Thursday, August 26, 2010

Not all prawn crackers are made equal

Ingredients gathered, dough forming and steaming.


That is one word that would succinctly describe me. I’m a hungry Singaporean girl living in small town America where food diversity – beyond pizzas and burgers -- is as illusive as black hairs on my graying head.

More precisely, I hunger for foods that I’ve grown up with. Sometimes, being hungry drives people to do pretty crazy things. Take me for example, I started learning how to cook! Now, this is a pretty radical concept for Singaporeans who are spoilt for good food choices at affordable prices. I was once that spoilt Singaporean who had ready access to tasty food either a short walk or a bus, train or taxi ride away.

Even simple snacks that I’d taken for granted because they were so easily available in every Ma and Pa shop, I could not easily find in Corning. Or even if I did, it was never quite the same nor as good.

Hungry and desperate, I pestered, begged, even contemplated about offering my off-coloured soul to my long-time family neighbour and Sophia’s Godma, Christine, in exchange for her Grandma’s kick-ass prawn crackers recipe otherwise known as keropok udang in Malay. I had these homemade prawn crackers when I was last back in Singapore and it jolted me to keropok nirvana at every salty crunch. I was in complete, round-eyed awe of this grandmother who’d made these amazing keropok, from scratch no less!

Come on, you say, surely no one would be mad enough to make prawn crackers from scratch? It was such an absurd idea for me to grasp because they were sold in huge bags at no more than a couple of Singaporean dollars. These crisps were even served free, in baskets, at a few Chinese restaurants. They aren’t exotic. They aren’t gourmet-worthy. They seemed like too much work for so little payback. So why even bother trying to make them?

That’s because, once you’ve tasted Christine’s grandma’s homemade version, your taste buds would have realised that you’d been denying them the real mccoy for years. And quite frankly, they are insulted that you would choose to pervert them, again, with factory made ones. And now we know why they were served up as freebies at Chinese restaurants. Clearly, those weren't that great.

Christine, bless her, sent me a carefully handwritten recipe for her grandma’s award-wining (I assure you all, they will be one day!) keropok udang. Holding the recipe in hand, I felt like I’d the golden ticket to Wonka’s factory. I had to try it.

So, I did. After 2 days’ worth of preparing them for the final immersion in hot oil, I was ready to fry up some. My kids crowded around me at the stove -- a parenting huge no-no -- but seeing that they were sharing my anticipation, I let them watch just for a while as the first few pieces plunged into hot oil. My heart missed a beat as I watched the little pink pieces slowly expand and curl in the oil -- exactly what their keropok ancestors have done for years.

Still glistening with oil, I popped a small crisp in my mouth. There are just not enough words to describe the gradual ascent towards keropok udang heaven I was levitating towards. You'd think that my pint-sized critics’ raving reviews and shared delight were evidence of my keropok udang success but secretly, I still think Christine’s grandma’s ones were tastier.

But, I’ll persevere. You’ll see.

Steamed dough sliced, dried, fried and then enjoyed.


  1. ok ya looks like a lot of work.... hmmm i know i can find ready made ones in chinatown.

  2. Egad! You can't possibly do commercial keropok after reading this! LOL!!