“Cultural melting pot” is another one of those phrases that, while technically correct, gets repeated so much I feel like I don’t want to use it out of spite. I don’t think I could cope with working in tourism, too many buzzwords. ‘We have to synergize the green market to provide authentic experiences!’ …No thanks.
Malaysia is comprised of three major ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Each brings their own food, culture, and traditions. The groups all coexist remarkably well, considering the clashing beliefs. For example, the Indians are off beef, Muslims are off pork and require Halal preparation, while the Chinese will eat just about anything. I believe the philosophy is ‘if the spine faces the sky, we’ll eat it’. There is absolutely no shortage of delicious char siew bao (BBQ pork buns), wan tan mee, or bakkwa (Chinese-style beef jerky). The country’s government – Muslim – has raised more than a few eyebrows with some of its policies, and it’s certainly not without its problems. But the indigenous people (Malays) are in a far better situation than the indigenous Australians, for example.
There seems to be a unifying element in everybody being ‘Malaysian’, regardless of your skin colour or beliefs. Everybody I met seemed to be ‘ -Malaysian’, ‘something-Malaysian’: Chinese-Malaysian, Japanese-Malaysian, English-Malaysian. I think it’s impressive that there’s such a strong national identity given the demographics.
Enough! Time for food!
On the second or third day in Malaysia, I found myself in that twilight zone between lunch and dinner: 3pm. Normally, for me, I would have to suck it up and go hungry or eat something and sacrifice a significant part of my dinner. Not so in Malaysia. You’re hungry? Eat. Not hungry? Doesn’t matter. Eat. We wandered into a Japanese chain restaurant in a mall somewhere. Remember my theory about Malaysian chain restaurants? It held for this one, too.
For $6, I got a pretty damn tasty bento box. There’s generous yakitori, tempura vegetables, a sauerkraut-like potato thing and the usual bento box addons. The pot in the top right is chawamushi, a jelly-like set egg dish with mushrooms and seafood, served warm. Surprisingly tasty.
The raw fish, like so much other stuff here, is excellent. Far fresher than anything I’ve tried back in Australia. Which, now that I think about it, is odd – Adelaide has pretty fantastic seafood. Maybe it’s the cost difference, I think I prefer spending $5 on fantastic sushi than $25 (who wouldn’t?!). This agedashi had the bonus of an excellent soy-based sauce, but it was let down by said sauce soggifying (don’t ask) the crisp fry on the tofu. Having the tofu in chunks gave that satisfying – if.. uh, impolite – feeling of tearing into your food.
Some amount of time in the future later…
I honestly don’t remember what this was. I remember the roadside shop, and the approximate day but… at least it looks tasty, right? I could have been wan tan mee, but I think the noodles are too thick. Whatever it was, it was cheap and delicious.
Slowly but surely, I’ll make my way through the Momentous Malaysian Memorandum of food.
‘Till next time,
Don’t forget to stop and just… think for a bit every now and then.