Wednesday, May 16, 2012

epok epok sardine (sardine curry puffs)

Giveaway Reminder : If you read my last post, you'll know about the upcoming giveaway I have planned to celebrate the completion of work on my second cookbook, Mum's Not Cooking and to say "thank you" to you, my readers for following, subscribing, reading and commenting. Without readers, blogs would be unheard voices in the wilderness. I am giving away 3 copies, one each to 3 lucky readers from anywhere in the world, not just Singapore. If you've been a silent reader so far, please introduce yourself during the giveaway - there's no better time to say hello as you stand to win a great prize.

Winning  it will be easy I promise, and you will loooove this adorable little book or I will cook it and eat it! It will hit local bookstores in June 2012, but I am telling you now, lovely readers because you are special (because you're MY readers!) and I don't want you to miss out, so stay tuned and keep checking back here for details. And now, it's Nona Nona time!
After our wildly successful ( :P ) first joint Nona Nona post, Biren and I decided we had to do it not only again, but at least once a month from now on. Who am I kidding? We had so much fun, trying to second guess each other and crossing our fingers hard enough to crack a walnut, that we both wouldn't post the same thing, we knew we had to keep doing this!

Nona Nona is a celebration of our friendship, our love for food and culture and the camaraderie and fellowship that arises from the confluence of both. The choice of  the name Nona Nona (Ladies) for our little cooking circle is particularly apt for Biren and myself as it is a term commonly used by both the Nyonya and Kristang communities and hints at the single origin of both groups, Malacca.

So here we are again, barely a month later, this time, each putting our kitchen spin on a familiar favourite in the south east Asian kitchen, canned sardines. Before you even think, "cat food!", let me tell you that any domestic feline would be a pampered and ever so lucky little kitty to find these in her dinner bowl....*meeeeeoow*

As always I haven't a clue what Biren, my partner in crime is up to, with her little fishies, but I give you today, a perennial favourite on afternoon tea trays in this part of the world, the humble but incredibly tasty and devilishly moreish morsel, the epok epok sardine. 

Epok epok (ay-pohk ay-pohk) is what we call these little parcels of delight, which are traditionally filled with curried potatoes (epok epok kentang), meat (epok epok daging), sardines or stir fried shredded vegetables (epok epok sayur). My favourite is of course the sardine version, though I sometimes stuff them with a pan fried mixture of canned corned beef, onions, red chillies and pepper (epok epok serani?), when my boys crave a richly savoury tea time treat.

In Malaysia they are known as karipap, so don't go there in search of epok epok or you would be laughed right out of town. While essentially the same thing, epok epok are usually smaller than karipap or curry puffs and are a two bite deal; two bites and they are gone. Oops! Just ate three more! Did I tell you how moreish they are? ;)

What makes a good epok epok? Different people may tell you different things, but we all like a generous filling, nicely but not overly spiced, a brittle, perfectly salted crust peppered with bubbly blisters (a sign of light, nicely layered and flaky pastry) and a good crust to filling ratio, which means as thin a crust as possible to hold it all together.

Epok epok are a culinary contribution to our local foodscape, courtesy of the Malay community, no question about it, so everyone else, hands off please, unless you just want to eat them ;)

Their true origin though may be British (the Cornish pasty), Arabic and Indian (the samosa) or Spanish and Portuguese (the empanada) but let's not split hairs, not when there's cooking and more importantly, eating to be done!

When Biren suggested we do something themed on sardines, these IMMEDIATELY came to mind, and I did not want to do anything else, even at the risk of duplicating Biren's dish.

You see, about 80% of the canned sardines swimming around in Singapore and Malaysia, end up stuffed into epok epok! No, I'm kidding, but say "sardine" in Singapore and chances are the rejoinder will be an enthuthiastic and lusty "epok epok!!" We do love our food.....

I never thought about the meaning of epok epok, as growing up surrounded by them made me impervious to such musings; these things are made for eating, not getting philosophical or pedantic over. But as a food blogger, I do owe it to my readers to find out these things, so off I went asking every Malay person I knew, and making a nuisance of myself in the process. It turns out that "epok" means, 1) to fold, alluding to the way the pastry is folded over the filling and 2) a small stringed pouch, often woven out of pandan leaves. Homework done. Do I get a gold star ? :D

I love eating epok epok, but making them, to use a pretty euphemism, is a labour of love, so when I do make them, it's my mum the pastry pinching phenom who does the pinching and twirling of the pastry edges into a beautiful braid like edge. This intricate procedure, called fluting, makes me want to pull my hair out but I decided that to present these for you, here, it's time I became a big girl and did it myself, so what you see now is all my own honest but clumsy handiwork. One day, I'll get it right day!

Prep 45 mins                   Cook 20 mins                  Makes 20


2 large onions peeled and thinly sliced (see photo)
3 large green chillies, thinly sliced
2 small cans sardines (Ayam brand preferred)
2 tbsp meat curry powder (my secret for good fish curry)
½ tsp cumin powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
Juice of 1 calamansi lime (limau kasturi)


300 g (3 cups) plain or all purpose flour
2/3 tsp salt
100 g (2/3 cup) cold firm butter
120 ml (slightly over ½ cup) chilled water

·        Heat 4 tablespoons oil and fry the onions and green chillies until fragrant and beginning to brown. Add sardines with the tomato sauce and stir for 2 – 3 minutes.

·        Break up the sardine and mash them into the onion mixture. Sprinkle over the curry powder and cumin and stir over moderate heat for about 3 minutes or until fragrant. Add salt, sugar and lime juice and stir well.

·       Turn off heat and set aside until cold, while you make the pastry.

·       To make pastry, combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir with whisk to distribute salt.  Cut butter into the flour with a blunt tipped knife until in small, rough cubes.  Keep tossing the pieces of butter with flour as you cut so nothing sticks.

·        Use your hands to rub the butter into the flour, squeezing the pieces of butter to get them smaller. Keep rubbing and tossing the butter pieces until the mixture looks like very coarse crumbs, with bits of butter still visible here and there. The mixture should be very rough.

·       Pour in the water all at once and stir quickly with a spatula until a rough dough forms. Push everything together but don’t knead the dough or you will toughen the pastry.

·        Divide dough into 5 large equal pieces, cover and chill for 15 minutes. Divide each piece of dough into 4 equal smaller pieces to make a total of 20 pieces.

·        Roll out each piece of dough into a small circle the size of an espresso saucer. Put 1 heaped teaspoon of cold filling on the lower half of each pastry circle. Fold pastry over to cover filling and press down on edges to seal.

·        Pinch and twirl the pastry edge to form a rope like design.  Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling. When done, cover epok epok and chill for 20 minutes.

·        Heat enough oil for deep frying and when hot, gently lower in the epok epok in batches of 4 or 5 depending on the size of your pan or pot. I use a small deep pot to reduce the amount of oil used and fry 3 at a time. Don’t crowd the pan. Control the intensity of the heat so inside of pastry is cooked though in the same time that the outside turns crisp and golden. 

·       When golden and blistered, remove from oil and drain on crushed kitchen paper. Serve warm with coffee or tea for breakfast, afternoon tea or as a snack at any time.


  1. Haha! You did not make sardine sandwiches after all. Good thing I stuck to my plan. Had I vacillated, my second choice would be dangerously close to yours. No, it is not a karipap but it has a filling like your epok-epok and a pastry crust. It is another favorite of mine. Maybe I'll make it one of these days ;)

    First time I am hearing this called epok-epok. Cute name and you do deserve a star for doing your homework :D

    Curry epok-epok reminds me of my Grandma. She makes the best spiral chicken curry puffs and I learned the fluting from her. We used to make about 100 to 150 curry puffs each time and so there were lots of opportunities for me to practise. I have made them here but it took a long time to wrap the filling. More fun to make and eat them with the relatives.

    Back to your sardine epok-epok. I think I can esily polish off that entire plate without batting an eyelid.

  2. Really cute name right?! I always thought so :D Aiyah! Maybe you can teach me how to flute properly when you are here. My mum has given up on me and says I might as well have clubs for hands lololol Embroidery is my other nemesis, but that's another story for another post ;)

    I DID polish off the whole plate myself, and my eyelid never moved the whole time! *sigh* Twenty tiny epok epok is just not enough is this greedy house!

    1. Maybe we can have a karipap fluting party :D It's been a while but I think it should come right back. It must with my reputation at stake...haha!

      I hope there wasn't a mutiny with only 20 tasty epok-epok and you ate 5. Next time just use the karipap mold and double or triple the recipe :D

  3. I'm not a fan of sardines, but this recipe looks truly delicious! I think I'll save the dough recipe and try a potato or meat filling as you mentioned above. Your Nona Nona challenge is great fun and I'll have to keep an eye out each month for the results. I followed a link from Biren's blog and enjoyed your post. I enjoyed your writing style as I do Biren's. Thanks :)

    1. Hi Cathy, thanks for visiting and leaving your kind words. We really enjoy our little Nona Nona shindigs and would love to see you for our next one in June, which Biren and I are already working on. Do keep a lookout too, for my giveaway - the prizes are easy wins and cute as buttons too!

  4. I love sardines! And I read that longevity in Sardinia is in part thanks to them too. Great recipe! Yum!
    Go Nona-Nona!

    1. I did not know that about sardines but I'm glad to hear something I love is good for me too :) Thank you so much for all your support and also kind words!

  5. I'm also not a fan of sardines but will substitute it with potatoes. Love curry puffs, dear! I'm biting into the crumbs now! Hahaha!

    Did I hear u saying 'Malacca'? I've been invited to attend a food blogging event there this weekend & I'm really looking fwd to it. Haven't been there for ages.

  6. o boy...those curry puffs with sardine filling look out of this world delicious!

  7. Ohhh I'm so hungry now!! I love sardines!! Question: when you say meat curry, what curry is it?
    I live in USA but I am from Argentina :) I do tuna empanadas but these are a whole new thing!!
    Thanks :) I'm sending the link to my brothers asap :)

  8. Hi Acelesia, nice to meet another sardine lover - so few of us around! Usually these puffs are filled with diced or minced chicken meat, sometimes beef, lamb or goat, cooked with curry powder, onions, garlic, ginger etc, cooked to a thick, almost dry mixture like the one I made for these sardine puffs. Hope the info is helpful. Thanks for checking out the post and sending the link to your brothers - hope you participate in my upcoming book giveaway. If you like the kind of food I feature on my blog, I am sure you will love the book!

  9. Hi Denise!
    I was at Biren's first before hopping over here and I was right!! I left my comment at Biren's that I was thinking (or rather, hoping) that you'd be making sardine puffs !!! Am I telepathic or what?? LOL! So glad you make these puffs. One of my favourites, but I've never attempted making these from scratch, because of the pastry!! BTW, could we bake these puffs instead of deep frying :-) Might consider making these gems soon, but probably, the cheat's way. Ready-made pastries LOL!

    1. Hellooooooo! Hey Nasifriet :) I've been snooping around your place (not stalking, honest! Just very curious about further veranda developments, but nothing new I see :( You don't know how much I wish I had one of those, or even just a little front or back yard. The joys of life in Singapore *sigh*

      Anyway - this post really agitated me (silly isn't it??)cos I was so worried that Biren would make either sandwiches or puffs lol Fortunately things worked out fine, but I know one of these days we will both make the same thing *yikes*

      Yes!! You can definitely bake these. In fact I wanted to bake half and fry half, but the thrill of seeing the puffs engulfed in boiling, frothing hot oil as I dropped them in to their dastardly doom, won out and none made it to the oven. Dah besar pun masih suka main api lololol *blush*

    2. Ooooopss.... sorry, haven't been updating my blog for ages. I've been meaning to, but I get all worn-out when I get home from work. But I love leaving notes/ comments on fellow bloggers' space. Also a way of saying that I'm alive and kicking.... LOL! Has a month really passed by us already? Wow! time flies and I can't wait for your and Biren's third battle of the pans. Would be great to see if you both ended up doing the same thing, because the execution will be very, very different, I'm pretty sure. Looking forward to your next Nona-Nona activity... :-)

  10. What a unique recipe...great flavors and such lovely puffs!
    Will check in on Biren next :)

  11. just stumbled along your blog from tastespotting - you have a fabulous selection of recipes!!!

  12. Hi Denise, I wish that I have come across your epok epok recipe a month ago as my father would love to have eaten it...he passed away just last week..I would still try to make them and I am sure he would have loved the many recipes in your new cookbook..I would try to get one, if I can...Thanks for sharing them...Lovely blog and recipes...GOD Bless..

    1. Hi Kueh Kueh, it is regrettable that your father did not get to taste epok epok sardine a final time. Please accept my sincerest condolences. Thank you also for reading my blog, for your kind words and your interest in my book. I hope that should you get it, it will prove useful.

  13. Made these lovely puffs based off your recipe yesterday. Turned out quite ugly (my puff shaping skills are very bad) but really very delicious! I baked them in the oven as I'm trying to be slightly healthier...

    Shall make them again and again and hope I can improve on the looks of the puffs. Thank you so much for the recipe!

  14. this looks amazing!! I'm making them today with chicken and trying with gluten free flour. will update how it goes

  15. in all my 7 years away from singapore i could only have sardine puffs when im back visiting. now i can make my own ones, all thanks to you!! big thanks for this wonderful recipe.. you have no idea how absolutely ecstatic i was when i tasted this today :)

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