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Fer serious.

While writing the final chapter of Finches, I realised I added a couple of references to my text that folks out here in the "West" (it's a round world, not a tray on a sea turtle) may not be entirely familiar with. The first is a reference to the way hawker stalls and many open air curry houses sell hot drinks to go. In Malaysia, hot drinks, like hot tea, coffee or my personal favourite, Horlicks, get massively frothed up by the tea maker into a delicious latte-like beverage, and they're drunk at all hours a Malaysian can hope to be awake. That's how we keep score of football matches around the world. Typically, a hot drink to go was served in a plastic bag with a straw, which you bought for under a dollar and carried around by a piece of manila rope tied around the top.

When I was a kid, they sold drinks like that in regular clear plastic bags. If the bags were of a particularly cheap make, there was a risk the bag would burst from the hot liquid inside, or be incredibly uncomfortable to touch by accident. Sometime when I was a little older, probably around seven years old, they introduced thicker, heat-resistant bags that were far less fragile. Mind you, it's still possible to find those flimsy, extra cheap plastic bags every so often, but it's nostalgia that counts, like the way a certain generation of English kids might prefer their fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. Incidentally, pouring hot liquids to go in plastic bags is also the way a large number of Malaysian outlets sell hot soup.

This forms a nice segue into my second reference, fish essence. Along with essence of chicken, fish essence is a popular gift item for new mothers, elderly people and recovering patients. "Essence" in this sense actually refers to a slow-boiled soup, rendered over several hours, if not a full day, from health-giving animals and traditional Chinese herbs. Herbal soup companies will usually package doses of these rejuvenating soups in small glass jars, which are sold in ready-packed gift sets at most pharmacies and Chinese medical halls. According to my mother, fish essence is more nutritious for surgical patients than mere chicken essence. I personally find both to be very tasty treats, slightly sweet, slightly bitter, not too salty with a decidedly meaty flavour. The essences are usually a kind of dark, luminous brown -- the colour of Guinness. This is because their manufacturers add caramel into the soup to make it sweeter and more palatable-looking. The fish used in fish essence is locally called the "haruan", or common snakehead. Americans may remember it better as "frankenfish", the insanely hardy predator that can, when necessary, breath air and move between bodies of water over land. It is a very, very tasty fish. I prefer it flaked and deep fried in a Thai larb, or filleted on steaming hot congee with a bit of ginger, green onion and soy sauce. Apart from a vaguely fishy smell in fish essence, both fish and chicken essence look and taste relatively similar.

And there you have it -- my obscure food references for the day.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 26th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
The hot drink thing sounds fun... dunno why, I guess cause it's out of the norm to me. D: Glad they got better materials for the bags...
May. 26th, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC)
It is fun, but putting down your drink is usually a problem. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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