Otak-otak

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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The first time I tried otak-otak (o-tuck-o-tuck) was when I was in college and a friend brought a few of them back with her after a weekend at her hometown. I remember being asked if I wanted some otak-otak and I went “Wha….???”

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Otak-otak

Otak-otak, I later learned, is ground fish meat, tapioca starch and various spices. This mixture is then shaped and placed inside banana or coconut leaf, after which it’s grilled. Though it was a strange and new delicacy for me in the beginning, I grew to love it. At the time, whenever friends would leave for their hometown for the weekend, I’d ask if they could bring back some otak-otak.

Oh, otak-otak translates to “brain-brain” 😀

Do you think you’d be game to try a dish called “brain-brain”?

Mangosteen

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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mangosteen1Now that we all know that the durian is the King of fruits, did you know that the mangosteen, or manggis (in the Malaysian language), is its queen?

The reason for this (as I’ve been told) is that whenever you eat durian, whenever possible, eat mangosteen after that.

According to the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine , durians are considered “heaty” or “hot” food. While the mangosteen is “cooling” or “cold” food. So, eating them together will balance your body.

One interesting thing I learnt about manggis was that you can find out how many white fleshy segments are inside the fruit before you cut it open. At the bottom of the fruit, there are raised brown ridges that radiate out like a star.

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In the picture above, there are 6 ridges/ arms of the star. Therefore, there’ll definitely be 6 white fleshy segments when you open the fruit! Don’t believe me, get your hands on a mangosteen and give it a try!

Ever seen/ ate a mangosteen? If yes, what do you think?

Ice Cream Man

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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When I was a child, I’d eagerly wait for the the sound of a handbell being rung followed by motorcycle honking. When I did hear it, I’d run to the gate and wait for the ice cream man to make one more round of my neighbourhood so that I can wave him down. In Malaysia, we didn’t use to have ice cream trucks, rather ice cream was sold by men riding motorcycles with a cold box on the back of it.

When they’re not driving around neighbourhoods, the ice cream man would sometimes park at schools waiting for kids to get out or at parks on the weekends.

icecream-manThe variety of ice cream sold would be displayed on the box, along with the price. So, you’d just point at which ice cream you wanted, get your cash ready and the ice cream man would open the box and reach in to get the ice cream you wanted!

Some of the ice cream I’d crave would probably not be as familiar to non-Malaysians. One of the cheapest ones I used to get as a kid cost only 10 Malaysian cents and it’s not quite an ice cream but rather a sweet drink poured into a long tube-like plastic bag which is then frozen.

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We’d chew off the plastic from one end and then suck on the frozen icy concoction! Another favourite would be ice cream scooped into cones although usually the choices of ice cream flavours would only be limited to three types and most often it would be corn, chocolate or durian!

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It’s quite rare to hear the ice cream man’s handbell these days but whenever I’m in the mood for ice cream and see the familiar motorcycle with the ice cream box on the back, I’d revisit my childhood.

What’s your favourite type of ice cream?

Eid al-fitr

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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In Malaysia, Eid al-fitr, a religious holiday that marks the end of a month of fasting, is commonly referred to as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and this year it falls on the 25th of June. Being a non-Muslim in a Muslim country, you can’t help but be entrenched in the rhythm and practices of this holiday. Here are several things to know about how Eid al-fitri or Aidilfitri is celebrated in Malaysia:

#1. We get a looooong holiday – This year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri will fall on a Sunday. In Malaysia, whenever a festival falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is the public holiday. For this particular festival though, we get TWO days off, so Tuesday’s also a holiday! Long weekend!

#2. Bazaars pop up during the fasting month – During the fasting month of Ramadan, food or Ramadan bazaars pop up in and around the city. These bazaars start setting up at about 3pm (or earlier) and folks on the way home after work would stop by to get food to break their fast with. One key difference between Ramadan bazaars and other food bazaars is that eager customers will be able to find their favourite food that only appears during Ramadan, food like bubur lambuk, a type of porridge.

#3. Change in working hours – Working hours differ for those celebrating Aidilfitri. Since they spend the day fasting, their lunch duration is shortened (normally by 30 minutes) which means they get to go home earlier to prepare to break their fast!

#4. Homemade firecrackers make the news – Most firecrackers and fireworks are banned in Malaysia. However, since we’re an innovative lot, folks make their own firecrackers. Yep, DIY firecrackers. And since these DIY firecrackers do not go through stringent safety and health testing, etc… they often perform unpredictably. This is when the news start reporting about “…15-year old boy loses 4 fingers playing with his homemade firecrackers…” or …”9-year old boy loses 3 fingers and tore his palm while playing with firecrackers…” Some of these DIY firecrackers are made from bamboo!

a91b29f83345d4ed#5. Dates abound – Supermarkets start selling dates by the caseloads. And I mean all kinds of dates – medjool, dayri, thoory. Most restaurants will also have a small plate of dates on the table for those who break their fast. After an entire day of fasting, the body may experience lethargy and low blood sugar. Starting off with dates before digging in to richer food is a good way to replenish the body.

If you celebrate Eid, what are the traditions practiced in your country? Also, do you eat dates?

Durian

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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turpentine and onion, garnished with gym socks

rich, sweet, sulfury, pungent

sewage, rotting flesh, or at best, ripe cheese…onions and meat. Dead rats.

These are just a few ways that the stench smell of durian, king of fruits, have been described. How would I describe the odour of durian? Yummilicious and inviting!

durian201Whenever a non-Malaysian visits us, one of the questions we’d ask eventually is “Have you tried eating durian?” Most would answer “Ugh! It smells awful!” The rare individual will reply with “Alamak! I love it!” We love the non-Malaysians who answer with the latter ;P

Truly, durian is a divisive fruit – you either love it. Or you loathe it.

In my hometown, the durian season is one of the most important seasons of all fruit seasons. Not many families have durian trees on their property so when durians are dropping to the ground, it could get pretty cutthroat. There’s been more than one occasion when we hear a durian fall to the ground and when we rush out of our house to where we think it fell, the fruit’s been taken by someone else who was waiting! These durian fruits obtained illegally would normally be sold at a roadside stall.

We Malaysians love durian so much that we even have roadside durian buffets. Like a typical buffet, you pay a fixed fee and eat as many durians as you can!

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Here’s a video of folks trying durian for the first time. I thought it was pretty hilarious especially the way they were cutting into it like it was a dead animal!

So, have you tried durian before? And if not, would you dare? ;P

Banana leaf

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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We have a lot of bananas in Malaysia. In fact, it’s the second most widely cultivated fruit in the country! Most homes (with a yard) would have a banana tree (or two). I’ve got two trees that seem to be fruiting all year round!

But this post isn’t about bananas, it’s about the banana leaf. Yep. With bananas being ubiquitous, we’ve found a variety of ways to use its leaves, which is abundant. Of course, most of its usage (if not all) involves food.

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Yummy lemang (Santacruzly)

Lemang is a traditional rice dish that’s most often prepared during festivals. It’s a mixture of glutinous rice and coconut milk, which is cooked in bamboo. Before pouring the mixture into the bamboo, banana leaves are used to line the inside of the bamboo so that the rice mixture doesn’t stick to the bamboo.

One of my favourite food is nasi lemak, which translates directly to fatty rice. Don’t let the name fool you though, in 2016, TIME magazine listed it as one of the 10 healthy international breakfast foods 🙂 There are many versions of this fatty rice but the type that I always seek out is the type that’s ready-packed, wrapped using the banana leaf and sold at roadside stalls. This version of nasi lemak can cost as low as RM1.50 or less than 25 US cents.

 

Being a multicultural society, we have all sorts of cuisine available to us. One of these is South Indian cuisine and in particular banana leaf rice. There are so many banana leaf rice restaurants and everyone has their favourite. In this type of restaurant, food is served on the banana leaf, so effectively, it’s your plate! You’ll be provided your own banana leaf plate when you’re seated and someone will come around to dish out rice, vegetables and curries of your choice. And once you’re done with the meal, you fold the leaf towards yourself, if you’re happy with what you ate, and if you’re not, you fold the leaf in the other direction.

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So, have you ever eaten anything that’s cooked using banana leaves?

10 Things To Know About Chinese New Year in Malaysia

Chinese New Year is this weekend and where I’m from, it’s a major festival. Every one joins in the celebrations in one way or another, and you don’t even have to be Chinese to enjoy the festive occasion. Here’s what happens in my neck of the woods when Chinese New Year rolls around.

#1. We get a holiday – Though Chinese New Year falls on a Saturday this year, the entire country is granted a holiday the following Monday which means it’ll be a 3-day weekend for me!

#2. Stalls selling Mandarin oranges pop up – It’s customary to give out Mandarin oranges to colleagues at work and to folks who visit your house during Chinese New Year. These oranges are typically sold at supermarkets and roadside stalls which pop up specifically for this festival. There are often multiple stalls along the same stretch of road, all of which peddle these oranges and all of them would be able to turn a profit.

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So many oranges. So many. (Source: The Star Online)

#3. Lion/ Dragon dancers are every where – They’re in shopping malls, in the back of trucks on the streets en route to their next gig and even at your local watering hole. You know Chinese New Year is fast approaching when these dancers with their white t-shirts and colourful pants that supposedly mimic a lion’s/ dragon’s legs show up almost every where.

#4. Streets in the city centre are exceptionally clear – This is one of my favourite things about Chinese New Year. Traffic jams in the city has gotten from bad to worse and it’s only when folks leave the city for their hometowns that I’m willing to drive into the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

#5. Highways leaving the city centre turn into parking lots (almost) – During Chinese New Year (and all other major holidays), commuters returning to their hometowns pack the highways. A regular 2-hour trip home can turn into a 5 hour journey from hell! The congestion is so bad that one year, authorities issued a Travel Time Advisory which recommended times to get on the road depending on where you’re heading. 

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Imagine getting stuck in that traffic with no toilet in sight (Source: The Malay Mail Online)

#6. Retail stores and banks give out (almost) free ang pow packets – Giving ang pows (red envelopes stuffed with money) is a key activity during Chinese New Year. Well, other than eating, drinking and playing mahjong. In recent years, shopping malls and banks stock ang pow packets for their customers and these are where folks tend to get them from. The packets aren’t entirely free if you intend to get them from shopping malls though. Shoppers would need to spend a pre-determined amount before redemption of the ang pow packets are allowed.

#7. Folks exchange their old bank notes for new ones – It’s traditional to use crisp, new notes when handing out ang pows. Hence, the long lines at the banks before Chinese New Year as folks come in with stacks of old bills to exchange for new ones. Apparently every year, the central bank has to print an additional 500 million pieces of the smaller denomination banknotes to meet the demand for new notes!

#8. Almost everyone organises an open house – Eating is a national past time and open houses are basically an opportunity to eat all you can for free! This tradition encourages family and friends to visit one another’s homes to celebrate together. Even companies and government agencies have started organising open houses to which the general public is invited.

#9. Eateries serve some variation of yee sang – In the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, expect to see some variation of yee sang or the prosperity toss in any eatery you visit. Apparently, this cultural activity is unique to both Singapore and Malaysia as it’s not practiced as much in other countries.

#10. You hear firecrackers eventhough it’s illegal – Yep, fireworks are illegal in Malaysia. Unless you have a permit. I don’t think the homes in my neighbourhood who light up their firecrackers applied for one though. Yet, I go to sleep on the eve of Chinese New Year listening to a barrage of fireworks. All night long.

Thing 1: Biting into Black Pudding

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This post is part of my #40thingsat40 project to celebrate the fact that I turn 40 this year

My brother loves black pudding and for many years he’s tried to persuade me to give it a try. The first time he asked me to try it, I poked at it and said “Why’s it black?” To my utter disgust, he answered “Blood, mainly.” Since then, every time he tried to get me to try a bite, I’d pull a face and respond “Ugh, no.”

On December 9th 2016, before heading into Kew Gardens, my mother and I decided to grab a breakfast at Tap on the Line, a pub located right at the Kew Gardens Station of the London Underground. It was one of the prettiest-looking pubs I’ve ever seen. It had a domed glass roof and extensive outdoor seating. As it’s right on the train platform, from inside the pub, you could see trains come and go, passengers embarking and disembarking. I could sit there the entire day, sipping tea.

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A lovely place to sit outside in the summer with a pint

We perused the simple breakfast menu and I immediately knew what I wanted to get –

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The breakfast menu

Full English, pork sausage, Mrs. Owton’s bacon, Hampshire black pudding, beans, tomato & mushroom, free range eggs to your liking, toast.

I was famished and couldn’t wait to try my first bite of black pudding. “Why do you suddenly want to try black pudding?” My mum questioned as she’s perfectly aware that for years, I’ve resisted. “Well, at least once I try it, if I still think it’s ugh, at least my future protests will be an informed one.” To my ears, that sounded like a perfectly logical and reasonable reason. My taste buds were getting ready to be ugh.

My breakfast came and without wasting another minute, attacked the black pudding. I somehow thought that it would be crumbled but instead it was served sliced, like two hockey pucks. I broke off a little piece and popped the black pudding made mostly with blood into my mouth.

It was DELICIOUS! 

Like sausage, slightly game-y and the edges of the black pudding, which were toasted (I think), tasted crisp. Yum!

So, I tried black pudding – yay me! – and I definitely will again!

(I polished the entire plate)

Daily Prompt: Cake (or Three Cakes at 19)

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Cake

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Cake No. 1

It was my 19th birthday.  I was sitting on my bed; silently counting the minutes till I turn 19; an age that I thought was practically ancient at the time. One of my roommates had gone out of the room; she did it so stealthily that I didn’t even know she wasn’t there until I looked around and found her gone. Another roommate was sitting at her desk not doing much of anything while the third was on her bed across the room from mine.  She kept looking up at me from her add maths textbook, then at our roommate who was idling at her desk, then at the door, and finally back at me.  Something was up, I just wasn’t sure what it was.

It was 12 midnight when the idling roommate sprang up from her desk and skipped to the door.  I thought it odd at the time because I didn’t hear a knock at the door. The lights went out suddenly and I was just about to say, “Hey…” when the door swung open and Ninja Roommate, came in with a cake with all 19 candles lit, which made the cake look like it was on fire.  Behind my Ninja Roommate were the rest of the girls and they were singing Happy Birthday as they walked towards me.  I felt tears well in my eyes as I leaned down to blow out all the candles. So many candles. The girls and I ate cake and yakked.  They also tried to shove my face into the cake.  Cheeky.

Cake No. 2

It’s the evening of my birthday, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum brought me out for dinner at a Chinese coffeeshop on the way to our ‘favourite’ supermarket, Warta. Then after, they led me back to one of the classrooms in the academic block and this time, the guys had arranged a little get together where another cake was waiting. Yay! Cake! Predictably enough, I had another close encounter with the cake. Not much cake was eaten as everyone decided to get in on the action and smear everyone else with cake. Unfortunately, no photographic evidence exists of that messy activity. Darn.

Cake No. 3

It’s nearing the end of my 19th birthday. I returned to the hostel and found cake No. 3 waiting. I squealed in delight, beyond delirious to have so many cakes in one day.  My squeals soon turned into groans as I was faced with the dilemma of eating yet another cake. I looked at the cake and at my stomach and thought Nope, I don’t think anymore cake can fit in me tonight. In the end though, I cut the tiniest slice of cake ever known to mankind, had a taste and sent the cake on a tour of as many rooms as possible. Cake for everyone!

I went to sleep that night – happy, full of cake, 19.

Daily Prompt: Darkness

In response to the Daily Prompt’s Daily Prompt: Darkness

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I cover my ears to the roars and slurps which leak through the doorway above me, of men devouring fellow-men. It sounds as if the feasting was occurring immediately outside the door of the underground shelter I’d stumbled into the day before.

I scrunch my nose; the metallic scent of blood overwhelms me.

My stomach rumbles. I press my hand against it, willing the growls to silence. I hadn’t had anything to eat since yesterday morning. Nine pieces of cereal found in a bloody baby seat of the abandoned mini-van on the dirt road I trudged through. My hand delves into the left pocket of my dirt-encrusted jeans and count six pieces remaining.

I step back from the door; my hands back over my ears, barely muffling the gruesome sounds. I turn and examine my refuge. My eyes meet dusty and cobweb-covered furnishings.

The shelter I am in is significantly smaller than the bathroom in my apartment from Before. It’s so tiny I feel as if the walls are looming over me and will soon peel away and merge with my body. Canned food lines the walls. Canned fruits, canned vegetables, canned meat. Canned everything. Canned anything. I don’t feel hunger for them.

I open a wooden cabinet nearest to me to discover what else is stored here. I am hoping something non-canned. I gasp as my index finger snags on a rusty nail. Great, I think, another injury to add to the many I already have 

Blood streams in rivulets from the astonishingly deep wound and instinctively I place the injured finger into my mouth and suck. Mmmhoney. I cradle my hand and suckle hard.

Rat-tat-tat!

The wooden door of the shelter shakes, startling me. I freeze and hold my breath, my finger still deep in my mouth.

RAT-TAT-TAT! RAT-TAT-TAT!

“Open the door! PLEASE! If there’s anyone in there, let me in! They’re coming!” A female voice pleads.

I debate whether or not to open the door. This hole-in-the ground already feels confining with merely one person in it. With two, it will be a sardine can. Her pleading transitions to whining. My shoulders slump forward in resignation.

I approach the door, peek in between the door slates and see a young girl with dark brown hair matted with blood. Her clothes are torn and blood streams from a cut underneath her left eye. This girl alternates between looking over her shoulder and peering into the door. At one point, we are eye to eye.

“Open! Please, open! PL-”

“Get away from the door!” I halt her plea mid-way. “I’m going to open the door and you’re going to jump in! On the count of three – one, two, THREE!”

I remove the bar across the door and it swings inwards. The girl falls in with an OOOOFFF!

I shut the door and secure the bar. I stand there for a beat, making sure that no one…no THING…follows. I strain to hear anything out of the ordinary but in fact, realise that I hear nothing. Not even the sounds that I find grisly just moments before. Instead, I hear…this is strange…music. Violins, to be precise. I jump away from the door.

The girl is still on the floor. I hear, no, feel, her heart race and my own heartbeat mimic the rhythm of hers.  I search her face. Her eyes arrest me. They’re glacier blue and wide, the latter most likely with fear. This pleases me but I don’t understand why. Blood from her wound dribbles onto the concrete floor and each drop echoes. My head pounds in concert.

“Do you smell peaches?” I ask her; maybe one of the cans has sprung a leak.

“A-am I safe here? I-i-is it s-safe here? I-is it?”

“Yeah. Sure.” My stomach rumbles again. I will need to feed soon. Feed? I meant eat.

“Do you-do you hear violins?”

“Peaches? It smells like sewage in here. And how can you hear violins over the sounds of what’s out there? D-do you have anything to eat h-here?” She looks hungrily at the rows of canned food surrounding us. My eyes rest on the newcomer.

“Plenty.”

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I sit on the wooden stool and crouch over her. This seems the most comfortable position to be in. I lean forward and allow her flesh to satiate my growing hunger. I start by lapping my tongue all over her eyeballs, reveling in the gelatinous organ.

Delicious. It reminds me of fish roe. I enjoy fish roe.

The rumblings in the pit of my being decreases. Only marginally.