Location: South Asia
Population: 1.2 million
Geography: Mountainous and tropical
Language: Tetum, Portuguese
Signature flavours: Seafood, chicken, ginger, hot peppers, basil, lemongrass
I got to cook back-to-back assignments since Eric hasn’t gathered all his ingredients yet for Kiribati. Still recovering from my 56-course Japanese meal on Saturday, I had no idea what to expect when I began my research into East Timorese cuisine. We’ve eaten Indonesian food before, (although only ever in the Netherlands) and given that Timor-Leste shares an island with Indonesia, I imagined there would be some crossover. I came across recipes fairly quickly through a great blog devoted to Asian cooking. I settled on a fish dish and a stir fry. To finish, I opted for a Portuguese/Southeast Asian fusion cake called bibingka.
Pepes Ikan: Fish marinated in tamarind, garlic, lemongrass, and hot peppers, and then baked.
Prep and cooking time: 40 min
Kang Kong Stir Fry: A long-leafed green (kang kong, also known as Chinese spinach, water morning glory, or swamp cabbage) stir fried in sesame oil, ginger, hot peppers, and soy sauce.
Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Bibingka: Popular throughout South Asia, this is an eggy rice flour cake baked in a dish lined with banana leaves and topped with shredded cheese.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
The Shopping List
Asian supermarket T&T supplied me with tamarind, lemongrass, kang kong, rice flour, and banana leaves.
With no dish being particularly difficult or time consuming, I whipped up dinner in under an hour. The fish was very tamarind-y, sweet and spicy with a little kick from the hot peppers. Kang kong had a flavour I don’t think I’ve ever come across — the texture was a lot like spinach, but it tasted more aromatic than the greens I’m used to, and it combined really well with the flavours of ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. Eric said the kang kong stir fry in particular reminded him of the flavours we sampled at Blau Indonesian restaurant in Utrecht.
The babingka was an excellent finishing dessert. I had never used banana leaves in cooking before. I used an element to heat the leaves first to remove their waxy coating, then fit them into the pan and trimmed them to size.
The finished bibingka was fluffy and eggy, with a crispy top. The cheese added a saltiness to the sweet, which I tend to like in a dessert.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.