CarolAnn Hoo loves cooking.
She’s been at it for at least 30 years.
One of her most important dinners is the reunion dinner – held on New Year’s eve of the Chinese New Year – considered the most important family get-together meal of the whole year, popularly known as reunion dinner.
Hers was a feast – visually and taste wise.
Her culinary curiosity started when she was a mere three years old.
“I would spend time observing and helping my grandma prepare unique Peranakan dishes after school everyday.”
Hoo – an eighth generation Peranakan – was brought up by her maternal grandparents in Singapore. It was during this time that she learned about and enjoyed Peranakan and Hainanese food.
Peranakans are people descended from marriages between Chinese merchant men and local Malay or Indonesian women from around the Malay Archipelago.
During vacation periods she lived with her paternal grandparents, who were of Hainanese and Thai decent.
Hainan cuisine is food that is lighter, less oily and more mildly seasoned than Chinese mainland dishes with seafood predominating as prawn, crab, freshwater and ocean fish widely available.
“Growing up learning and experiencing culinary dishes from two of the most renowned ethnic groups in Asia, I integrate Peranakan culture with Hainanese, evident in the dishes I cook.”
But food wasn’t the only thing she learned about.
“Learning the benefits of concocting traditional Chinese herbs and medicine from my grandfather, a Chinese medical doctor.”
She swears by the benefits of traditional Chinese herbs and medicine.
“I experiment with different herbs and ingredients that contribute to a lifetime of wellness.”
Born and raised in Singapore and Malaysia, Hoo received her education in the U.S.
In 2011 she moved to Vancouver.
Often her cooking is spur of the moment.
“Sometimes I whip out a dish which doesn’t have a name to it and I call that whatever sedap … if it’s a chicken dish I call it ayam sedap OR tasty chicken.”
“I cook for pleasure! What satisfies me is watching how my friends and family enjoy my cooking. I’m just like my dad when it comes to cooking. 50 per cent of my skills come from using my sense of taste and smell and we hardly follow recipes unless we bake!”
Her cooking journey began while attending university in the U.S. – that’s when she started cooking Peranakan and Hainanese dishes.
Here is Nasi Ulam -a Malay dish, a staple in Malaysia – a favourite of hers.
In this recipe, the herbs are sliced finely and mixed with rice and other ingredients.
The exotic, earthy, and aromatic nuance of the different herbs, paired with rice and dry-toasted shredded coconut, a richly fragrant and scrumptious concoction
1/2 cup dried shrimp
1/2 cup fresh or frozen shredded coconut or canned coconut milk (please ensure the can says there’s over 68 per cent extract)
2 cups cooked rice, chilled
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves, finely sliced
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely sliced
1/4 cup Vietnamese mint leaves, finely sliced
3 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
5 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1.5 tsp white pepper
1.5 tsp black pepper
Soak the dried shrimp in warm water until softened. Coarsely pound them using a mortar and pestle or blender.
Heat up a wok and dry toast the pounded shrimp until they are dry or smell aromatic. Do not burn the dried shrimp. So it’s best to fry over low fire.
Stir fry the shredded coconut till slightly brown. Transfer to the mortar and pestle and pound until fine. Set aside.
In a pot, combined the rice and all the herbs, shallots, toasted coconut, and dried shrimp together and cook Add salt, sugar, and peppers.
Stir to combine well. Serve immediately.
Try to use basmati rice rather than jasmine rice as the rice will turn out fluffy and not so dry.
Pair this with a fish or meat dish or eat it on its own. Enjoy