Monday, September 21, 2009

Eating out - Penang Style!

On Sunday, Damian took me out for some Hawker food. That is: food sold in small quantities from a circle of vendors who deliver to your numbered table, and you pay on delivery. There's always a huge variety to choose from, from Indian to Chinese to traditional Malaysian...

1/ Roti Jala: Chicken curry with a kind of bright-yellow fried bread that looks like a fishnet made from cooked spaghetti. They make it by putting the liquidy dough into a device like an upside down pepper-pot and dripping it into the pan, so you get a web of just-cooked fried dough. Very nice, and good hand-food.

2/ Chicken clay pot: chicken and rice with bacon and some kind of fish-sauce to make it brown. And a fried egg on top. And Spam (no: just joking about the Spam).... and for pudding...?

3/ Rojak: sounding like a Japanese version of a device for preventing your car being stolen, it looks nice enough: sliced and diced fresh fruit covered in a brown sauce of some kind. Usually there is a mix of fruits in there, but this time it was mostly some kind of hard, not-very-sweet pear thing. "The best Rojak comes from Penang, everyone says that" quoth Damian, so I knew I was in the culinary epicenter. I got out the toothpick I was given and picked a piece up and ate it. Mmmmm...non-nom-nom.... bluuuurrgghh... a familiar taste was coming out. "Wass in this, Damian?" "Umm. Fruit. And shrimp paste. With chili sauce... " OK: it wasn't the worst thing I have ever eaten in my life (which I may Blog about at some point) but it will definitely be filed under N for "never again". Just for the record I ate a fair bit of it trying to "acquire the taste". I never did.

August is part of the rainy season in Malaysia: which means it rains every so often, usually in a torrential downpour, but they just put the blinds down and business goes on as usual - see photo.

Later that night I just walked a hundred yards from the G hotel down Gurney Drive to the well-known Hawker market there. I think well-known weird-food arsehole Andrew Zimmern did a show on Gurney Drive - may have been where he barfed the durian. Hahaha....
Safe travels! Des

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What am I?

I need to get this off my chest and am looking to see if I am alone in feeling this way.

Talking to my friend Irene (the one who calls me the "Crazy Ang Moh"), she asked me why I was so unlike the other Westerners she had ever met. I know she meant it in a good way, but it got me to do a bit of soul searching. I was born and raised and very well-educated in the UK, but I've also lived in Japan and have spent most of the last fifteen years as a permanent resident of the USA. I really like traveling and seeing new places and trying new things, but part of my ability to adapt to new things is that I am essentially rootless. And I don't think that's a good thing.

A child of military parents, I never spent more than 2years in any one place until the age of 12, and many friends have been forced to buy new phonebooks to fit all my addresses in. When people ask about my "home", the answer I give depends on the questioner. An American stranger hears my accent and assumes my "home" is in England somewhere: even my American work colleagues also make the same mistake. My Asian colleagues know my home is in the US, but also know that my heart often isn't.

My other thing I like to do is at least learn a little of the language and culture of each place I visit, even if it's "thank you" "hello" and "goodbye", and I have a strong resentment of those Westerners who pride themselves in their failure to fit in: "I've never even learned hiragaaaana" as one pompous ass told me after living 20years in Tokyo. Even yesterday, a senior executive for an automotive company I'd been chatting with presented himself at the hotel counter and said "Ni hao: that's all the Chinese I know". Buddy, you know the Ugly Canadian very well. You shave his face every day.

So what am I? An Anglo-American? A citizen of the world? A rootless freak? Is anyone else in the same boat? How do you answer the question "Where do you come from?".

Safe travels! Des

Durian: Yum!

"Why you so crazy for durian? You are Ang Moh. I scratch my head."** A couple of weeks back, my Singaporean friend Irene (and yes, that's pure Singlish she's speaking) asked, when we were talking about what has been called the "King of Fruits", the durian.
Looking like an overgrown lime gone punk, this incredibly spiky (yes: you can be killed by one of these falling on you) fruit, with notable exceptions down the ages (mostly English, I am proud to say) bisects two peoples into the 1/ "love it" (South East Asians) and 2/ "blaaaarggh...barf" Westerner categories. Notable food hard-man Andrew Zimmern being one of the latter (snigger...."Fairy!").
The smell of the thing is very pungent, and the first time I encountered one, my chemist's nose was physically assaulted by an aroma I was trying to put names to, but is most reminiscent of a chemical factory. After a few seconds of trying, I realized the thing's overwhelming odor is a result of a huge amount of strong fruity (ester) components, so what you are getting is the BIGGEST fruit smell you will ever encounter. At which point your brain will either reject the smell ("Aaagh it's too much!") or (as mine did) say "YUM!".
The ones I tried on this trip, and there are hundreds of varieties were a bit grey-looking, not the usual bright green, and the skin on the white seed pods was a little chewy. "It's the end of the season" said Sehar, so we were not in for a huge treat, but the creamy/custardy flesh with its slightly nutty, fruity, mildly sweet taste was still pretty good to me.
Another colleague and I tested out a well-known myth that "If you eat durian and drink alcohol, you will die". The folklore being that alcohol and durian are both "heating" and you will explode and fry your brains.... or some such shit. I'd already committed suicide in Singapore by doing this: according to my friend who has my immense respect as a scientist, but gets an 'F' in biology. As you can imagine, I am typing this from beyond the grave...Woo! Spooky!!!
Safe Travels! Des
**Trans: "Why do you like durian so much? You're a white guy? I'm perplexed."