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Heritage eats

 | July 5, 2012

Dishes that were once old fashioned are new again.


AT Aseana Cafe in Suria KLCC, a group of sophisticated lunching ladies, their Chanel, Hermes and Goyard bags balancing precariously on their laps, are trying out the banana flower salad (kerabu jantung pisang). There were sighs of contentment all around as they gingerly dipped their forks into the dish. From the looks on their faces, the salad appeared to have their seals of approval.

From the banana flower salad to dishes like masak lemak ayam kampong (local village chicken in coconut milk), local chefs are seeing a rise in interest of heritage eats. The same people who would once turn up their noses at these so-called yesteryear dishes are now eagerly embracing them as though they were their last meal.

Nostalgic dishes are often part of the cook’s homage to a particular heritage – such as the signature Nyonya dish of ayam buah keluak (chicken in black nut stew) and nasi kerabu (herbed rice). They give cooks the chance to pass on the tradition to the next generation.

These days, antique eats encompass everything from heirloom dishes to heritage meats.

In the US, there has been a renewed interest not only in traditional recipes, but also in obtaining rare breeds for the table. Martha Stewart cooked a Standard American Bronze for Thanksgiving in one of her shows recently. The breed once graced every family table about a century ago, before the Broad Breasted White, a commercial creation, made it a cheaper option.

Across the Atlantic, English chefs are busily dusting off their heirloom cookbooks for recipes that feature heritage meats such as pheasant, venison and wood pigeon. At London’s Dinner by Heston Blumenthal guests tuck into bygone British dishes and meats such as Aberdeen Angus with mushroom ketchup and spiced pigeon with artichokes.

Part of this awareness stems from consumers’ desire to know where their food comes from and their nostalgia for comfort foods of yore. At the local wet market in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, the demand for ayam kampong is not only confined to festivities anymore as cooks and homemakers make the switch for chicken that are not commercially created or with antibiotics forced down their throats.

One thing’s certain. With the continuing trend, one can look forward to more stimulating and new flavours in restaurants that embrace what was once considered old-fashioned food.


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