August 4th, 2008

Squeak!

(no subject)

My most vivid memory of being back in Malaysia was a dish of stewed jerky. There was a Minangkabau restaurant across the street from my parents' new apartment that made this for lunch. It reaffirmed my taste for Malay food.

When I was a kid, good Malay food was restricted to golden lontong - a stew of cabbage, carrots, beans, tempeh, tofu and a handful of glass noodles in a mild coconut gravy - and rich beef rendang to go with moist lemang (rice boiled with coconut milk in a length of bamboo) at Eidl Fitr. I remember bad Malay cooking. Lots of it, when I lived on the East Coast. It was always red with chilli oil, and always too hot, or too sweet, or too hot and too sweet, and looked disastrous. Malay food was nearly always over-spiced for me. There was never much balance, and for a kid who got jammed full of good Cantonese cooking from the time I could munch -- never enough colour.

But the jerky stew I had my first evening back in Kuala Lumpur was different. It was a subtle yet earthy stew, jerky that had been boiled till it was just tender in a creamy coconut milk gravy, thickened with onions, garlic and green chillies, and infused with white pepper. I imagined it was the sort of stew that travellers since time immemorial made, using beef that had been aged to last the journey. It was good food. It was my fondest memory of going home.

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