Feb 122018

Darwin Day is a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on 12 February 1809. The day is used to highlight Darwin’s contribution to science and to promote science in general. The celebration of Darwin’s work and tributes to his life have been organized sporadically since his death on 19 April 1882, at age 73. Events took place at Down House, in Downe on the southern outskirts of London where Darwin and members of his family lived from 1842 until the death of his wife, Emma Darwin, in 1896.

Before I dribble on about Darwin Day, let me use the occasion to hammer home some persistent mistakes about natural selection:

  1. I am heartily sick of hearing morons like Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang say things like, “I am more evolved than most people.” Darwin, and all later biologists, used the word “evolve” as a synonym of “change over time.” It does not contain any sense of getting better or progressing.
  2. Darwin neither said nor believed in the “survival of the fittest.” If only the fittest survived there would be only one species or individual left.
  3. The word “fit” in Darwinian terms means, “suited for the environment.” Lots of animals are fit: snails, cockroaches, lions, ants . . . They are fit in the niche they occupy.
  4. Darwin neither said, nor believed, that humans evolved from apes or monkeys. He believed that modern apes and monkeys share a common ancestor with humans. All living things share a common ancestor somewhere along the line.
  5. His major work is called On the Origin of Species, not, The Origin of THE species. The book is about how species of animals develop over time, and is only minimally concerned with humans. (While I am on it, “species” is both singular and plural. For good measure – Homo sapiens is singular, it has no plural.)

In 1909, more than 400 scientists and dignitaries from 167 countries met in Cambridge to honor Darwin’s contributions and to discuss vigorously the recent discoveries and related theories contesting for acceptance. This was a widely reported event of public interest. Also in 1909, on 12th February, the 100th birth anniversary of Darwin and the 50th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species were celebrated by the New York Academy of Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History.

Scientists and academics sometimes celebrated 12th February with “Phylum Feast” events—a meal with foods from as many different phyla as they could manage, at least as early as 1972, 1974, and 1989 in Canada. In the United States, Salem State College in Massachusetts has held a “Darwin Festival” annually since 1980, and in 2005, registered “Darwin Festival” as a service mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The Humanist Community of Palo Alto, California, was motivated by Dr. Robert Stephens in late 1993 to begin planning for an annual “Darwin Day” celebration. Its first public Darwin Day event was a lecture by Dr. Donald Johanson (discoverer of the early hominid “Lucy”), sponsored by the Stanford Humanists student group and the Humanist Community on 22 April 1995. The Humanist Community continues its annual celebration of Darwin, science, and humanity, on 12 February.

Independently, in 1997, Professor Massimo Pigliucci initiated an annual “Darwin Day” event with students and colleagues at the University of Tennessee. The event included several public lectures and activities as well as a teachers’ workshop meant to help elementary and secondary school teachers better understand evolution and how to communicate it to their students, as well as how to deal with the pressures often placed on them by the creationism movement. In 2015, Delaware’s governor Jack Markell declared February 12 “Charles Darwin Day”, making Delaware the first state in the US to formally mark the occasion.

In the late 1990s, two Darwin enthusiasts, Amanda Chesworth and Robert Stephens, co-founded an unofficial effort to promote Darwin Day. In 2001, Chesworth moved to New Mexico and incorporated the “Darwin Day Program”. Stephens became chairman of the board and President of this nonprofit corporation with Massimo Pigliucci as Vice-President and Amanda Chesworth as member of the Board, Secretary, and Executive Director. Stephens presented the objectives of the organisation in an article titled “Darwin Day An International Celebration.” In 2002, Chesworth compiled and edited a substantial book entitled Darwin Day Collection One: the Single Best Idea, Ever. The objectives of the book were to show the multidisciplinary reach of Charles Darwin and to meld academic work with popular culture. In 2004, the New Mexico corporation was dissolved and all its assets assigned to the “Darwin Day Celebration”, a non-profit organization incorporated in California in 2004 by Dr. Robert Stephens and others.

Darwin Day Celebration redesigned the Web site, www.DarwinDay.org  from a static presentation of information about the Darwin Day Program to a combination of education about Darwin and the Darwin Day Celebration organization, including automated registration and publication of planned and past celebratory events and the automated registration of people who want to receive emailings or make public declaration of support for Darwin Day. The website is now operated by the International Darwin Day Foundation, an autonomous program of the American Humanist Association.

Darwin Day is also celebrated by the University of Georgia. The event is co-sponsored by the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Division of Biological Sciences, Odum School of Ecology and the departments of cellular biology, plant biology, and genetics. Mark Farmer, a professor and division chair of biological sciences and organiser of Darwin Day at UGA. Farmer said he got the idea from the International Darwin Day Foundation and brought the event to UGA in 2009 in time for the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. The University celebrates the impact that Darwin’s work had on the scientific community through a series of lectures around campus.

Various events are conducted on Darwin Day around the world. They have included dinner parties with special recipes for primordial soup and other inventive dishes, protests with school boards and other governmental bodies, workshops and symposia, distribution of information by people in ape costumes, lectures and debates, essay and art competitions, concerts, poetry readings, plays, artwork, comedy routines, re-enactments of the Scopes Trial and of the debate between Thomas H. Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, library displays, museum exhibits, travel and educational tours, recreations of the journey of the HMS Beagle, church sermons, movie nights, outreach, and nature hikes. The Darwin Day Celebration Web site offers free registration and display of all Darwin Day events.

2009 marked an important year for Darwin Day celebrations. The year was the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and it also marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Events were planned, with the most prominent celebrations in Shrewsbury, the University of Cambridge and at the Natural History Museum in London. Darwin’s alma mater, Christ’s College, Cambridge, commemorated the bicentenary with the unveiling of a life-sized bronze statue of the Young Darwin, sculpted by their former graduate Anthony Smith. HRH Prince Philip unveiled the statue and it was later shortlisted for the Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture 2009.

Let’s have some fun with primordial soup as our recipe. The original primordial soup notion came about when Russian chemist Alexandr Oparin and English geneticist John Haldane each came up with the idea independently. It had been theorized that life started in the oceans. Oparin and Haldane thought that the mix of gases in the primordial atmosphere combined with the energy from lightning strikes could spontaneously create amino acids and other organic compounds in the oceans. Amino acids are the building blocks of life (particularly DNA) This idea is now known as the “primordial soup” model.

In 1953, US scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey decided to test this theory. They combined the reducing atmosphere gases in the amounts that were hypothesized the early Earth’s atmosphere was thought to have and simulated an ocean in a closed apparatus. With constant lightning shocks simulated using electric sparks, they were able to create organic compounds, including amino acids. In fact, almost 15% of the carbon in the modeled atmosphere had turned into various organic building blocks in only a week. This ground-breaking experiment seemed to have proven that life on Earth could have spontaneously formed from non-organic ingredients.

There are numerous problems with the experiment, but I’ll cut to a recipe for “primordial soup” taken from here: http://www.runeverydayjanuary.com/recipes/2015/12/11/patrick-holfords-primordial-soup-with-hummus-on-rye-bread-and-a-rocket-salad  If you are not a Brit, “rocket” is arugula.


Primordial Soup


1 tbsp coconut oil or olive oil
½ red onion, chopped roughly
1 clove garlic , crushed
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large sweet potato, chopped (not peeled)
1 heaped tsp grated fresh root ginger
¼ tsp turmeric
2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
½ red pepper diced
75ml coconut milk


Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes until they start to soften but do not brown.

Add the carrot, sweet potato, ginger, turmeric and stock powder. Just cover with boiling water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Add the red pepper and coconut milk.

Blend the soup with a hand blender until smooth and creamy.

Ladle into bowls and serve with toasted rye bread spread with hummus and a rocket salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


Jan 012017


Today is the birthday (1854) of Sir James George Frazer OM FRS FRSE FBA whose evolutionary theories of social anthropology were very influential in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his work is still popular in some quarters, although it has been thoroughly superseded within the profession. His most famous work, The Golden Bough (1890), documents and details the similarities among magical and religious beliefs around the globe. Frazer posited that human belief progressed through three stages: primitive magic, replaced by religion, in turn replaced by science. The two great weaknesses of Frazer’s work as an anthropologist is that he did no fieldwork, and, hence, was oblivious to the importance of context when assessing social behavior.

Frazer was born in Glasgow, and attended school at Springfield Academy and Larchfield Academy in Helensburgh. Thence he studied at the University of Glasgow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took an honours degree in Classics and remained a Classics Fellow all his life. From Trinity, he went on to study law at the Middle Temple, but never practiced.


Frazer was elected 4 times to Trinity’s Title Alpha Fellowship, and was associated with the college for most of his life, except for a year, 1907–1908, spent at the University of Liverpool. He was knighted in 1914, and a public lectureship in social anthropology at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Glasgow and Liverpool was established in his honor in 1921. He was, if not blind, then severely visually impaired from 1930 on. He and his wife, Lily, died in Cambridge within a few hours of each other. They are buried at the Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge, England.

Except for visits to Italy and Greece, Frazer was not widely travelled. His prime sources of data were ancient histories and questionnaires mailed to missionaries and imperial officials all over the world. Frazer’s interest in social anthropology was aroused by reading E. B. Tylor’s Primitive Culture (1871) and encouraged by his friend, the biblical scholar William Robertson Smith, who was comparing elements of the Hebrew Bible with Hebrew folklore.

Frazer was foundational in what became known as the “myth and ritual” school, which was very influential in both social anthropology and Biblical studies for many decades into the 20th century. I have my own issues with the definition of “myth” which I will set aside for the moment. Frazer did at least posit a crucial link between sacred narrative and ritual in culture which is somewhat enduring. His generation’s choice of Darwinian evolution as a social paradigm, interpreted by Frazer as three stages of human progress—magic giving rise to religion, then culminating in science— is entirely bankrupt. All cultures contain all three paradigms at all times, though different cultures place different emphasis on each, as do individuals within those cultures.


The Golden Bough, contains a wealth of data on cultural practices worldwide (of questionable accuracy) with the general sub-text that early Christianity is just one of a number of religions based on the concept of a dying a rising god, with a lot of overlapping details as well. The first edition, in two volumes, was published in 1890. The third edition was finished in 1915 and ran to twelve volumes, with a supplemental thirteenth volume added in 1936. He published a single-volume abridged version, largely compiled by his wife Lady Frazer, in 1922, with some controversial material on Christianity excluded from the text. The work’s influence extended well beyond the conventional bounds of academia, inspiring the new work of psychologists and psychiatrists. Sigmund Freud cited Totemism and Exogamy frequently in his own Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics. This mostly goes to prove that Freud was just as wrong in this regard as Frazer, every bit as much as Marx was wrong when he relied on the evolutionary theories of Lewis Henry Morgan.

The symbolic cycle of life, death, and rebirth which Frazer found in the sacred stories of many peoples captivated a generation of artists and poets. Perhaps the most notable product of this fascination is T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land (1922). Also Jim Morrison in his “Celebration of the Lizard” (finally titled “Not to Touch the Earth” as a song within the Waiting for the Sun album of 1968) included lyrics such as “not to touch the earth, not to see the sun” — sentences which serve as chapter titles in Frazer’s work. More recently, Frazer’s work influenced the ending of Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Apocalypse Now (1979) (a copy of The Golden Bough is shown in one of the final shots).

Frazer was from Glasgow and today is Hogmanay, so a traditional Scots recipe is in order. Here is potted hough, an old favorite of mine. “Hough” is Lowland Scots for “shin” which is a very cheap cut of beef because it is so tough (veal shin is used in ossobucco). Beef shin is very tasty but requires long, slow cooking. Potted hough is served cold, and makes a great dish on a New Year’s Day buffet spread.


Potted Hough


2 lb (1kg) beef shin, bone in
salt and pepper
ground all-spice
beef stock


Put the meat in one piece with the bone and seasonings to taste into a large saucepan. Cover with beef stock and bring to a very gentle simmer. Skim as needed and keep on a gentle simmer for around 6 hours.

Refrigerate overnight with the meat separate from the broth.

In the morning skim off the fat from the broth and return it to the heat. If it did not gel overnight, reduce as you think fit.

Strip the meat from the bone and shred it finely. Add it back to the stock, check the seasonings, then simmer for a few minutes.

Grease a few small moulds or dishes and divide the mixture between them. Pack the meat tightly, then chill to set.

Unmould and serve with bread or toast.

Jan 082015


Today is the birthday (1823) of Alfred Russel Wallace OM FRS, a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist. He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection; his paper on the subject was jointly published with some of Charles Darwin’s writings in 1858. This prompted Darwin to publish his own ideas in On the Origin of Species. Wallace did extensive fieldwork, first in the Amazon River basin and then in the Malay Archipelago, where he identified the faunal divide now termed the Wallace Line, which separates the Indonesian archipelago into two distinct parts: a western portion in which the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the fauna reflect Australasia.

He was considered the 19th century’s leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is sometimes called the “father of biogeograph.” Wallace was one of the leading evolutionary thinkers of the 19th century and made many other contributions to the development of evolutionary theory besides being co-discoverer of natural selection. These included the concept of warning coloration in animals, and the Wallace effect, a hypothesis on how natural selection could contribute to speciation by encouraging the development of barriers against hybridization.

Wallace was strongly attracted to unconventional ideas (such as evolution). His advocacy of spiritualism and his belief in a non-material origin for the higher mental faculties of humans strained his relationship with some members of the scientific establishment. In addition to his scientific work, he was a social activist who was critical of what he considered to be an unjust social and economic system in 19th century Britain. His interest in natural history resulted in his being one of the first prominent scientists to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity.

Wallace was a prolific author who wrote on both scientific and social issues; his account of his adventures and observations during his explorations in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, The Malay Archipelago, is regarded as one the best of all journals of scientific exploration published during the 19th century.

Wallace had financial difficulties throughout much of his life. His Amazon and Far Eastern trips were supported by the sale of specimens he collected and, after he lost most of the considerable money he made from those sales in unsuccessful investments, he had to support himself mostly from the publications he produced. Unlike some of his contemporaries in the British scientific community, such as Darwin and Charles Lyell, he had no family wealth to fall back on, and he was unsuccessful in finding a long-term salaried position, receiving no regular income until he was awarded a small government pension, through Darwin’s efforts, in 1881.

Wallace’s contributions to evolutionary biology have now largely been forgotten, and evolution tends to be linked with Darwin only. But Wallace had a profound influence on the field and on Darwin himself. In fact, it has been argued that had he not corresponded with Darwin about his own theories concerning natural selection, Darwin might never have published his. Darwin had sat on his notes for many years because he was aware of the firestorm that would follow – and did. In his lifetime Wallace was one of the most famous scientists in the world, but soon after his death he was forgotten, and remains so. Hence my desire to celebrate him today.

Inspired by the chronicles of earlier travelling naturalists, including Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, and William Henry Edwards, Wallace decided that he too wanted to travel abroad as a naturalist. In 1848, Wallace and Henry Bates left for Brazil aboard the ship Mischief. Their intention was to collect insects and other animal specimens in the Amazon rainforest and sell them to collectors back in the United Kingdom. Wallace also hoped to gather evidence of the transmutation of species which was a theory that was largely unsupported by empirical evidence.

Wallace and Bates spent most of their first year collecting near Belém do Pará, then explored inland separately, occasionally meeting to discuss their findings. In 1849, they were briefly joined by another young explorer, botanist Richard Spruce, along with Wallace’s younger brother Herbert. Herbert left soon thereafter (dying two years later from yellow fever), but Spruce, like Bates, would spend over ten years collecting in South America.

Wallace continued charting the Rio Negro for four years, collecting specimens and making notes on the peoples and languages he encountered as well as the geography, flora, and fauna. On 12 July 1852, Wallace embarked for the UK on the brig Helen. After 26 days at sea, the ship’s cargo caught fire and the crew was forced to abandon ship. All of the specimens Wallace had on the ship, mostly collected during the last, and most imporant, years of his trip, were lost. He could save only part of his diary and a few sketches.

Wallace and the crew spent ten days in an open boat before being picked up by the brig Jordeson, which was sailing from Cuba to London. The Jordeson’s provisions were strained by the unexpected passengers, but after a difficult passage on very short rations the ship finally reached its destination on 1 October 1852.

After his return to the UK, Wallace spent 18 months in London living on the insurance payment for his lost collection and selling a few specimens that had been shipped back to Britain prior to his starting his exploration of the Rio Negro. During this period, despite having lost almost all of the notes from his South American expedition, he wrote six academic papers (which included “On the Monkeys of the Amazon”) and two books; Palm Trees of the Amazon and Their Uses and Travels on the Amazon. He also made connexions with a number of other British naturalists—most significantly, Darwin.

From 1854 to 1862, age 31 to 39, Wallace travelled through the Malay Archipelago or East Indies (now Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia), to collect specimens for sale and to study natural history. A set of 80 bird skeletons he collected in Indonesia and associated documentation can be found in the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology. His observations of the marked zoological differences across a narrow strait in the archipelago led to his proposing the zoogeographical boundary now known as the Wallace line.


Wallace collected more than 126,000 specimens in the Malay Archipelago (more than 80,000 beetles alone). Several thousand of them represented species new to science.] One of his better-known species descriptions during this trip is that of the gliding tree frog Rhacophorus nigropalmatus, now known as Wallace’s flying frog. While he was exploring the archipelago, he refined his thoughts about evolution and had his famous insight on natural selection. In 1858 he sent an article outlining his theory to Darwin; it was published, along with a description of Darwin’s own theory, in the same year.

Accounts of his studies and adventures there were eventually published in 1869 as The Malay Archipelago, which became one of the most popular books of scientific exploration of the 19th century, and has never been out of print. It was praised by scientists such as Darwin (to whom the book was dedicated), and Charles Lyell, and by non-scientists such as the novelist Joseph Conrad, who called it his “favorite bedside companion” and used it as source of information for several of his novels, especially Lord Jim.

In 1862, Wallace returned to England, where he moved in with his sister Fanny Sims and her husband Thomas. While recovering from his travels, Wallace organized his collections and gave numerous lectures about his adventures and discoveries to scientific societies such as the Zoological Society of London. Later that year, he visited Darwin at Down House, and became friendly with both Charles Lyell and Herbert Spencer. During the 1860’s, Wallace wrote papers and gave lectures defending natural selection. He also corresponded with Darwin about a variety of topics, including sexual selection, warning coloration, and the possible effect of natural selection on hybridization and the divergence of species. In 1865, he began investigating spiritualism, his advocacy of which alienated him from many powerful figures in the scientific community.

John Stuart Mill was impressed by remarks criticizing English society that Wallace had included in The Malay Archipelago. Mill asked him to join the general committee of his Land Tenure Reform Association, but the association dissolved after Mill’s death in 1873. Wallace had written only a handful of articles on political and social issues between 1873 and 1879 when, at the age of 56, he entered the debates over trade policy and land reform in earnest. He believed that rural land should be owned by the state and leased to people who would make whatever use of it that would benefit the largest number of people, thus breaking the often-abused power of wealthy landowners in British society. In 1881, Wallace was elected as the first president of the newly formed Land Nationalisation Society. In the next year, he published a book, Land Nationalisation; Its Necessity and Its Aims, on the subject. He criticized the UK’s free trade policies for the negative impact they had on working-class people. In 1889, Wallace read Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy and declared himself a socialist. After reading Progress and Poverty, the best-selling book by the progressive land reformist Henry George, Wallace described it as “Undoubtedly the most remarkable and important book of the present century.”

Wallace opposed eugenics, an idea supported by other prominent 19th century evolutionary thinkers, on the grounds that contemporary society was too corrupt and unjust to allow any reasonable determination of who was fit or unfit. In the 1890 article “Human Selection” he wrote “Those who succeed in the race for wealth are by no means the best or the most intelligent …”. In 1898, Wallace wrote a paper advocating a pure paper money system, not backed by silver or gold, which impressed the economist Irving Fisher so much that he dedicated his 1920 book Stabilizing the Dollar to Wallace. Wallace wrote articles on other social and political topics including his support for women’s suffrage, and the dangers and wastefulness of militarism.

In 1898, Wallace published The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Its Failures about developments in the 19th century. The first part of the book covers the major scientific and technical advances of the century; the second part covers what Wallace considered to be its social failures including: the destruction and waste of wars and arms races, the rise of the urban poor and the dangerous conditions in which they lived and worked, a harsh criminal justice system that failed to reform criminals, abuses in a mental health system based on privately owned sanatoriums, the environmental damage caused by capitalism, and the evils of European colonialism. Wallace continued his social activism for the rest of his life, publishing the book The Revolt of Democracy just weeks before his death.

Wallace continued his scientific work in parallel with his social commentary. In 1880, he published Island Life as a sequel to The Geographic Distribution of Animals. In November 1886, Wallace began a ten-month trip to the United States to give a series of popular lectures. Most of the lectures were on Darwinism (evolution through natural selection), but he also gave speeches on biogeography, spiritualism, and socio-economic reform. During the trip, he was reunited with his brother John who had emigrated to California years before. He also spent a week in Colorado, with the American botanist Alice Eastwood as his guide, exploring the flora of the Rocky Mountains and gathering evidence that would lead him to a theory on how glaciation might explain certain commonalities between the mountain flora of Europe, Asia and North America, which he published in 1891 in the paper “English and American Flowers”. He met many other prominent American naturalists and viewed their collections. His 1889 book Darwinism used information he collected on his American trip, and information he had compiled for the lectures.

Wallace assembled a huge collection of flora and fauna which were kept in “cabinets.” Only one of these collections remains in its original cabinet. It consists of 1,700-items consisting of a variety of insects, including butterflies, beetles, moths, shells, flies, bees, praying mantises, tarantulas, seedpods, a hornet’s nest, and a small bird. A collector named Robert Heggestad found this cabinet/collection in Washington DC in 1979 and purchased it for $600 (not knowing who had assembled it). Heggestad began documenting references in Wallace’s work to specimens in the cabinet, resulting in a 62-page report to support the theory that the collection once belonged to Wallace. He also employed graphologist Beverley East to verify the handwriting on the collection. It is Wallace’s only known personal collection still in its original cabinet. Today it is believed that Wallace collected the specimens in the rosewood cabinet for instructional purposes.

On 7 November 1913, Wallace died at home in the country house he called Old Orchard, which he had built a decade earlier. He was 90 years old. His death was widely reported in the press. The New York Times called him “the last of the giants belonging to that wonderful group of intellectuals that included, among others, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Lyell, and Owen, whose daring investigations revolutionised and evolutionised the thought of the century.” Another commentator in the same edition said “No apology need be made for the few literary or scientific follies of the author of that great book on the ‘Malay Archipelago’.”

Some of Wallace’s friends suggested that he be buried in Westminster Abbey, but his wife followed his wishes and had him buried in the small cemetery at Broadstone, Dorset. Several prominent British scientists formed a committee to have a medallion of Wallace placed in Westminster Abbey near where Darwin had been buried. The medallion was unveiled on 1 November 1915.

I thought it fitting to talk about Malay cuisine because of Wallace’s close ties to the Malay region. I enjoy cooking one or two dishes when I can get hold of the ingredients which is easier for me now I am in SW China. But I do not have a kitchen yet, so I will just have to describe it. Malay restaurants are not common in the West, but I did find a good one once in Brighton on the south coast of England.


Malay cuisine is noted for its complex spice mixes, fiery sambals, coconut milk, and rice. Nasi lemak (Jawi: ناسيلمق) is a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf, commonly found in Malaysia, where it is considered the national dish. It is also popular in neighboring countries such as Brunei, Singapore, Riau Islands, and Southern Thailand. It is not hard to prepare but you do need pandan leaves to get the right flavor. They can be found in the West, frozen, in Asian stores. They add a flavor similar to basmati rice to plain rice. So, if you cannot get them use basmati as a substitute.


Basically you use coconut milk in place of water using about a 2:I ratio of milk to rice so that the milk is completely absorbed. Add a few slices of fresh ginger and a knot of pandan leaves for flavoring. The rice is traditionally served with sliced cucumber, fried anchovies, boiled egg, and peanuts with some kind of sambal. But it can accompany any dish. Here’s a little gallery of ideas for you.

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