FAMILY: Chinese dishes in a jiffy


Craving for Chinese food? Dharm Navaratnam shares two simple dishes that you can whip up in the kitchen

IN our household, cooking is really a family endeavour. In some, the man cooks and the wives don’t get involved at all. My wife not only helps out whenever I cook but she is an excellent cook herself.

If my mother was my first influence in cooking, I cannot deny that my wife is my muse. She pushes me to always improve on my cooking and challenges me to recreate dishes that we have eaten at restaurants. Most times I succeed and for those times that I don’t, she and the kids will always bring it up and have a good laugh whenever I act like I’m the greatest cook around!

Having two cooks in the house is not always a good thing.  Sometimes things can get rather heated in the kitchen as we both try to outdo each other but the reality is that we spur each other to expand our cooking repertoire.  For a little fun, we often get the kids to pick their favourite dishes and see how many points each of us get. Truth be told though, I am definitely the better cook! But seriously, most things that my wife cooks, I stay away from. As I learnt back in engineering school, “It works fine. Leave it alone.  Don’t touch it” and the other one was “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!”

One of my favourite dishes is her curry leaf chicken. Now, with a name like that, you would automatically assume this is an Indian dish. However, you will never, ever, find this dish in an Indian shop or restaurant. You will, however, find it in a Chinese restaurant!

This is how Malaysian food has evolved with Chinese cuisine borrowing from Indian as well as Malay cuisine and vice versa — resulting in a dish that’s uniquely Malaysian.

My wife and I both enjoy this dish and we order it rather often whenever we have Chinese food. She has caught my habit of trying to cook food that we have eaten outside. She has become very successful not only in replicating dishes without the aid of a cookbook, but doing even better than the original.

Her chicken dish is spicy, with loads of cili padi and dried prawns to give it an added bite and flavour! It goes really well with rice.

She also serves it with some yau mak, which happens to be one of my son’s favourite vegetable dishes as well as my father’s. It goes really well with the chicken as the oyster sauce and crunchy greens help to tone down the heat from the chilli.

A version of romaine lettuce, yau mak is delicious when stir fried with garlic and oyster sauce. However, to do it just right, you need a really hot wok.

You quickly fry the lettuce with garlic and oyster sauce so the vegetable is still crisp. This is difficult to do at home so the next best method is to blanch the vegetable, fry the garlic separately and then toss it all together!

Dharm Navaratnam has more recipes and cooking stories at his blog (


2cm ginger
6 cloves garlic
2 big onions — sliced
400g chicken fillet — cut into strips
5 stalks curry leaves
10 chilli padi — chopped finely
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp dark soya sauce
25g dried prawns
1 tbsp honey (if needed)
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

1. Soak the prawns in a little water and then pound into small pieces.
2. Marinate chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok. Blend ginger and garlic, then sauté in the hot oil. Add onions, chilli powder and curry powder. Cook till fragrant. Add in curry leaves, chilli and prawns. Cook well before adding the chicken. Add a little water if mixture is too dry.
4. Keep stirring until chicken is cooked through and liquid is reduced. When half dry, add soya sauce and continue cooking till mixture is dry and the chicken well coated. Add the honey if too spicy!



1 head yau mak or
romaine lettuce
1tsp sugar
3tbsp oyster sauce
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1tsp oil

1. Boil a large pot of water with sugar, which is supposed to keep the vegetables green.
2. Blanch the vegetable for a minute or two. Drain.
3. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic. Arrange the yau mak on a serving plate and pour oyster sauce all over. Toss well and sprinkle with garlic.



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