Archive | January, 2012

Nasi Lemak: The Food and The Film

30 Jan

It occurred to me that I haven’t done a post on actual Malaysian food in a while. And I’ve never done a post on nasi lemak, which is a huge oversight on my part. Nasi lemak is about as close to a national dish as Malaysia has. It’s so resonant as a symbol of the country that it’s even the title of a movie about racial identity in Malaysia: Nasi Lemak 2.0.

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Enter the Dragon

23 Jan

Gong xi fa cai! Chinese New Year festivities started on Monday, marking the beginning of the Year of the Water Dragon (more auspicious, but less of a great band name than Metal Rabbit). Bayan Indah, Malaysia’s hottest cooking school (apparently), hosted a Chinese Festivities class last Saturday, which I attended — not as a student, but as an assistant. I still learned quite a lot, like how very little I know about Chinese cooking.

The Reunion Feast

The menu was created to reflect a typical “reunion” meal at a Chinese-Malaysian home: whole poached chicken, lotus root soup, loh hun chye or Buddha’s Delight (because it’s vegetarian), fried shrimp, tong yuen (rice dumplings in ginger syrup), and the inevitable yee sang. The reunion dinners (or luncheons) are where Chinese families gather to celebrate the new year. Traditionally, the first reunion dinner is on the eve of the new year, when the sons return to their parents’ (with spouses and children in tow). The first day is reserved for immediate family, and then the daughters return to their parents’ on the second day. The rest of the 14-day (!) celebration is filled with visits to friends, relatives, and business associates, frequently at yet more reunion dinners. It’s like Christmas and Thanksgiving together, to the power of 10.

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SOK Goes to Vietnam: Pho-Off

12 Jan

Steaming bowls of goodness at Pho 24

After the detour to Chicago in the last post, I’m back to finishing up my Vietnam trip. The culinary trail continues with pho, the national dish of Vietnam. Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, usually beef with rice noodles, eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s to Vietnamese cuisine as barbecue is to the American South: endlessly diverse, with fiercely defended regional variations. The biggest divide is between the austere Hanoi-style, where the beef broth is presented nearly unadorned, and the florid Saigon-style, where the heavily scented soup is served with a salad’s worth of herbs. How did beef soup become ubiquitous in a small Asian country with very little room for cattle? Most blame the French (without any evidence, I hypothesize that “pho” is related to the French “pot-au-feu”), but I also suspect the influence of the Chinese, having had remarkably similar beef noodle soups in Chinese restaurants in Malaysia.

I have to confess that I didn’t eat very much pho, at most just once a day, and never at one of the street stalls — there was just too much other eating to be done. However, it was my breakfast of choice at both hotels. If you’ve never started your day with a bowl steamy noodles, I highly recommend it. Pho was our first meal in Hanoi, where we inadvertently ended up at Pho 24, the McDonald’s of Vietnamese pho establishments. It was packed with tourists (Asian and otherwise) seeking a respite from the smog and traffic outside. Still, the pho was pretty tasty, with a beefy broth that was markedly less sweet than American versions. (It’s the bowl featured in the top photo.)

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The Streets of Chicago

10 Jan

Happy New Year! (I can still say that, right?) It looks like this is the week to start emerging from the year-end hibernation/food coma that is the holiday season. I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since my last post. Most of that was spent with friends in family in Michigan and Chicago, eating familiar, much-missed foods (cheese! Beer! Real bacon!), rather than trying anything new. But you can’t keep a good sneukeltourist down, so I did do a little food adventuring — this time on the chilly streets of Chicago.

The rare and elusive Chicago food truck

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