I was born and raised in a tiny little town in Malaysia called Seremban, where according to the Lonely Planet Guide "there is nothing to see or do". How wrong could they be? Seremban is well known as a destination for some of the most popular Malaysian street/hawker food.
My dad's family is from Kerala. My mom's is from Sri Lanka. Every day at 5pm, my dad would come out to the yard, point a finger at me and say "You! In the kitchen with your mother!" Ugh! I resented the fact that my brothers got to stay outside for a couple more hours and play, while I had to be in the kitchen washing rice, peeling and chopping garlic, ginger and onions. But now I see what his plan was. Thanks Dad!
My mom was a tough head chef - for months all I did was wash rice, and peel and chop onions, garlic and ginger. After a while, she let me peel and cut up the potatoes. Then it was the veggies. She was very strict about everything being the same size, so it would all take the same amount of time to cook. In later years, whenever I cooked with friends in their kitchens, they teased me about what a stickler I was about the size of the cut up potatoes, tomatoes and vegetables - "should we use a ruler, Auria?"
Besides the Malayali and Sinhalese influences, my beautiful mom's cooking was also colored by the fact that we lived in Malaysia, a wonderful melting pot of cultures - Chinese, Malay, and Portuguese food concepts crept into our daily home-cooked meals. We love our seafood - shrimp, crabs, fish. We make magic with fresh vegetables. We use coconut milk, lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal, fresh and powdered turmeric, fenugreek, whole cinnamon sticks, curry leaves, shredded coconut, cardamon, star anise, fresh Sarawak pepper and so on. This style of cooking is rarely experienced outside the home.
On special occasions, my mom would set up a charcoal-burning stove in our backyard to make a dish called beef rendang. Braising steak, cooked in 100 herbs and spices (well, almost) and slow-cooked for hours on end. One taste of this and YOU. WILL. CRY.
I am so blessed to have grown up in her kitchen and watch her cook all these years. Nothing is measured, everything is by feel. Cooking feels like second-nature to me - there's never too much thought that goes into anything. It's just a joyous, natural part of life. Thank you Mom!
I have been here in the States for 19 years. In that time, I have found myself cooking for all the people in my life. I have cooked in many a friend's kitchen - from Connecticut, to a farm in Upstate NY, to an apartment in San Francisco with a view of the Golden Gate, to the beautiful island of Culebra in Puerto Rico. It truly is a wonderful feeling to cook for a group of people and watch them experience new ingredients and tastes.
I hope to see you soon at Auria's Malaysian Kitchen.