Foodiva's Kitchen: The Cloth-Maker and Talam Ebi (Spicy Shrimp Rice Cake)

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Cloth-Maker and Talam Ebi (Spicy Shrimp Rice Cake)

I've always been attracted to strong women. There I've said it - not with the intention, of course, of implying anything misleading about my sexual orientation, but with the intention of letting you know a little bit more about myself. Strong women, they always have a way of finding me. Which is something I find slightly odd, but I get to pick which ones should stay and inspire me, and which ones should go and continue to shape their lives with testicles in their brains. 

Over the course of my three careers, I've met a number of influential women... powerful beings in heels, they were. Most of them were intelligent, some were extremely beautiful (and knew it, used it) while many were too full of themselves to feel compassion beyond their well-powdered noses. Very few managed to serve as my source of inspiration. However, there have been one or two. 

When I was in my early 20s, I met one such woman. I was on a plane heading to Japan for work and just as I was starting to feel pleased at having a full row to myself, this lady walked out of the first class cabin and asked if she could sit next to me. There goes my extra leg-space, I thought. She explained that some young children were making a ruckus in her cabin and since she had a bit of a headache, she wanted to be someplace quieter - ironically that happened to be where I was, where the commoners sat. Anyway, she seemed nice and we quickly fell into a conversation. It turned out that she was a batik textile-designer, or in her words, cloth-maker from Indonesia on her way to Japan to exhibit some of her designs. We exchanged cards with the promise that next time we were in each other's countries, we would look the other one up. That woman's name was Josephine or Obin Komara (featured below in a recent Julius Baer advert) .

The following year, I found myself in Jakarta, also (sigh) for work. We arranged to meet and when I arrived at her boutique in my very unclassy jeans and black t-shirt, I was attended to by her snooty assistants who most likely thought I had come to ask for a job..LOL. Well, they certainly couldn't do enough for me once Bin came out and gave me the warmest hug! As I flipped though and wrapped myself with her luxurious silk batiks, I found out that it took at least 3 months to 2 years to weave a piece of cloth (they even breed the silkworms!) and that Bin employed around 2,500 artisan weavers and designers to help in their production. Needless to say, each cloth costs along the same lines as a high-end kimono. No way could I possibly afford them on my then paltry income!
All wrapped up in Bin Komara's signature batiks.

But I learnt a lasting lesson that day when Bin took me out for a stroll and then on to high tea at a prominent hotel. It seemed that everyone we met who knew her were falling over themselves to say hello or serve her in one way or another...and they genuinely looked like they enjoyed doing it. Then I saw what it was, this woman, who was both powerful and influential but best of all, fun to be with, seemed to wear her intelligence and compassion right on her bra straps. She looked people in the eyes and respected them back, no matter who they were. It was there and then that I decided that when the time came to grow up, I wanted to be just like Bin Komara.

Some of the biggest chillies I've ever seen... they were like huge, red fingers.

Bin fled to Singapore when the social and political unrest happened in Indonesia, and we sadly lost touch. I think of her often and subconsciously I may have bettered myself as a person because of her. I know this because people, even strangers, are always very nice to me and I often get the very best service wherever I go, be it a restaurant, an airline, a spa or a corporate organisation! Just ask some of my grouchy friends, they'll tell you it's true :-).

So what has this Ebi Talam recipe got to do with Bin Komara? Well, this is an Indonesian delicacy, for a start and I wanted to pay tribute to Bin's heritage. It's a colorful and tasty appetizer or finger-food and most joyous of all, it's people-friendly (especially towards those making it). Literally translated from the Indonesian language, Ebi means dried shrimp and Talam means tray, the tray here being the rice cake. The rice cake mixture contains coconut milk and aromatic pandan which give it a salty-sweet, creamy vanilla-ish flavor while the rice and tapioca flours turns this into a chewy cake. 

I used my silicone rose molds to form the rice cakes, but of course you can use anything on hand. Cups and muffin tins are also good options.

This rice cake mixture is steamed for 20 minutes and then simply topped with cooked dried shrimps spiced up with some chillies, garlic and spring onions. It's amazing how you find bits of sweetness, heat, fragrance and saltiness in every bite. Just like a strong woman I once knew, this dish proved to be quite an inspiration!

Talam Ebi
Rice Cakes
Makes: 4 (cup-sized)
100g rice flour
25g tapioca flour
350ml thick coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pandan leaf (optional)

Ebi Topping
50g dried shrimp, soaked and chopped finely
1 stalk spring onion, chopped
1-2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons olive oil

Rice Cakes
1. In a bowl, combine rice flour and tapioca flour, add about half of the coconut milk and stir until well combined. Set aside.
2. Place the remaining coconut milk, salt and pandan leaf and bring to the boil. Slowly pour this hot coconut milk mixture into flour mixture above. Stir with a spoon until it resembles a slightly runny pancake batter.
3. Pour the rice cake batter into small molds or cups until full. Place these in a preheated steamer for 20 minutes until thoroughly cooked.
4. Remove the molds from the steamer and leave to cool completely before turning out the rice cakes onto serving plates. Spoon about a tablespoon of ebi topping on each rice cake and serve immediately.

Ebi Topping
1. In a small pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Stir in red chillies and garlic and saute until fragrant.
2. Add the chopped dried shrimp, stir for 1 minute. Add in spring onion and sugar and cook for another 3 minutes until the dried shrimp is crisp. The topping is now ready for use.


Xinmei @ Pudding Pie Lane said...

I really enjoyed reading this story. Bin sounds like a lovely person and I think her influence and power comes from her warmth and friendliness, and that she left the first class to sit in economy class shows that's she doesn't judge or make prejudgements about people. Sad to hear that you lost touch though, maybe you can try and contact her via her website?

I've never tried ebi talam before but I love rice cakes (I've had ones made with glutinous rice flour), so I'm looking forward to the day I buy some tapioca flour to try these!

Kimberli said...

Wonderful story and the recipe looks divine! Thanks for sharing!

Cooking Gallery said...

What a lovely story...! I also admire strong women and wish that I could be stronger and more assertive myself.

The Talam ebi look wonderful, I like the rose shaped talam ebi.

Juliana said...

Beautiful story...and the rice cake with the spicy shrimp look so tasty, like the molding of the cakes...very cute. Have a great week Foodiva :-)

Sandra said...

Oh Maya you have great way to attract people with your words and beauty.. I love the story, and your photos are gorgeous! And recipe is just amazing and look extremely delicious!

Anonymous said...

These little bites look amazing, and I love the rose-shaped molds you used!

Hester Casey - Alchemy said...

Great story! Bin sounds like she has a life as colourful as her cloth. The Talam Ebi looks amazing. Love the rose molds.

Adora's Box said...

Those are indeed exquisite batiks. Isn't Asian art just fascinating? Your food art is exquisite, too. Beautifully presented and photographed food. I will have to cook this dish for my husband. He once told me of rice cakes with a sweet and spicy soy sauce dip. Once, he asked the vendor to park the basket next to him, then bought the whole lot.

Kate@Diethood said...

I love this post! I want to meet Bin! I want to be Bin! :)

The Talam Ebi sounds finger-licking good!

Victoria said...

What a great tribute to your long-lost friend. I too am inspired by really strong women. Sadly, some of them can be not so nice (some of the ones in Hollywood I had the displeasure of working with in the past). I love that you used the rose molds for these, definitely gave them a more feminine touch :)

Spicie Foodie said...

What a heartfelt tribute to such a remarkable woman. She sounds like a great woman to model oneself after or at least aspire to be like. Perhaps you will cross each other's path again, but if not you'll always have the memories. The Tlam Ebi looks so beautiful and delicious, great food to go with a great tribute.

lena said...

hi, i just corss over to that link on Komara, i'm sure you will be able to meet her again or get her seems like she's quite a prominent figure there..and that talam ebi also sounds like one of our local savoury kuihs, forgotten the name. NIce pictures!

Cake Duchess said...

I'm still giggling over the "testicles in their brains"!This is an amazing story. I would have loved to have met your friend Bin. I also have met amazing women like that, strangely enough, flying to or from Italy. I hope you find your friend again. Those molds are so lovely and this dish is amazing, as always.

Trix said...

This is a really cool story - so many strong women don't appreciate other strong women, and so of course I love your perspective. Another reason I love you: "testicles in their brains." LOL And this is really my kind of dish, you know it!

Foodiva said...

Well, look at the array of strong women who commented on this post...I guess I'm still attracting them! Thank you all for your loveliness ;-).

Trix, so true that strong women find other strong women a threat or competition. Not sure why, because I find that when powerful, dynamic women band around together, great things tend to happen! My brain is not testicle-sized, that's for sure...LOL. I LOVE women who know themselves, love themselves (in the best possible way) and return the love to others, sometimes through their cooking!

Angela FRS said...

Beautiful story and amazing photos--really enjoyed this post.

Loveforfood said...

interesting topic. thanks for sharing with us.

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