Outside is dark and gloomy, a typical winter day in January. My spirit and appetite perked up when I read this article about Curry Puffs: How a Portuguese snack arrived in Southeast Asia in the 1500s and became a hit across the region.
Curry Puffs were my favorite treat in Singapore. Crispy tender pastries filled with savory potatoes flavored with just enough curry spice. I loved the version sold by Old Chang Kee, a food chain in Singapore with stalls in almost every MRT train station and shopping mall.
Aside from curry puffs (called Curry’Os) they had Chicken wings, Fishballs, Sotong Head & Wings, Sardine’O, Spring’O and Carrot K8. All deep fat fried, crispy, crunchy and delicious. Well … except for the Sotong aka squid bits which I didn’t like … and the Sardine’O which was a surprise … and the Carrot cake which wasn’t cake at all. But Curry puffs! That was a delight.
I always thought curry puffs came from cornish pasties, leftovers from the British colonial period. The SCMP article says it goes back further, to the empada from “Portuguese traders and adventurers (who) were the first Europeans to begin colonising Asia in the early 1500s … (for) the lucrative spice trade in Goa, India, Malacca in Malaya, and Macau near Hong Kong.” After the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence evolved the empada to it’s current form. Variations of the curry puff or empada, exist all over South East Asia: epok-epok or karipap in Malaysia, samosa in India, panada and pastel in Indonesia.
Before I left Singapore I took cooking lessons on how to make curry puffs. It involves all aspects of cooking that I’m least versed in. From making short crust pastry, rolling out and shaping bite size patties to deep fat frying. This is a time consuming and fiddly snack to make. Back then, it was much easier to run to a MRT station and buy it.
Now? If only there was an Old Chang Kee in Toronto’s TTC stations. I might have to find that paper hat and dust out the recipe. A fine activity for a dark and gloomy winter day.
Curry puff deprived in Toronto, Canada. Januay 2021