Sometime last year, I re-watched the MediaCorp Chinese drama “The Little Nyonya”. Watching the drama inspired my looking into my quasi-nyonya heritage (my maternal grandmother is a nyonya) and I learned to cook many nyonya dishes. In the drama, rempah udang was mentioned rather frequently as it was one of the main character’s favorite nyonya dish. I remembered that my grandmother also makes fantastic rempah udang and so I spent some time in this past summer (on my visit to Singapore), learning how to make rempah udang from my grandmother.
Rempah udang is a Peranakan snack (or kueh or kuih, depending on how you want to spell it) made with glutinous rice and hay bee hiam (spicy dried shrimp sambal) wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed or grilled. Traditionally, the Peranakan people dye their rice blue with blue pea leaf, but these days people sell rempah udang and other Peranakan snacks without the dyed rice, and these are not looked as ‘original’ as those with the blue pea dyed snacks. I have some blue peas that was given to my grandmother from a relative in Malaysia, and it flew with me all the way to the US – I’m a real quasi-nyonya!
Ingredients for Rice (makes approximately 12)
- 2 cups glutinous rice, washed thoroughly
- 2 tablespoons shallot oil
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
- 1 1/2 + 1 cups water
- [optional] approximately 15 blue pea flowers
- [optional] 4 screwpine (pandan) leaves
- 12 pieces of 3″ by 4.5″ pieces of banana leaf (soaked)
- 12 toothpicks, cut in half
- ~ 1 cup hay bee hiam (spicy sambal dried shrimp)
In a small bowl, add 1 cup of water and the blue pea flowers. Let soak for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a large stockpot, add 1 cup of water water, shallot oil, pandan leaves and coconut milk. Stir to combine.
Add the washed glutinous rice to the stockpot, then add the blue water from soaking the blue pea flowers. Stir to combine. The rice grains should now be blue.
Pour the rice grains into a flat baking pan, and steam the rice until it is cooked, about 40 minutes.
Lay the soaked banana leaf pieces on a table, and divide the rice into 12 portions (I half it twice, then divide into three.)
Press rice into a rough oblong or rectangular shape, then add a strip of hae bi hiam in the middle.
Roll the banana leaf upwards (long side facing you) so that the rice now looks cylindrical (see photo) and the hae bi hiam is covered completely by rice. This might take a few tries, but don’t worry, keep practicing!
Roll the cylindrical rice roll in the banana leaf, then secure with small toothpicks (break each toothpick in half!)
Once all the rempah udangs are made, place them all in a steamer and steam for about 10 minutes before eating. Everything is cooked already, but re-steaming it will impart a slight banana leaf flavor into the kuehs.
Enjoy, and please thank my grandmother for this recipe!