablespoons
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp sesame seeds
Make the sauce by combining chili sauce, ketchup, soy sauce,
sesame oil and keep aside.
Place wok over medium heat for 30 seconds, pour hot oil
around the perimeter of the wok. Add garlic and chilies and
stir-fry until the garlic is golden in color.
Add in the chili sauce mixture into the wok and mix well.
Allow the sauce to simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.
Put tiger prawns into the wok and stir-fry on high heat,
pressing the prawns against the hot wok. Pour in the chicken
broth, mix well and cook for 2 minutes over high heat.
Add the cornstarch mixture and lightly beaten egg. Stir-fry
for another 1 minute until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat.
Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and James Dalgleish)