I know a lot of Hainanese restaurants serve this Gulai Tumis so I shall claim this as a Hainanese dish. In case you are not aware, Hainaneses are Chinese from the Hainan island in China. Hainan is near to the equator and hence, their cooking differs from the Chinese from the northern part of China like the Cantonese. Therefore, it is apt to call Hainanese women ‘typhoon’ because they are said to be more bad tempered (like me, me, me) and our ‘wind’ blows harder when provoked.
The Hainanese men who migrated to Malaysia mostly ended up cooking for the colonial British families in Malaya and eventually, they went on to open restaurants. My father was a teacher but he knows how to make a lot of special dishes. For example, how to castrate cocks (male chicken, ok?) to fatten them to make delicious Hainan chicken rice or injecting growth hormones to make the chicken grow faster.
Since Hainan island is hotter, I suppose they have all these lovely herbs like lemongrass, tumeric, ginger flower, cekur and etc. Therefore, our cooking is rather spicy.
Seen above are some of the herbs like lemongrass, fresh ginger, fresh tumeric, chillies and onions. To make gulai tumis, they normally chopped them finely. However, I am lazy so I blended them roughly.
The pinkish flower above is the bunga kantan or ginger flower. It is not only pretty, it has the nicest fragrance. The brownish glob of things are the tamarind pieces and a tiny piece of belacan, the most vile smelling prawn ‘chocolate’. I hate cooking anything with belacan because I need to wipe my kitchen wall, mop the floor and still smell of the prawn smells. After that, I need to shampoo my hair twice to get rid of it.
However, don’t let my dramatic description fools you. Belacan is an essential item in cooking curries and it really smells good when combined with the herbs.
Recipe for gulai tumis
Two large onions
Three to four stalks of fresh red chillies
Thumb size fresh tumeric
Thumb size fresh ginger
Two lemongrass, only the whitish parts
(blend all the above roughly)
One ginger flower, either chopped up or quartered (some people dislike biting on it)
Little quarter of belacan
Four pieces of tamarind pieces
A little pulp of tamarind to make the juice
Oil for stir frying
Salt and sugar to flavour
Enough water to cover the fish (this curry is meant to be quite dry so use water sparingly)
Fish – About 600 grams. Oily fish is good. So is fish head. Salmon head will be fantastic too
Heat some oil and fry the blended herbs and the other ingredients. Put in fish, add enough water to cover and simmer. Flavour with salt and sugar.
Mint leaves and the other leave (daun kesum, can’t remember the English term) will be great.
Do you know that this gulai tumis is fantastic with cream crackers? I grew up eating lots of cream crackers dipped in the gravy of the gulai tumis. Try it next time.
If you like a particular restaurant gulai tumis, here’s a wicked way to pack the curry home. Normally, we cannot finish the gravy during our meals but they taste really delicious. So, we order a bigger portion, eat some and packed the rest home.
Writing this post suddenly made me missed my mom’s cooking. It is kinda warm and yet, sad that we sometimes think of someone whom has passed on when we see or eat a particular dish. In my mom’s memory….gulai tumis.