On the Trail of the Phoenix – Itek Tim
When Wendy from Table for 2 or more revealed to me her plans some months back on initiating and organising an online food festival with a monthly locality-specified theme, I was absolutely enthralled! Heritage cooking has always been something close to my heart so naturally, this series of events to come is the perfect vehicle for me to explore some of the cuisines which I’d been always been curious about and intrigued by but never ventured far enough to try. While some others choose to advance and equip themselves with the latest gadgetry and seemingly chic culinary techniques like sous vide and molecular gastronomy, I seek solitude and comfort in my batu lesung and kuih moulds, while staying grounded with traditional methods of cooking. An old guard and custodian of the old ways? That noble beast I am not. All I merely hope for, is a perpetuation of what my grandmother and mother had taught me…
The first “pitstop” for the Food Festival is Melaka, a stronghold of Peranakan culture and heritage. A good time for a “quick revision” on some nyonya dishes which I’d not prepared for quite sometime, as well as to attempt some “new” dishes which are in fact very old and forgotten. Straits chinese cooking, in my somewhat biased opinion is the epitome and essence of Southeast Asian cuisines. Like the people, Peranakan food is a giant melting pot of culinary techniques and ingredients used in various cultures around the region, with influences most prominently from Indonesian, Malay, Chinese and Thai cuisines. This “intermarriage” of culinary concepts and cooking methods invariably widened the repertoire of Straits Chinese cuisine making it as diversified as what it is known for today. While dishes like Nyonya Chap Chye, Itek Tim, Lor Gai Yik and Tau Yew Bak still bear strong resemblance to the chinese dishes they evolved from, others like Ikan Gerang Asam, Nasi Ulam, Paceri Terung or Sambal Bendi have obvious affiliations with Malay or Indonesian masakan. Then there are some like Babi Tohay, Buah Paya Masak Titrk, Ayam Buah Keluak which are uniquely Peranakan of course. And the list goes on…
Dishes in Peranakan cuisine are not only diversified in terms of their origins but also their “functionality”. Some dishes which require elaborated rempah making and prolonged cooking time, were made to impress and become Tok Panjang worthy. Some others were initially prepared solely for gods or ancestral worship. Others are basically very home-style cooking for the daily lunch or dinner. Quite literally a dish for every thinkable occasion…
Itek Tim is an evolved form of the Chinese Kiam Chye Ark, i.e. Salted Vegetable and Duck Soup. The origins of the chinese dish is rather controversial because as far as I know, the Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew communities all have their own similar but somewhat differing versions. In fact, an article on Itik Tim was featured in a local newspaper 联合早报 back in 2005, in attempt to unravel the mystery behind its origins. The chinese roots supposedly stemmed from the cantonese sinkehs bringing with them this soup when they migrated to Singapore. However, a variation of this dish was then already a very popular dish in Melaka, amongst the Eurasians and Peranakans with strong portuguese influence. During the pre-colonial days, it was said that a “Teem Reunion Soup” was traditionally served during Christmas Eve or festivity gatherings, together with “reunion biscuits”. The modern day form of this “Teem” consists of salted vegetables, garlic, duck or pig trotters, which overlapped very much with the cantonese version, just that the Eurasian form did not purportedly evolved from the Cantonese version at all. The word “Teem” in Portuguese meant “Spiced Snow Pear Soup”. The soup was “revised” again during the colonial days with the addition of peppercorn, spices and liqueur for the extra oomph! While only pig trotters were used in the past, the Eurasian community in Melaka added tomatoes, and subsequently duck into their “Teem”, under the influence of Peranakan cuisine. Hence, the Teem soup was subsequently known as Itek Teem. The peranakans however, called it “Itek Tim” instead, being a staple during Lunar New Year and also Christmas, especially amongst Catholics families.
The word “Itek” comes from Bahasa Melayu to mean “duck”. However the word “Tim” and Teem” from Baba Malay and Kristang patois respectively, though having essentially the same pronunciation, bear very different meanings. “Tim” evolved from the hokkien pronunciation of 炖 to mean a prolonged cooking procedure of soup making, i.e. stewing. “Teem” on the other hand, supposedly means “Spiced Snow Pear Soup” in Kristang, according to the article. So it is through this series of uncanny events which amalgamated and aligned these two dishes from very different culinary origins together to become what we are accustomed to drinking today.
Itek Tim (serves 4 )
half a duck (the other half can be used for Itek Sio)
400g pig trotters
250g salted vegetable kam chye/sayur masin
4 buah sng mui (sour plums pickled in brine)
4 slices of asam gelugor
4 slices of lengkwas (galangal)
1/2 tbsp black peppercorn (optional)
1 tbsp of whisky or brandy (optional)
Sugar and pepper to taste
Mise en place
Rinse duck and pig trotters thoroughly under running water and chop into pieces, taking care to remove any feathers or hair. Bring wok of water to a boil and add duck and pig trotters. Leave to blanch for about 1 min. Drain and set aside. DO NOT DISCARD THE WATER.
Rinse salted vegetables to remove any debris and soak in a bowl of water for 30 min – 1 h to remove excesss brining liquids. Chop into pieces the same size as the duck and pig trotters.
Rinse pickled sour plums to remove excess brining liquids. Rinse asam gelugor slices and set aside.
Cut tomato into wedges and set aside.
Place all the ingredients except liquor and tomatoes into a large pot and add water until fully submerged.
Bring everything to a boil and lower flame to simmer for 45 min to 1 h until the duck is tender and thoroughly cooked through.
Add more water if necessary and adjust the taste of the soup with sugar and pepper to taste.
Add tomatoes and turn off heat, lid on and let it sit for 1 min or so.
Serve immediately with a dash of liquor sploshed on the soup just before serving.
I love Itek Tim, not only because of its so full of flavour but its incredibly simple to make! Unlike Hee Pio Soup or Bakwan Kepiting which are more elaborated in cooking procedure, Itek Tim is fairly straightforward to prepare. Its sourish and salty flavour profile can most certainly whet your appetite, making one crave for more.
The recipe is very similar to the teochew version of Kiam Chye Ark, apart from the inclusion of asam gelugor and lengkwas. The peranakans love food with quite a bit of tang and most certainly went all out to find means to do so, with ingredients like limau katsuri, buah belimbing and tamarind being usually employed for the task of wheting one’s appetite for all the other richly flavoured nyonya dishes to come. Asam gelugor has an advantage of imparting flavours yet allowing the soup to remain fairly clear in the process. And the lengkwas provided greater depth to the flavours, which would otherwise be quite monotonous.
Pig trotters are used but otherwise, spare ribs could also be used. I prefer the richness from the former anytime! Do not discard the blanching liquids for the pig trotters and duck. Simple skim off the scum and run it through a fine-wired sieve and this would be the ideal collagen-ruch stock base for other delicious dishes. I’d used mine to cook nyonya chap chye. This is in perfect synchrony of the idealogies perpetuated in a nyonya kitchen where nothing is left to waste.
Do join in the fun this month and whip up some of your favorite dishes from Melaka, be it a spicy gerang asam or a sweet and rich kuih bangkong. It could even be street food like cendol or the ever-popular chicken rice balls, ayam buah keluak etc
I am submitting this to Malaysian Food Fest, Melaka Month hosted by Cindy of Yummy Little Cooks. If you do not have a blog, simply submit your entries via facebook to the Melaka Food Festival FB page. It doesn’t have to be a new blog entry at all. It could be something which you’d prepared yesterday, last month, or even last year! So join in the fun yeah? 🙂
Makanan in Melaka 2011 – a Delightful Sampling
Melaka Getaway Dec 2011
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Pengat Durian
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Sambal Jantung Pisang
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Sambal Udang Belimbing
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Ikan Gerang Asam
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Nyonya porcelain ware @ the Peranakan Museum
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Babi Pongteh
ah yum !!! my mum used to cook this dish alot in Indonesia 🙂
August 2, 2012 at 5:44 pm
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The last time I bought a duck, I ate it all by myself coz my family don’t really like duck. Or could it be I don’t know how to cook it.
This is a definite comfort food.
August 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm
Your pictures certainly got me salivating!! It’s definitely an appetizing dish. Now that you have demystified the dish, I may actually get round to cooking this!
August 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm
haha I didnt demystify it la, Joanna. Just summarising what I’d read from the article! But its interesting to know that this simple soup has such a confusing past!
August 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm
this is a must try recipe. I love this very much. My granny always cook this for us in CNY. She used to put in whole lemon pickled in brine instead of sng mui. I tried once but still cannot get the same taste as what my granny cook.
August 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm
wow! one whole lemon pickled in brine… that’s new to me! must try it. any tips of the pickling part?
August 3, 2012 at 11:02 pm
Cool! Can’t wait for the Sarawak month!
August 4, 2012 at 4:29 am
yeah, hope to see you join in the fun!
August 6, 2012 at 11:50 am
I have no doubt that i am so going to love this dish 🙂 hope to try making it this weekend. Thanks for sharing! Tis is the second duck dish that has a name called Itik something – the other one i know is Itik Sio.
August 8, 2012 at 5:33 pm
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Alan, I want a bowl. I am not good in cooking Nyonya but I will try to make this soup. I bought duck already:D
August 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm
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