Spicy Fried Tempeh, and How I Miss My Mom

I haven’t written for quite awhile. Had a moment where I find it hard to process my thoughts into words. I miss having my mom around, so there’s an adult to talk to during the day when my husband is at work. Ironically, I didn’t have a good relationship with my mom as a child. We rarely talked, except when I was talking back. I didn’t know why she was so.. bitter and unloving. I’m not going to elaborate, but I discovered something when I was 16. She’s been holding so much burden by hiding someone else’s secrets just so we, her children, won’t lose respect for that “someone”. To make long story short, since then, I see her in different light.

Funny how my mom lives thousand miles away from me, but her voice is always in my head. Making comments. Sometimes it’s a nice one, sometimes it’s mocking me. When I was playing puzzles with my son, her voice in my head said “Start with the sides first, then you just fill in the middle parts“. After how many years, the memories just flooded back. Like that one time she told me how God would punish me in the future, by making me marry the boy I socked in kindergarten “so watch out, don’t hurt people“.

While driving to my grandmother’s house, we would pass a river. A really dirty one. There were people brushing their teeth there, taking a dump, taking a bath, using the water to cook their meals. I was (and still am) grateful that we have proper plumbing, so using the dirty water wasn;t necessary. Then I saw something else, I’m sure they’ve been there forever, but didn’t notice til that day. There were two men, in their underpants and wifebeaters, stomping something inside a barrel with their sweats dripping down. Undoubtedly using the dirty water, too. My mom noticed me looking at them, said nonchalantly “Oh, they’re just stomping on the soy beans that they’ll turn into tempeh“. My 8-year-old self, who love tempeh so very much, got so disgusted and wouldn’t touch it for the next 5 years. While my mom swore she never said that, I’m sure it was her selective memories playing tricks on her.Oddly, in Indonesia, tempeh is the poor man’s protein choice. Meat costs much more than tempeh. You want a cheap protein? Cook some tempeh. I was quite surprised when I found out that tempeh costs way more than meat ($3.79 for an 8oz pack, are you fucking kidding me?) When I told my mom, she blamed the vegetarian/vegan who made tempeh sounds so “hip”, hence the higher demand. (Sorry for vegetarian/vegan out there, my mom is.. my mom)

But sometimes I splurge, and buy it without even thinking. My mom laughs at me whenever I tell her I buy tempeh, and makes comment about how my younger self must be laughing too and said “This is your punishment for being a spoiled brat who denied tempeh because it was cheap and dirty!” Oh it’s true.. my bratty younger self will DEFINITELY say that. The whole time I was prepping, with all these memories flooded into my brains, I couldn’t help but wish she was here with us.

Here for you guys, who have read my non-sense ramblings and make it this far (I just miss my mom, that is all). My favorite way to eat tempeh.


  • 8oz pack of tempeh, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp tamarind water
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
  • Chilies, (up to you, I used 8), sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half of lemongrass stalk, or just use 1 tsp lemongrass powder
  • Oil

Deep fried the cubed tempeh until golden brown, dry on paper towel.

In a frying pan, saute the shallots and chilies in oil, then add in the tamarind water, lemongrass and brown sugar. Taste, season with salt and pepper. Cook until thickens, if you want to dilute it with a bit of water, go ahead. The liquid mixture must be just enough to coat the fried tempeh. Not too much or it’ll be tempeh soup 🙂

Toss in the fried tempeh, cook a little bit until the tempeh cubes are all coated. Serve with rice.


6 responses to “Spicy Fried Tempeh, and How I Miss My Mom

  1. Haha, what a somehow funny post ;). Tempeh is also quite expensive in Germany, bule2 aneh …;). Well, I guess it's because soy beans are no popular ingredients in the West! I've never liked tempeh that much, especially when I was younger, but I do crave for it from time to time now.

  2. Hi Christine! I just came across your blog and immediately loved that you have a picture of a rice cooker in your header. I just bought a rice cooker at the Asia store two months ago, and I love it. It really makes perfect rice! 😀

    Thank you for sharing your memories of your mom, I really enjoyed reading them! Isn't it amazing how our loved ones always are in our hearts and minds, even if they are hundreds of miles away, having a major influence on our lives?

    I've never tried tempeh, but I'm intrigued. I've seen it at the Asia store – it looks so funny with all these little knobs from the soybeans 😀 and yeah, it's *really* expensive. 😦 But I think I'll just try it. And I also bought tamarind but haven't used it so far. I'll try your recipe soon! 🙂

  3. Cooking Gallery: thank you. Yeah, tempeh is so expensive, I wanna cry!

    Kath: thanks. My husband helped me draw that rice cooker 🙂 Tempeh is an acquired taste by itself, I think. But it's really versatile, any flavor profile works.

  4. Christine, I can appreciate how much you miss your mum when you guys are far apart. I cannot imagine being separated from my mum because we have been together ever sine the day I was born. Now that we are both getting old, there are times when my fear of loosing her gets the better of me and I feel really scared and depress. Co-incidentally, I just had tempeh a few days ago. I sliced them thinly and deep fried them till crispy outside and still soft inside. I made dip from toasted ground corriander, ground cumin and white sesame seed in extra virgin olive oil. The taste is awesome. Happy Mother's Day.

  5. Ok, so I had no idea you could FRY tempeh. I'll have to try it. Usually it tastes a bit too off for me.
    I didn't get along much with my mom when I was young, either. I'm not sure exactly what changed– mostly it was that I had kids, I think. But man, I would never have believed that we could get along back then.

  6. Mariko: how do you usually cook it?! Tempeh should always be fried, then seasoned later or marinated prior to frying. Other methods (boiling, steaming, etc) turn it into mush. And I don't like mush… My relationship with my mom also got much better when I had kids. Once I missed her so much, I said “if I only knew I'll be living so far away from you, I'd have been a better daughter”.

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