Please Handle with Curry

Kong Wee Pang paints us a picture

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 Photography by Chip Chockley

Photography by Chip Chockley

Whether you know it or not, you have seen Kong Wee Pang’s art.

One of her murals dons the Volunteer Odyssey storefront on Main Street downtown. Other works include the Love Doves sequin mural in Overton Square and the I Love Memphis mural in Crosstown. (Be on the lookout for the I-40 underpass sequin mural that is currently in progress.)

Originally from Malaysia, and by way of Japan and Singapore, Kong Wee found her way to Memphis as a student of fine art and design at the Memphis College of Art (MCA) in 2001. This is also where she met her husband, fellow artist and self-proclaimed fry cook Jay Crum. From public art to ad campaigns, she has shown her work all over the world, including New York, Spain, Italy, Berlin, Atlanta, California, Memphis and Malaysia. She currently works as a creative director at Archer Malmo. In 2016, Kong Wee also co-founded Taropop Studio (@taropop_studio) with her hubby to lean into and focus on public art and one-of-a-kind branding.

Recently, at her sweet abode in Cooper-Young near Central Avenue, we broke bread and talked about what’s cooking in her world and in her kitchen. There was andouille sausage, curry tofu, duck eggs and a mix of vegetables.

It was “Malayjun” heaven.

(That’s what she and Jay call their fusion of Malaysian cuisine and cajun cooking. Naturally, they have an Instagram page to showcase it, @malayjun.)

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Edible Memphis: What is the first thing you remember cooking?

Kong Wee: I never cooked back home. I lived with my Grandma, six aunts and uncles—a lot of family in close quarters who took care of the cooking. I recall watching them cut vegetables and cook in the giant wok we had. I first cooked for myself when I moved to Japan when I was around 15 or 16 years old. I was a part of a student exchange program and had to contribute. I cooked by feel, using curry powder and an array of Malaysian ingredients. My host family hated it when I cooked because it usually took me around two hours to finish. However, they did love my food. I’m still close to my Japanese family today. I also lived in Singapore where the food culture was like one big food court.

What is your “default” thing to cook when you’re hungry and need to make something fast?

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Noodles—I have a huge drawer of options. I always try to add an egg and a green vegetable. I also make a Japanese breakfast with an egg rolled in seaweed. It’s kind of like breakfast sushi.

Name any ingredients that you couldn’t live without.

Curry powder and soy sauce.

Name your favorite indulgence (food/cooking/kitchen-wise).

My naughty food is fried shrimp. It comes in a bag where the shrimp looks like fish cakes. They are like chips, called keropok. I use Lingham’s Malaysian hot sauce with them.

Name your favorite thing to do in the kitchen. Or, your favorite part of the cooking process.

Cooking is like drawing art—your passion, your observation and your taste. I love to look at the colors. Cooking always depends on my mood—it’s always an open conversation. Cooking Malaysian food also makes me feel close to home when I’m homesick.

Name your favorite kitchen tool(s) or gadget(s) and why it’s your favorite.

I love my wok, long chopsticks and my wire strainer. The tools are easy to use and very efficient.

Ever watch cooking shows on TV? If so, which ones?

I enjoy watching Chef’s Table, David Chang’s Ugly Delicious and anything by Anthony Bourdain.

Favorite place to shop locally for food?

There are many great spots—Great China on Summer and the international farmer’s market on Winchester are my favorites.

What condiments are in your fridge right now?

I have sriracha, roasted sesame dressing, [I make my own] sushi sauce, chicken bouillon, fermented chili paste, oyster sauce and instant sushi powder.

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Fruits and vegetables in your fridge right now?

Bitter melon, cilantro, lemons, limes, basil, mushrooms, tomatoes, celery, carrots, green onions, ginkgo nut, tofu, an array of gourds, chayote, garlic, bok choy and bobo fish balls.  

[Editor’s note: We’re not sure if bobo fish balls are a fruit or vegetable, but we like it!]

Most embarrassing thing in the fridge?

Spam. Actually, it’s off-brand Spam.

What’s in the freezer right now?

Indian bread, Texas toast, edamame, Indian meals (microwavable), dried shrimp, pandan and fermented eggs (duck eggs).

What’s in the pantry right now?

Tons of noodles, mushrooms, spices, seaweed, boxed water.

Favorite thing your mom/grandmother/aunt/neighbor cooked when you were a kid?

Humcha, which is basil, dried shrimp and ground tofu. It’s a Hakka (Taiwanese) dish. I also love steamed five-spice pork belly and yam.

Will you share a recipe that you cook at home?


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Kong Wee Pang’s Breakfast Sushi

This “breakfast sushi” technique makes a Japanese omelet called tamagoyaki. Makes 1 serving

Ingredients:

- 2 eggs

- 1 small handful chopped green onions

- Single package seasoned seaweed (Korean)

- Sea salt

- Black pepper

Directions:

1. In small bowl beat eggs together with green onions, sea salt and pepper.

2. Heat makiyakinabe (rectangle-shaped frying pan), or regular small round frying pan, over medium heat. Add cooking oil of your choice to pan. Pour egg mixture into pan. When egg is beginning to set but is still wet, lay single layer of seaweed over egg mixture.

3. Using chopsticks, roll the egg and seaweed, shaping it into a log. When roll is cooked through, remove from pan, cool and slice into bite-sized pieces.

4. Serve with sliced cucumber, soy sauce, sriracha, or your favorite dipping sauce.


Jeff Hulett is married with two daughters and lives in Midtown. He plays lots of music and tells lots of dad jokes.

Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais and his wife and kids.

Jeff Hulett is married with two daughters and lives in Midtown. He plays lots of music and tells lots of dad jokes.