Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5 Times to Eat Malay Food

I asked Bernadette, “Wait, there’s an American Embassy in Kota Kinabalu?” after she casually mentioned that it was just around the corner from the hawker stand where we had breakfast.  We turned the corner and a giant KFC stared me in the face.  I laughed hysterically as we crossed over to the local fruit stand, picking up some “soursop” which I had never tried.  It’s a new favorite – a great substitution for mangosteen since the season is over.  It’s a blend of tangy and sour with sweet and juicy…the perfect combination!

Soursop fruit (the green things...not the flowers)

We took it back to Bernadette’s house situated just outside the city, surrounded by tall coconut palm trees and other fresh fruit trees (papaya…yummmm) in her yard. My dad will love her trick to keep the birds from picking the fruit – she covers them with plastic bags. I wonder if that would still work for his bear problem?

Spot the bags?

Bernadette is a close childhood friend of my auntie’s and a total gem. She embodies the Malaysian spirit, always laughing, smiling, joking, and generally enjoying life. In just one day she’s made me feel completely at home again in Malaysia; constantly concerned about my well-being and making sure my stomach is sufficiently full. She even remembers details about my favorite dishes (noodles, soup, roti canai) and drinks (teh tarik) from five years ago when we first met!

How sweet it is to have teh tarik again!  It translates as "pulled tea" and is a combination of black tea and sweetened condensed milk.

For breakfast we chowed down on Gon Lo Mein, translated as dry noodles to mix (so I’m told…my aunt will correct me if I’m wrong! J ). It’s a perfectly savory dish topped with barbecued pork and green onions. In Malaysia there aren’t a lot of “breakfast foods” as we traditionally know in the good ‘ole US of A and typically morning meals consist of the same types of food eaten throughout the day. The first time in Malaysia I thought it was a little strange but it’s actually now my preference, even when eating at home.

Our breakfast spot outside the city

To continue my culinary affair in Kota Kinabalu I was taken by a local chef, Adrian, to the Lido night market to test some of the curry & soups typical to the area. Afterwards we had “supper” at a nearby stand that specializes in a type of all-pork soup that is famous in Sabah. Let me clarify that “supper” is like 5th meal for Malaysians.

1: Breakfast (morning hours)
2: Lunch (noon-ish)
3: Afternoon tea with snacks/pastries (3:00-ish)
4: Dinner (7:00-ish)
5: Supper (10:00-11:00-ish)
6… I like the way you roll, Malaysians.

Night market preparations

Sheer happiness!

While Adrian and I discussed food, local dishes, and his love of working in the kitchen he told me, “You can do anything you want in a kitchen…you can yell at what you want to yell at, you can cook what you want to cook, and you can cut what you want to cut. (Referring mostly to plates, crabs, and fish, in order). If you work in an office you can’t throw your computer at a wall.”  True dat, Adrian. True dat.

My thought for today is that Adrian didn't actually “pick” his career. His father told him he should go to culinary school after high school and as an obedient son, he did. After beginning to work in the field he found his joy in his work and now sees his long hours under the restaurant roof as part of what fulfills him.

Although we may not all have the careers we “choose” or the luxury of “cutting what we want to cut”, it is possible to find joy in our daily work if we look for it. I challenge you today to think of at least five things (‘cause it’s a round number, but mostly because it’s the number of times Malaysians eat in a day) that bring you joy in your job. 

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