Foodie confidential

Cooking lights up her life

Ms Norami Aliza Haron, who is on the organising committee of the Hari Raya Light Up, started cooking meals for her family as a child

At the age of 11, Ms Norami Aliza Haron started putting together her own recipe book by cutting out recipes from newspapers and writing them down when she watched cooking shows.

The 48-year-old is a lecturer and part of the organising committee of this year's Hari Raya Light Up at Geylang Serai. The annual light-up runs until July 7.

She says: "My mother also put together her own recipe book, so I was imitating her.

"One recipe I have used over the years is North Indian butter chicken with tomato fragrant rice."

The avid cook picked up her skills from her grandmother and, by the age of 12, she could cook full meals for her family members.

When she was in secondary school, she was also entrusted with the grocery shopping.

"I used to accompany my grandmother to the market and I observed how she bought food. So I knew how to pick ingredients when I was on my own," says Ms Norami, who has a 25-year-old son.

Despite her busy schedule with grassroots activities, she still finds the time to cook and bake, and is looking forward to the upcoming Hari Raya Puasa festivities.

Must-haves for her feast include ketupat with sayur lodeh (rice cakes with vegetable curry), rendang, and lepat kukus (steamed glutinous rice with black-eyed peas).

When she breaks her fast, she eats bubur lambuk - a soupy porridge dish often eaten during the fasting month of Ramadan.

She also enjoys eating kueh and counts kueh lopes (glutinous rice coated in coconut and drizzled with gula melaka), kueh lapis (steamed nine-layer kueh), kueh keria (sweet potato doughnuts), and kueh jongkong (rice cakes steamed with gula melaka in banana leaf) as some of her favourites.

She points out how it is more difficult to find kueh jongkong steamed in banana leaves and laments that it is tougher to get traditional kueh now.

Yet, Ms Norami is also keen on being creative with cooking.


    Fesenjan, a Persian dish made with pomegranate molasses, crushed walnuts, and chicken with saffron rice. Decades ago, some friends cooked it for me and I haven't been able to find this dish ever since.

She says: "Four years ago, I attended an event where sweet potato balls were served as dessert. I want to try my own version with ondeh ondeh (glutinous rice balls with palm sugar) using sweet potato instead."

What recipe have you perfected recently?

Nonya curry puff with many flaky layers.

It requires two different types of dough - one water-based, the other oil-based. The oil-based dough is placed on top of the water-based dough and rolled to form a cylindrical "Swiss roll".

The dough has to be chilled in the fridge before slicing and filling. Next, I'm looking to perfect cinnamon rolls.

Do you have any creative dishes of your own?

Thai-style tuna pasta. I use canned chunky tuna and mix it with chilli padi, kaffir lime, garlic, small tomatoes, olive oil and basil.

If you're not dining out, what's a typical home-cooked dinner for you?

For a quick meal, I have steak or roast chicken with steamed vegetables such as broccoli.

How about on weekends?

Pancakes are a staple every other weekend. I make plain ones - served with maple syrup and sliced bananas - and blueberry pancakes.

Does your son cook too?

Not often, but when he was 21 years old, he cooked me a lovely Beef Wellington for Mother's Day.

Any favourite haunts?

For kueh, there is a stall in a coffee shop at Block 126 Bedok North 2.

I enjoy going to cafes too, such as Black&Ink in Changi Road, Penny University in East Coast Road, Dutch Colony in Frankel Avenue and Fix in Ah Hood Road.

What are some memorable meals you have had overseas?

I love to eat lamb, so visiting Istanbul two years ago was heavenly for me. I had kofta kebab, where the meat came grilled on skewers and was served with pickled green chillies. It was simple but tasty. I also had testi kebab, where the meat comes in a flaming dish.

On a recent trip to Italy, I dined at a restaurant in Cinque Terre, which served its handmade trofie pasta with pesto sauce. I'll try to make that at home.

What's on your foodie wish list?

I want to go to Mongolia to try yak milk.

What do you crave when you return from your travels?

Mee rebus and satay.

If you could have a meal with anyone, whom would you pick?

British celebrity chef and TV host Rachel Khoo. I love her sense of style and find her very unpretentious, a refreshing person to watch on TV. I would love to sit and talk about food with her.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Cooking lights up her life'. Print Edition | Subscribe