Rise of the Kok Women

Posted on February 6, 2013


The story below continues from here.

For my grandfather, the shock of war might as well have been fatal. His fortune now won and lost, he never spoke again – retreating forever into a place within himself. Merely surviving the Nian was not a fortune he could live with.

To ensure our livelihood, street-vending became the new family business for KuKu and her mother. Together, they joined the throngs of hawkers making a living on Leith Street. Therein begins the history of The Pearl Kitchen.

The steamed yam cake is a favourite breakfast food in Malaysia, but during times of strife and near famine, its starchy hit of calories and flavour is both a luxurious and efficient way to stay alive. Business never slowed. As they had always done in Penang, people scoured the streets at meal times looking for a cheap way to fill up. When they found one that worked for them, they would always find the means to come back. Now especially, to survive the intense competition, you had to be among the best at what you did. Our recipe stood out from the others because we could offer a little bit more of each ingredient. For the times, this was a winning formula.


250g lean pork, sliced into 2cm strips
250g rice flour
100g tapioca flour (or wheat starch)
1L water
6 tablespoon vegetable oil
150g dried shrimp, soak in hot water to soften and chopped
500g yam (taro), cut into 2cm cubes
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon five spice powder
2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon sugar

Ingredients for garnish

4 eschalots, sliced thinly
1 red chilli, sliced thinly
1 stalk spring onion, chopped


  1. Marinate pork with 1 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
  2. Mix rice flour, tapioca flour and water in a large bowl and stir well. Strain to remove lumps.
  3. Heat a pan with 3 tablespoon vegetable oil and sauté eschalots until crispy. Remove fried eschalots and use the same oil to sauté half of the shrimp till fragrant. Remove and set aside.
  4. In a clean pan add remaining oil and yam cubes. Stir-fry for 2-3 min. Add pork and remaining shrimp. Sprinkle salt, five spice powder, pepper and sugar and continue to stir-fry for another 2-3 min till yam is soft.
  5. Pour in flour mixture and continue stirring gently at medium heat until batter thickens. Turn off the heat.
  6. Grease a deep tray with a little vegetable oil and slowly pour in the thick batter.
  7. Steam at high heat for 30-45 min. This can be done by placing the tray in a wok or large pot with water and covered. Make sure the tray is well above the water level.
  8. Let cool before garnishing with generous amount of eschalots, shrimp, red chilli and spring onion.

Serves 4 (with chilli sauce)

Yam Cake blog1

Posted in: Family, Food, Recipes, Story, Street