Blog - Curry Twist

Char Kway Teow (Fried Rice Noodles) In GeorgeTown, Penang, Malaysia

The towering skyscrapers of George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, seem much like those of any other rapidly-growing Asian metropolis. They loom above the brilliant blue waters of the bay that made George Town one of the busiest ports in the east during the nineteenth century, attracting merchants from all over the world. But there is much more to George Town than its glittering skyline reveals at first glance.

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A short walk away from the modern office buildings are the streets of old George Town, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was founded in 1786 by the East India Company, which obtained land from the local Sultan of Kedah. The British established a free port in which people from every country were welcome to live and work. The population burgeoned as Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai and European settlers made it a centre for trade and commerce.

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Today members of all the communities that first built Penang still live there, making it an extremely cosmopolitan city with a fascinating mixture of cultures and religions. Churches coexist with mosques and Hindu and Buddhist temples. Penang is one of the hubs of Peranakan culture, which refers to the ethnic groups that formed as a result of intermarriage between south-east Asians and people from other parts of the world. The largest group of Peranakans have Chinese ancestry, but there are also other smaller groups of Indian, Arab and Portuguese descent.

The Blue Mansion in George Town offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of the rich Peranakan merchants. This was the house of Cheong Fatt Tze, a wealthy businessman in the late nineteenth century. Built by craftsmen he summoned from China, it reflects the luxury that he enjoyed. Today it has been restored to its original condition and houses both a restaurant and a boutique hotel, so everyone can enjoy its exquisite interiors.

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Penang’s street food is a kaleidoscope of the mingling of cultures and cuisines over the centuries. As British, Malay, Chinese, Hindu and Muslim traders settled here, they created a unique cuisine that attracts food enthusiasts from all around the world. Walk through the sleepy streets of George Town in the daytime and it is hard to believe that as soon as the sun goes down they transform into the setting for a moveable feast.

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Vendors wheel out carts with sizzling grills and woks that they use to turn out seafood laksa (noodles simmered in a spicy coconut milk broth), fiery curries, pan fried murtabak (hand stretched flat bread) stuffed with eggs and meat, wok fried noodles, biryani, appams and dosas and every other delicacy that you could desire. The best possible way to experience George Town is to join the throngs around each stall and eat your way across town, as nobody seems to cook at home!

Char Kway Teow, one of the most popular street foods of George Town is easy to find all around the city. When you stroll out in the evening in search of a bite to eat, simply follow the irresistible aromas to the nearest food cart. Order a plate of Char Kway Teow, watch the vendor deftly stir fry the ingredients over a very high flame to give it the classic Wok Hei or ‘breath of the wok’ and savour the charred flavour and smoky aroma that is characteristic of this dish.

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Char Kway Teow is very easy to make at home: use very fresh ingredients, keep the heat very high, and stir fry quickly to retain the crispness of the vegetables and the integrity of the noodles. Serve with Lamb Satay Skewers if desired.

Char Kway Teow (Fried Rice Noodles)

3 tbsp oil, divided

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced

1 cup thinly sliced red onion or shallots

1/2 cup thinly sliced sweet red pepper

6 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cups fresh bean sprouts

8 oz (1/2 lb) fresh flat rice noodles, warmed in the microwave to soften

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp each: rice vinegar, oyster sauce

1 tsp each: sugar, red chili sambal or hot sauce

2 eggs, beaten

2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

Warm 2 tbsp oil in large wok set over high heat.

Add garlic, red onions or shallots and red pepper. Saute for 2 min until lightly tender.

Add shrimp and bean sprouts, saute 1 min.

Add rice noodles, soy sauce, vinegar, oyster sauce, sugar and sambal. Toss with two stirring spoons or spatulas until well mixed, about 1 min.

Push noodle mixture around the periphery of the wok, creating a well in the middle. Add remaining 1 tsp oil to well, then pour beaten eggs onto it. Let eggs set for 30 sec, then scramble lightly by stirring gently.

Add green onions and bring noodle mixture back into the center of the wok, stirring and tossing to combine, about 1 min.

Serve right away.

Serves Four

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Chicken Tikka Masala In Brighton, UK

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The British fondness for Indian food goes back a long way: London coffee houses were serving curries as early as the the mid-eighteenth century. The first full-fledged Indian restaurant opened in 1810, owned and run by an enterprising immigrant, Dean Mahomed.
Dean Mahomed was born in India where his father was employed by the British East India Company. After his father's death he accompanied a British officer back to England where he was educated.

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Adding the title of Sheikh (spelled Sake) to his name, he opened the Hindoostanee Coffee House near London's Portman Square, with Indian furnishings, hookas for smoking and serving a wide range of Indian dishes. Unfortunately he discovered that he had opened his restaurant before the market was ready, and was forced to close down after only a year of operation.

Not a man to be discouraged by failure Sake Dean Mahomed moved to the town of Brighton, then becoming popular as the first sea-side resort in the world. The rich and fashionable flocked to Brighton to spend summers at the beach and take the water-cures that were growing extremely popular.

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The Prince Regent, later to become King George IV, built himself a palace there, the Brighton Pavilion, and indulging the period's fascination for Asian exotica had it designed with a fanciful Indian exterior and an equally flamboyant Chinese interior. 

When Dean Mahomed arrived in this rapidly expanding town he set up steam baths in a building that still stands on the Brighton waterfront and now houses the Queens Hotel. He offered head massages, known in Hindi as "champi", and they proved an instant hit, introducing the word "shampoo" into the English language. Styling himself as a "shampooing surgeon" Dean Mahomed built steam baths in the royal palace and became a favourite of the Prince Regent. He prospered for many years in Brighton, wrote his memoirs (which made him the first Indian to publish a book in English) and is buried there.

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It was over a century after Dean Mahomed's ill-fated attempt that another Indian restaurant  opened in England. Since then, however, the popularity of Indian cuisine has exploded. Curry has been voted England's national dish and you can buy t-shirts in tourist shops that proclaim "Keep Curry British!".  



Dean Mahomed never did open a restaurant in Brighton but you can find many good Indian eateries here these days.
Our favourite was the Curry Leaf Cafe in Brighton Lanes as well as some great takeaway places including Taj, a wonderful Asian grocery store carrying a large variety of fresh cooked biryanis, curries and kababs.


Chicken Tikka Masala is a British favourite that is said to have originated in that country.  A popular legend claims it was accidentally created in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow: when a customer sent back a plate of tandoori chicken tikka for being too dry, the crafty chef promptly doused it in a sauce of spiced up creamy tomato soup and a legendary dish was born! While the origin of chicken tikka masala is still hotly debated, we were just happy to eat it on a regular basis during our visit! Try making my recipe, it is so easy and satisfying, you'll never order take out again. 

Chicken Tikka Masala

For the marinade:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast

2 tbsp each: lemon juice, oil

Salt to taste

1 tsp each, ground spices, divided: coriander, cumin, garam masala, cayenne pepper, paprika, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), fennel (optional)

For the sauce:

2 tsp oil

1/4 tsp cumin seeds

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, grated or minced

1/2 inch piece ginger, grated or minced

1 can (28 oz or 796 ml) whole plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), pureed in food processor

Salt to taste

1 tbsp sugar

1/2 cup full fat whipping or heavy cream

2 tbsp each: butter, chopped fresh coriander leaves

Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Add to a deep mixing bowl, along with the oil, lemon juice, salt and 1/2 tsp of all the ground spices. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 15 min and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment. Spread chicken evenly on tray, spooning on any remaining marinade and bake for 10 min. Chicken will not be fully cooked at this point. Reserve chicken and all its juices.

To make the sauce, warm 2 tbsp oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds. After 30 sec, add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Saute for 5 - 7 min until softened and lightly browned.

Add the pureed tomatoes, salt, sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp of all the ground spices. Stir to mix and cook for 5 min until tomatoes are slightly thickened.

Add 1 cup of water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook sauce for 10 min.

Mix in the cream, butter and fresh coriander, cook 1 min. Add the reserved chicken and all of the accumulated juices, mixing well into the sauce. Cover and cook again on low heat for 10 min.

Serve right away.

Serves four

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