After spending almost 24 hours travelling from Sagres to Lisbon in Portugal and from there to Dubai, Singapore and finally by car to Malacca, Micael Valentim’s first proper meal, that of a Peranakan buffet lunch, was almost heavenly.
That initial introduction to the Peranakan cuisine was easily Valentim’s best memory of Malacca from his one week’s stay in the historic city. Jet lag was the least of his concern as he savoured every morsel of his meal, sitting by the Malacca River. Verbatim recalled, “Over 24 hours, I only slept for two hours but that one meal was totally worth travelling for!”
Explaining about his trip, Valentim said, “I am on a five week gastronomic tour of Southeast Asia where I try to learn about the food culture and way of life of the locals. It is good to get away from work after a hectic summer season; I was counting down the days!
“Malacca was my first stop and I was based at the five-star Casa del Rio. The Singaporean owner of Martinhal Beach Resort in Sagres where I work as Executive Chef made the connection for me. During my week-long stay there, I was able to introduce authentic Portuguese dishes to the team of chefs at the hotel. I am glad to say that my dishes of octopus salad, Portuguese soup of fish and shellfish as well as a main course of lamb stew were well-received. They have been incorporated into the hotel’s Saturday barbecue dinner.
“Meanwhile, I was also privy to a number of Peranakan recipes which I am learning to prepare. I hope to introduce a little Peranakan taste into my cooking. After all, the whole purpose of my trip is to take home new ideas.”
The 33-year-old from Rio Maior, 80 kilometres north of Lisbon, Portugal, graduated from Estoril Culinary School and has clocked 14 years of work experience. Although Asian cuisine is not new to him, he was caught by surprise by the flavourful cuisine of the Peranakan community.
He said, “My colleague at Casa del Rio, Sous Chef for Peranakan cuisine William Koh, was the one who prepared my first lunch. As a chef myself, I could feel that the spread was done with heart. That is very important in bringing out the hidden tastes of the dishes.
“During my stay, I also managed to join Executive Chef Ghazali Hashim shopping at the wet market. I picked up plenty of onions, garlic, parsley, bell peppers and a lot of other vegetables for my traditional Portuguese dishes.
“I am aware of the Portuguese community in Malacca and their history. Our culinary styles and traditions are totally different and it was quite a cultural shock to my palate eating the local Portuguese food!”
Although Valentim was well taken care of in Malacca, there was one night when he went out alone to explore the street fare of Malacca. That was an adventure by itself as he found out that he didn’t understand the system of ordering. He put it down to language barrier.
“Despite the hassle, I still managed to enjoy my dinner,” he laughed.
Valentim’s gastronomic tour to Southeast Asia is a culinary exchange which will see him serve a short stint in a leading hotel in Kuala Lumpur before heading to Singapore and Vietnam.
Note: An edited version of this article [Heating up kitchens around the world] was published on 14th November, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.
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