A labor of love that is well worth the effort
In my series “The Dish I Wish You Knew,” I was excited to receive a unique submission about Orh nee, a Malaysian dessert that directly translates to taro paste. This dessert is one I would have never heard about without being introduced to it since it is one of the many dying dishes in Malaysia due to its labor-intensive nature.
Malaysia is a multi-cultural center with many well-known dishes, including Nasi lemak, the national dish, and other dishes such as laksa and nasi goreng. However, Wei-Lynn from Penang, Malaysia, felt it was important to share some of the lesser-known dishes from Teochew culture to keep them alive in younger generations.
Orh nee, as it is called in Teochew, or ornee in the Hokkien language, is a dessert made with steamed and mashed taro, and it is mixed with lard infused with shallots, sugar, and ginkgo nuts. The taro is extra Ginkgo nuts are an important part of the dish since it is slightly bitter and cuts through the sweetness of the dessert. These nuts are round and have a mix of sweet and bitter. They also have a hint of cheesy smell that comes from the smell of the fruit it is encased in. Ginkgo nuts are commonly used in Asian cuisines, and some even believe it to be an aphrodisiac. In Orh nee, the ginkgo nuts are boiled in pandan leaves to get them soft, creamy, and flavorful. Pandan leaves taste earthy with a hint of vanilla and coconut, which provide lots of the fragrant aroma for the dessert.
This Malaysian dessert is perfect for anyone who does not particularly have a sweet tooth like Wei Lynn and me. Orth nee was commonly served during celebrations such as weddings and Chinese New Year, making it a dessert associated with happy memories. Now that the tradition has started to die out, not many people serve this dessert, and it is difficult to even order at restaurants.
Wei Lynn also shared a personal story that perfectly captures the rarity of this dessert. A few years ago, her grand aunt was hosting Chinese New Year, and she hesitantly shared that she made Orh nee since she did not expect anyone to like the dish or want to eat it. It was a hot day, and the dessert is always served hot, but it was Wei Lynn’s favorite dish, so she was more than happy to eat some. When she served herself a heaping bowl of Ornee and proceeded to eat it all, her aunt produced a visible sigh of relief, and she was thrilled that someone in the next generations appreciated the traditional Malaysian dessert.
As cultures continue to mix, many foods have slowly disappeared or adapted into different dishes. Now, there is an importance and duty in sharing these less common dishes with younger generations and those from different cultures. Sharing dishes allows other people to experience it and see if they like it themselves. Who knows, maybe it will pick up popularity again.
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