Saturday, April 3, 2010

Endangered Food Dishes

Lok Kai Yik: An almost extinct Peranakan dish
Close-up pf Lok Kai Yik in all its glory
Sambal Belachan: A fiery hot chili dip with fermented shrimp paste

When I heard that Charlie's Peranakan* Restaurant in Singapore's Katong district was closing down, I cancelled a trip to photograph newly discovered African catfish species at Qian Hu fishfarm. *For more about Peranakans see
Peranakan food is already an endangered cuisine. Lok Kai Yik is even more a highly endangered dish within Peranakan cuisine. The elaborate preparations, the labor-intensive activities and the huge assortment of ingredients that go into making a Peranakan dish make it a less commercially viable cuisine. But the main reason for Charlie's closing down was not for lack of clientele. It was because the Singapore government had just raised the levy for the foreign workers which many Singapore restaurants depended on as the locals are not enthusiastic about working as cooks or waiters. Also, the lease on the restaurant was up for renewal, and the landlord was hinting at a big increase. So I just had to take some photo shots of the Lok Kai Yik before it is extinct.
Charlie's has many Peranakan dishes which are not available in the other Peranakan restaurants in Singapore Among them, dishes such as Toh Hay a dish of pork and chicken in a sauce made from fermented shrimp, Nangka Lemak (Jackfruit in Coconut milk), Ikan Semilan masak Nanas [Catfish cooked with pineapple), Hati Babi Bungkus ( Pig's liver wrapped in pig's Caul). But the rarest dish and one not found anywhere else in Singapore is Lok Kai Yik. [I don't consider the stall in People's Park to be selling authentic Lok Kai Yik]
Lok Kai Yik is a hearty Pink-colored stew with belly pork, dehydrated cuttle-fish, pig's intestine, pig skin, chicken wings, fried bean curd skin and Convolvulus (a kind of water-weed that ducks love). Although Peranakan cuisine is a mix of Chinese and Malay food ideas, I suspect that Lok Kai Yik is derived from the stews so loved by the Portuguese. In the 16th century the Portuguese lived in Malacca, Malaysia where many of the Peranakans originated. Hearty stews with left-over parts such as pig's skin and offal are present in peasant dishes all over the world. I would love to know of foreign equivalents of Lok Kai Yik.
Lok Kai Yik [in Cantonese it actually means braised Chicken Wings although it is much more than that]. There is a very high possibility that with Charlie's demise, Lok Kai Yik will be extinct. It is too time-consuming to prepare and a younger generation raised on fast food may not care for it. Eaten with a plate of steamed white rice to which has been added a dash of Sambal Belachan [see picture above] Lok Kai Yik is a culinary experience never to be forgotten.

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