There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Taste Buds: A Little Bit of Malaysia on My Plate!

By Bidisha Bagchi
St Joseph, Michigan, USA

Even though Malaysia has such a variety in food, every time I visited my great aunt — my father's mami — in Kuala Lumpur, I ended up eating mouth-watering Bengali delicacies dished out every day by her trusted Bangladeshi cook, along with permutations and combinations of Indonesian, Singaporean, Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes. Alas, never “authentic”, true Malay food.
That’s a tall order as, like all other Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia's culinary tradition has also been influenced by her neighbours near and far from Indonesia and Thailand to India, China and the Middle East. Herbs play a very important role in the Malay cuisine, making it sometimes spicy, sometimes aromatic. Use of lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, basil, nutmeg, turmeric and wild ginger are prominent in almost all Malay food along with traditional spices such as cumin and coriander, pepper, cardamom and fenugreek.

Seasonings are important, and are freshly ground like turmeric, chilli paste, onions and garlic. Fresh coconut milk is often added and is considered the most important ingredient in quite a few dishes. Like its neighbours, rice dominates Malay meals and is eaten in all the courses. Depending on the basic flavouring ingredient, Malay dishes can be divided into genres like Masak Lemak or coconut based, Masak Pedas or hot chilli based and Masak Assam or tamarind base, to name a few.
Armed with this knowledge and determined to taste “Truly Malaysia” instead of “Truly Asia”, I demanded “authentic” food on my next visit to Kuala Lumpur. On the same day ‘Chingri machher malai curry’ an exotic concoction of prawn and coconut milk was laid on the dining table. As that much-loved Bengali dish’s Malay origins are now fairly well known, I could not even protest.
But that was naturally not Malay enough for yours truly so from the very next day my search for the “authentic” began. My first discovery was a unusual one. Even though it belonged to the rice family, it had a special look. Nasi Kerabu is a regional specialty from the state of Kelantan on the east coast of Malaysia. Traditionally, the rice is tinted bright blue from the petals of a flower called bunga telang, better known as butterfly pea flower in English. This rice was cooked in a very special way: hundreds of petals of the flower are initially sun-dried and boiled in water. The rice is then cooked in this dyed water along with other seasonings. Not that this tinge adds any special zing to the taste but the entire appearance makes it one of its kind. This is served with Ulam, a combination of fresh mint, basil, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric leaves in raw vegetables such as bean sprouts, long green beans, shallots and cucumber. To this are added strongly flavored ingredients such as salted fish, dried prawns and fish crackers.
 This wasn’t the only traditional Malay dish I found, but in all the other ones there was a discernible touch of some ‘neighbours’ and so it wasn’t “authentic” enough for me! The other dish that I enjoyed, though, was a  kind of crepe (which looked somewhat like our ‘dosa’), popularly called the Roti Jala, or bread that looked like a net. Made out of crepe like batter of plain flour, eggs, butter and coconut milk with a dash of turmeric for yellow colour, the preparation was very interesting. A special mould or cup with small holes was used to make a lace like crepe and cooked briefly over a hot greased griddle. The net bread (my moniker for it) is an ideal accompaniment to dishes with lots of rich curry sauces and is usually served on special occasions.

This article was first published in the ET-Travel, Economic Times

1 comment:

  1. Interesting read! A recipe sharing in an unusual way...makes it so much more interesting!