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Posted on Aug 28, 2007 | 20 comments

Nonya skate wing box lunches

Nonya skate wing box lunches

I love Singapore-Malaysian food. Nonya cuisine is the fusion that arose when male Chinese migrant workers moved to Singapore and Malaysia four centuries ago and married Malay women, and the cuisines merged in a most delicious fashion. Today’s lunches have skate wing (also known as ray, or stingray), which I had for the first time in Singapore in the Airport Hawker Center in the 90′s. A local friend took my husband and me there, promising amazing food, and she was right. There was an outstanding red sweet/hot chili sauce on grilled skate wing, and I haven’t yet been able to duplicate it.

Anyway, my Southeast Asian cookbooks have failed me so far in the quest to duplicate my memory of the ultimate hawker’s skate wing, so we resorted to a recipe from Steve Raichlen’s book The Barbecue! Bible . I have to hand it to Raichlen — his books are surprisingly international and well researched. (That said, can anyone recommend a really authoritative Singapore-Malaysian cookbook with recipes for authentic dishes like skate wing?) The Nonya sauce is sweet but hot, with shallots, jalapenos, garlic, lime juice and coconut milk. My husband made the skate, and the sauce came out SUPER-SPICY. Delicious, but not something that Bug could eat. So we grilled some plain skate and gave him mild pesto yogurt sauce instead.

Penang skate wing lunch

Contents of my lunch: Grilled skate wing with Nonya sweet-and-sour sauce, blueberries, cherries, and a quick salad of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and sanbaizu sweet vinegar sauce.

Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using all leftovers. In the morning, I microwaved leftover cold rice to restore the texture, and trimmed the skate wing to fit into the box.

Packing: I packed the sauced skate wing right on top of the rice layer, with the rice absorbing a little bit of sauce (“donburi bowl style” — it wasn’t so liquidy that the rice became sodden). Packed in a 650ml Leaflet box with movable divider that I picked up this weekend for US$8 at Irving Housewares in San Francisco, identical to this 500ml Leaflet box but a little bigger.

Skate wing lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Blueberries, cherries, grilled skate wing with pesto yogurt sauce, and bread salad (crusty bread cubes, heirloom tomatoes, bocconcini marinated mozzarella balls, fresh basil, and homemade vinaigrette). (Click photo for a larger view.) Summer’s the perfect time to make bread salad, with tomatoes and basil in season. An added benefit is that it packs well in lunches because the bread soaks up all of the seasoned liquid from the salad. At dinner, Bug initially didn’t like the look of it, but ate it all up once he tried it. The Two Bite Rule in action! (You don’t have to eat it all, but you must have two bites.)

Morning prep time: 6 minutes, using all leftovers.

Packing: In the morning, I deboned the skate wing and flaked it for easier child eating. Packed in one 350ml tier of a Lock & Lock lunch set.

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  1. Hmm, the sauce that comes to mind looks like a redder version of duck sauce, with chili flakes strewn throughout (maybe that’s where it gets the red from) and is sweet but then a kick as well. I’ve bought it in Asian stores before, there’s a Thai version, Vietnamese and possibly Malaysian (I’m not sure what Malaysian looks like, so I could have easily mistaken it for Vietnamese or Thai?). Is that what you’re talking about?

    Yum, btw, skate is pretty interesting. I didn’t know it was sting ray. And you reminded me I have feta in the fridge… should eat some, yum.

  2. hi biggie,

    first of all i must say i LOVE your site. it’s been a godsend since i’ve been wracking my brains about how to pack my lunches to work. thanks for all the good ideas!

    to return the favour, i MUST recommend mrs leong yee soo’s cookbook entitled “best of singapore cooking” (i found it on amazon, so i guess you could get it there if it’s not available in your local bookstore). it’s a brown, hardcover book with idiot-proof instructions on how to cook peranakan (nonya) cuisine. this cuisine is known for its long, tedious processes but often yields the most delicious results – the food is very much a labour of love. i use mrs leong’s cookbook all the time and i swear by her recipes! follow the recipes the first time, then amend or modify or substitute to make the recipe easier the next.

    hope this helps! good luck! :) and keep blogging!

  3. @1 from Yvo: Ah, yes, I know the sauce you’re talking about — I have a bottle of the Thai sweet chili dipping sauce in the fridge for chicken, home fries with sour cream (sounds weird, but it’s good), etc. That’s not exactly the sauce I remember, though. The sauce of my dreams was much more savory, more like a cooked salsa with an undertone of sweet and a smack in the face of savory hot.

  4. that sauce that you’re looking for is something we call “sambal” – red, sweet and hot. :) i can’t remember if mrs leong’s book has a specific sambal stingray recipe, but as long as you see the word “sambal” you’re free to make the sauce and layer it over whatever you want. alternatively, you may want to just google a recipe for sambal and see what turns up! it should consist of fresh and dried chilli, turmeric and lemon grass, as well as a healthy dose of garlic and onion. just add sugar for the sweetness. and nonyas believe in pounding the whole mixture, called “rempah”, in a pestle and mortar but for the modern (lazy) cook we just whizz everything up in a food processor and adjust according to taste. (

  5. for the even lazier modern non-chef, we just buy pre-packed sambal. you should be able to find a bottle in an asian supermarket.

    and oh! if you do succeed in making the sambal, this is how most singaporeans cook the stingray (non-hawker style): we put a piece of stingray on aluminium foil, spoon the sambal over (generously), and wrap the whole thing up. then we chuck the package onto the barbeque grill and check…uh when it’s done. yeah.

  6. (Oops, forgot to update my website for the last comment!)

    Ahhh, okay. Yummy… fries with sour cream and chili sauce, huh? Hmm… maybe I’ll give that a try. :)

  7. Char said it all. Sambal it is.

  8. @7 from Yvo: Yes, it’s something that I picked up from Las Chicas, a popular gaijin restaurant hangout in Omotesando, Tokyo. They served country fries (wedges, with skins) in a bowl, salted & peppered, with a generous spoonful of sour cream and the Thai chili sauce in a “corner” of the bowl. Very addicting.

  9. @5/6 from char: Sambal, of course! Thanks for the info, I think this’ll help me in my quest to duplicate the hawker’s chili ray.

  10. @8 from from Singapore: Thanks for the confirmation!

  11. i’m from singapore! to be more exact, it is sambal belachan. sambal is just the chili paste, but belachan has some dried shrimp/ prawn. that gives it the unique flavour! dried shrimps smell so bad but they give whatever they are cooked with the best flavour ever!!

    sambal stingray is so ubiquitous in singapore that this type of sauce is sold in jars.

    for authentic nonya cuisine, i think the best is to buy from singapore! not sure if they have singapore cookbooks online though.

    http://www.shermay.com/cookbooks.htm
    mrs lee’s cookbooks are supposed to be quite good. she is the mother of lee kwan yew i think.

  12. @12 from nat: Nat, I think you’re onto something with the belachan!!! That sounds like my food memory of the hawker’s chili ray. I do have some belachan in the pantry; I’ll pull it out and try it with the sambal. Mmmmm, and thank you for brainstorming! I’ll also check out Shermay Lee’s cookbooks; she looks quite popular.

  13. oh wow, I learned a lot just reading all these comments. Thanks everyone…. I will go look for Sambal. BTW who is lee kwan yew?

  14. @14 from yumimb: Lee Kwan Yew was the Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990.

  15. @16 from niceties: Wow, what a fascinating blog you have!!! I like the historical and cultural notes, not to mention the wealth of Singapore/Malaysian family recipes. Thank you for all of the cookbook information; I’ll be sure to check them out (as well as more of your grandmother’s recipes on your blog).

  16. @18 from niceties: Ah, free is always a good price! Thanks for the recipe website recs as well.

  17. Hi Biggie,

    Just looking through your old posts when came across this. I was trying very hard to think what on earth was skatewing until I read further into the sentence.

    To make the topping, just buy a jar of prepared sambal belachan in an Asian supermarket. If the manufacturer is Melaka/Malacca or Penang/Pinang, then should be alright (giving you the Malay spelling as well).

    There are many differing thoughts and opinions about Nonya Cooking (and lifestyle), with 3 locations claiming the origins : Penang, Melaka/Malacca, Singapore. All 3 actually have different cooking styles but there are still some similarities between all 3. I see that my cousin in UK is doing that and the sambal belachan sauce used is alright.

    Out of the 3, I prefer the Penang style as that is the way my Granny does her cooking. Chinese New Year is a favourite time for the dishes to come out although it can get very unhealthy. ;)

    I have 2 nonya cookbooks which I found very useful :

    Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine
    http://www.mph.com.my/search/nsearch.cfm?do=detail&pcode=983951217X
    This was written by a group of mothers belonging to a Chinese Association in Penang/Pinang. The recipes in there are the same as how my Granny prepares her cooking. Plus, there is an extra few recipes in there on Confinement Food that is not seen in any other Nonya Recipe Book.

    There is another Nonya Cookbook that I have written by a Singaporean author. I need to dig around for the detail. She rewrote it 10 years after her first edition and it had a lot of interesting dishes in there.

  18. P.s. it’s Myremi from the forums. :)