Christmas with Chef Celine

by Alexa P. Photography FriedChillies on Fri, December 18, 2009

Christmas came early for a few of us here at the FC office as we were invited to the lovely Chef Celine Marbeck’s home to have a taste of what the celebration is like among the Cristang (Eurasian) community.

To devil something means to put mustard to it

The afternoon I spent with Chef Celine was one that I will treasure for years to come. She taught us a lot about the Cristang people and their food, this amazing woman has a wealth of information to share. Chef Celine is Cristang, but is quick to correct those who might automatically assume she has Portuguese blood. "When many people think Eurasian they immediately think that the people are mixed Portuguese…even the settlement in Melaka is known as the Portuguese settlement, but there are other groups of people...and I am of Dutch lineage."

Chef Celine with her Christmas feast

She served up a veritable feast of Eurasian Christmas goodies on our visit to her cosy home. All the dishes were new to me as I haven’t been exposed to Cristang food. “The table has all the history of Melaka on it… Chap chye is from the Chinese influence, Devil Curry is Cristang, Semur has a Dutch influence, Acar is Malay, and the egg salad is British,” she told us. I was eager to dig my fork in and give it all a try!

Chap chye

Egg salad

I’ve heard many good things about Devil Curry and was happy to see it on the table. “The Cristang usually have Devil Curry on Boxing Day…the day after Christmas…this is how we use our leftover meats from the day before. This means that you can find all sorts of meat in the curry…leftover chicken, sausages, roast beef, or a mix of everything. It is also important to note that a Devil curry is not a Devil curry without the use of mustard seeds because to devil something is to add mustard to it,” Chef Celine explained as she finished off the curry by frying up a fragrant mix of mustard seeds, ginger, garlic, onions and chillies to ladle on top. This curry has a slight heat from the spices as well as a tang from the vinegar. I especially like that the potatoes have taken on the rich flavours as I mash them down to absorb even more of the gravy.

Make your own Devil Curry with the recipe at the bottom

Chef Celine made her Beef Semur, a stew dish in the form of meatballs for something a little different. The meat has a distinct Christmassy taste with spices like cinnamon and cloves flavouring it. Absolutely delicious!

Meatballs are definitely a more fun way to eat Semur

Many of the Chrismas preparations take place ahead of time and this is where everyone comes together as a family/community to prepare for the feast. Ham is boiled in beer and hung, kuihs are made, acar is pickled, and so on. This is the time of year where everyone gets together to celebrate Christmas cheer.

Her acar was sour and super addictive

Of course no meal is complete without dessert and Chef Celine had a nice array of sweet treats for us to enjoy. I have to let you know right now that I am addicted to her Almond cake.

The butter cake is rich with crunchy bits of almond strewn throughout

I kept going back for more of this delight. She also made a special treat known as Putugal. This is a tapioca banana pudding cake that was easily made back in the day when ovens weren’t available. This is gooey and bananaey and rolled in coconut.

OMG! This was absolutely delicious!

Tropical and scrumptious! We also indulged in pineapple tarts and a pretty wobbly jelly dome.

This jelly stubbornly refused to get out of its mold

This was certainly a nice end to our early Cristang Christmas celebration.
This is Chef Celine’s special recipe for Devil Curry. Do buy her book ‘Cuzinhia Cristang’ for more delightful authentic recipes.

Thank you Chef Celine for sharing your home and traditional dishes with us!

Devil Curry

1kg chicken
1 tsp soy sauce
3 tbsp vinegar
Blend into paste:
1 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
30 shallots, peeled
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
6 candlenuts
3 stalks lemongrass
30 g. galangal, peeled
¼ tsp turmeric powder
20 dried chillies presoaked or 2 tbsp chilli powder

½ kg roast beef (optional)
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
½ cup water
½ cup oil
30 g. young ginger, julienned
2 onions, peeled and quartered
4 fresh red chillies, slit with stalks retained
1 tsp mustard seeds
6 potatoes, peeled and quartered

6 whole cabbage leaves
20 french beans
salt and sugar to taste

Cut chicken into large pieces and marinate with thick soy sauce, 1 tbsp of the vinegar and 2tsp of the blended paste. Set aside for 20mins.

If using roast beef, cut it into bite-size pieces and set aside. Soak tamaring pulp in ½ cup water and extract 1tbsp of the juice.

Heat oil in a tezaler(this is a traditional earthen pot, you can also use a wok). Put strips of ginger; fry till golden brown and remove. Next, sauté onions for 30sec and remove. Then sauté the red chillies and remove.

Put mustard seeds into the same pot. Cover until seeds stop popping. Add remaining paste and fry until the oil floats to the top.

Drain marinade from the chicken pieces and add marinate gradually to fried paste in the pot, stirring continuously to prevent burning.

Add chicken and potatoes and toss to coat well with paste. Add 1tbsp of the tamarind juice and enough water to cover chicken.

Boil rapidly for 10mins then lower heat. If using cabbage and French beans add them in now. Simmer until vegetables are done and chicken is tender; then stir in remaining 2 tbsp of vinegar.

If using roast beef add it now followed by the fried ginger, onions, and chillies that were fried at the start.

This dish will taste better if kept overnight before serving.