Yuen: Chinese pau Good, Malay pau Bad
Chinese pau Good, Malay pau Bad
No, I am not out of topic.
No, I don‚Äôt intend to be a racist. Or connoting that Malays are bad cooks.
I was having a meeting today and among the refreshment we have for the meeting today is paus, Malay paus. Usually I seldom pay attention to Malay pau that much but because I am kinda broke lately, plus the fact that my waistline has exceed the desirable measurement, I tapau some of the kuih leftovers from the meeting today as my dinner.
I made kopi-o for myself, as a company to my pau, kuih keria and goreng pisang dinner. I started with the pau. The look of that thing, together with the bad taste really hits me on my nerve. It hit me on the left side of my brain, in a really bad way and I told myself, there is no way that I can sleep tonight without writing a posting denouncing probably the worse ever racial food adaptation ever exist on the Malaysian soil.
For one: Malay paus are freaking yellow. No, I would never be as cheap as going to the pigment joke of how Malays are generally darker than Chinese and thus their pau have to be the same. No siree. I am not the kind of person who would do that. Racial jokes aside, a pau is supposed to be gebu, it has to be pure white to reflect the cleanliness, the purity of that sacred food, the gastronomy necessity that no self-respecting dim sum joint would dare to go as far as operating without it on the menu. Why do you think that the outer layer of the pau can and have to be peeled off before the gorgeous peach shaped dumpling is enjoyed? The layer is to protect it‚Äôs pureness, so that only the virgin untouched outer is enjoyed, so that any poor unconvinced soul out there can be given the confidence that only the purest is put into the mouth.
The outer layer of the pau must be as soft as cotton, hot when it is served. A good pau must also have porous outer skin, not much different from a sponge, that upon taken out from its steam anti-fridge, cupboard, pau sauna or whatever you want to call it, the pores on the skin would be the ports channeling the hot steam that upon catches your sight will result in involuntary severe salivation. Malay pau, (insert ridiculing sound effect here) nope. It is just hard. And it looks ‚Äúseketul‚Äù. An ugly shiny yellowish blob reflecting how bad the dough has been prepared, flour that has been wasted, when the dough could end up being better things. No pore what so ever. The skin only functions to hide the filling from the world, just to hold the stuffing inside together, just like a bag. A filling bag.
Thirdly; the inti. Or in Cantonese, the humh. Or to you, the filling, of the pau. I don‚Äôt dare to say that I have taste a lot of Malay pau to give a firm stand on this, but so far of all that I have eaten, Malay pau‚Äôs filling has been pretty much disappointing. It‚Äôs DRY. It said that it has curry filling but where‚Äôs the kuah? The red bean filling looks like a dried up piece of clay, breaking in chunks when you rip the pau open with your hands- a very rude surprise I must say. Once again, it lies on the way the dough of the outer skin being prepared. The right way of creating it does not make the skin absorbing all the juices of the filling, it is supposed to retain it, where the inner side of the skin supposed to retain the moist, while at the same time not looking like a bag from outside. It‚Äôs a skill that many old sifus take years, if not decades, to learn. That is why you can almost never learn those secret recipes of theirs from them. They rather bring it together with them to the grave then teaching a non-family member and even that takes a hell lot of persuasion and worthy-proving.
I have to say that char siew (roasted pork) filling is still the best filling ever. Char siew is the only filling worthy of a pau, everything else is just variety, sidekicks, companions to the char siew paus so that it doesn‚Äôt feel lonely in the sauna. They are just the rest of the crew for Nick Carter in Backstreet Boys, the Justice League to Superman, the other Bots to Optimus Prime, the Stormtroopers to Darth Vader. You get what I mean. Nothing will ever beat char siew. For one, the heavenly sauce dipping the half-lard, half-meat gorgeous char siew that has been marinated for a specific time by hardworking, professional and no-bullshit experts, with care and their fullest attention mixing, just the right proportion of ingredients, creating the signature sauce that the great chefs at Cordon Bleu can only dream of making. The outer layer automatically became the best companion of the filling once it burst magically into the mouth of the consumer, creating an almost-heavenly mixture of tastebud satisfying savoury gratification.
Now, that posed a problem to Malay pau makers.
Beef is too rough as a company to the soft skin of pau, while chicken just taste like, well, chicken. Pork lard has it own aroma that could not be substitute with anything else. Why do you think that Chinese char koay teow is so good?
But still, that is no reason to make pau as they do. It is an unthinkable disgrace to even think that a person could prepare such food with the intention to feed other fellow humans. The Tanjung Malim people is successful in making good tasting halal paus and having it selling like, um, hot paus at R&R stop by the North South Expressway. To my fellow Malay friends out there who don‚Äôt eat pork, that is the closest (still very distant) taste that you can get to a true blue Chinese pau.
To be fair, char siew isn‚Äôt the only good tasting pau. Lotus paste and red beans paus are good too, if it is prepared well. On my last trip to China I ate a pau that was said to be kaya pau, but when I ate it, it tastes like custard. I got addicted to it and ate the same pau for the subsequent two days for breakfast.
Pau in popular culture
The short stint of Chow Yun Fatt, most notably acted in both Anna and the King (with Jodie Foster) and in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, singing career, seen him famous with an one hit wonder, a song simply known as the char siew pau song. He then stopped producing albums. Something that David Hasselhoff should learn from before jumping in to the same bandwagon. But then again, he was famous in Germany.
In the 90‚Äôs, there was a famous movie acted by Anthony Wong about a psycho who kill people and used their flesh to make char siew pau. The movie is called Yan Yoke char siew pau (Human Meat char siew pau). The movie was such a big hit and affected people, Hong Kong people especially, so much that the sales of char siew pau declined substantially, months after the movie was screened to the public. On the other hand, Anthony Wong got famous and was being noticed for his convincing acting and versatility. Predictably, people returned to their usual morning staple. char siew pau is too good, too irresistable and too deeply ingrained in the Chinese dietary that their morning just isn‚Äôt the same without the piping hot char siew pau served on bamboo containers.
Char siew pau is available at (almost) all Chinese restaurant and roadside stalls at places like Kepong, Cheras or even here at Serdang, where I am currently based. Be careful though, if the person selling wear spectacles, always seen around with a meat cleaver and has a blood-curdling stare. It might NOT be roasted pork in your char siew pau.