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Straight Out of Kampung has moved!

25 Jul

The SOK family has repatriated to the US, so we are no longer straight out of the kampung, but rather coming straight out of Katy, TX. Luckily, Texas has foods just as new and exotic to me as Malaysia, so the culinary adventures will continue at my new blog, Lone Starving. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoy the new incarnation!

Fast Food Fridays: The Ramly Burger

22 Nov
Ramly burger stand

The hard-working Ramly burger guy.

It’s been a while since my last post, and I have less than a month before we leave Malaysia and Straight Out of Kampung turns into Straight Out of Houston. So I’m trying to cover some Malaysian classics that I’ve missed, like the Ramly burger. 

The Ramly burger is named after the brand of frozen hockey pucks that have long passed themselves off as burger patties in these parts. There are other brands, of course, and some burger stands even eschew the frozen stuff altogether in favor of a homemade patty (though these are usually not beef), but like Kleenex and Band-Aid, the brand name has come to stand for the style of burger. Ramly burgers are distinguished by their overload of local condiments, the better to disguise the vaguely meat-flavored cardboard inside. It’s almost always served with an egg, but in omelet form, not on top. The egg is such a key ingredient that there’s a patty-free version called the banjo. The egg is actually wrapped around the patty as it cooks, like so:

Cracking the egg

Cracking the egg

Burger goes in

Burger goes in

Wrap it up (with some black pepper sauce)

Wrap it up (with some black pepper sauce)

The egg elevates that cardboard to something genuinely tasty. And then on go the condiments:

Margarine AND mayonnaise!

Margarine AND mayonnaise!

This stall's burger accoutrements: cucumber and mango

This stall’s burger accoutrements: cucumber and mango

Standard garnishes are gobs of mayo, chili sauce, cucumber (cheaper than pickles), and tomato, though this stall substituted mango—again, cheaper than tomatoes, and tastier to boot. The result is a sloppy, sticky, salty-sweet mess packed with grease and MSG. Did I mention that Ramly burger stalls almost always open in the evening and operate into the night, the better to serve the appetites of midnight snackers and stave off incipient hangovers? 

You won’t find the Ramly burger on any list of essential Malaysian foods, but it’s one of the things I’ll definitely miss when I leave KL. 

If your iPad gave you Diet Coke…

4 May


Touch-screen vending machine

Japan is widely recognized as the Mecca of vending machines. The newest twist is a touch-screen version. Instead of buttons (as in the US) or empty cans, there’s a giant high-def display of your beverage choices, which you select by touching. I’m not sure what the advantage of this is over displaying actual cans, except maybe reeling people in with the “Ooh, touch screen!” factor. I guess you could show ads and such when it’s not being used for vending. Maybe in the future you’d be able to check your Facebook while waiting for your frosty (or hot! Japanese vending machines can heat and cool) beverage.

I totally fell for the “Ooh, touch screen” myself, and treated myself to a hot Calpico, which is what they call Calpis in the US to avoid the unfortunate homophonic connotations of the original name when pronounced by English speakers, especially Americans. (The Japanese pronunciation sounds more like “karupisu”.) (Also, Googling “calpis” led me to a homemade calpis recipe, which excites me to no end, as it’s quite expensive to buy outside of Japan.) Calpico is a yogurt-based soft drink, and tastes a little like the beverage form of the Korean frozen yogurt that was trendy a few years ago (“plain” flavor, of course). I’ve only ever had it cold, with or without fizz, so the hot version was something new. I have to say that, like frozen yogurt, Calpico is best served iced. But at least it gave me an excuse to use a cool vending machine!

Croc Pot

4 Mar

Croc-fest

Just because I have a baby doesn’t mean I’ve stopped eating “weird” stuff. All the advice about avoiding spicy or gassy foods while breastfeeding is kind of nonsense, in my opinion (excepting true food sensitivities, obviously). I mean, Indian and Thai babies are breastfed without there being a colic epidemic, and I’m sure their mothers haven’t given up chili. Anyway, Tom visited a crocodile farm-cum-restaurant with his coworker and brought back some things for me to try.

Now, I’ve had alligator before at a Cajun restaurant, in the form of gumbo and battered nuggets, but this was a lot more visceral: crocodile ribs, tail bits, chunks of reptilian fat…Visually, there’s no way around the fact that the animal you are eating is neither fish, fowl, or mammal. The three dishes I tried were croc ribs, croc meat steamed with tofu, and croc a la soy-cooked pork. The flavor of the meat was quite mild, though I wouldn’t say it tasted like chicken, as the texture is somehow…meatier. The bit that gave me the most cognitive challenge was the fat. I’m usually a fan of animal fat (bring on the chicharrones!), but…reptile blubber. More specifically, reptile blubber reheated in the microwave. Actually, it turned out to be pretty tasty, though I was surprised at how much of it there was. I think of crocodiles as being lean, mean, purse-making machines. Maybe these specimens were raised specifically for consumption?

Restoran Crocodile Farm Seafood Village
Jalan SS 12/1
47500 Petaling Jaya

Baby Turtles and Catfish

25 Oct

Last month, I tagged along with Tom on a trip to a BP-sponsored turtle sanctuary, Ma’Daerah, in Terengganu, on Malaysia’s east coast. The trip was part of a community service project by the interns at his office, who chaperoned kids from Nur Salam (a shelter for at-risk kids, many of them refugees); for a lot of the kids, it was their first trip outside of an urban environment. We got lucky and saw two hatchings, plus two nesting turtles, who were less than amused to have their egg-laying observed by a gaggle of humans. Baby turtles are probably one of the cutest marine creatures out there, which makes it all the more heart-breaking that the survival rate is a shockingly low 1 in 1,000. Having no natural defenses, they’re basically adorable snacks for marine predators. To make matters worse, turtle eggs are considered a delicacy in many countries, including Malaysia, where, shockingly, there is still no ban on the sale of eggs. (Not to worry: no turtles nor their eggs were harmed in the writing of this blog.)

Baby turtle!

Ma’Daerah is close enough to reach by car from KL, and along the way, we stopped for dinner in Temerloh, which is famous for its freshwater fish, especially patin, a kind of catfish. The rest stop we parked at — don’t laugh: some of the best food in Malaysia can be found at rest stops — had stall after stall offering ikan patin masak tempoyak, or patin cooked with tempoyak.

Ikan patin masak tempoyak. Tastes better than it looks.

What’s tempoyak, you might ask? It’s fermented durian. Seeing as durian is already quite pungent on its own, I couldn’t imagine what it would smell like after fermentation. Judging from this dish, though, tempoyak might be actually be less potent than durian in its fresh glory. The broth was rich, with a mellow funkiness, and I can say that the patin is justifiably famous: the meat is delicate but savory, without any of the muddiness one normally associates with catfish. 

The communal pot of patin soup

So if you’re ever in Malaysia during turtle-hatching season, go visit a turtle sanctuary, coo over some adorable (if doomed) baby turtles, and stop in Temerloh for some patin with tempoyak. You’ll be glad you did.

Ketupat (Steamed Rice Dumplings)

22 Aug

I still have to wrap up Taiwan, but I wanted to do a quick post in honor of Hari Raya, or Eid al-Fitr as it’s called in the rest of the world. This two-day (or longer) celebration marks the end of Ramadan, and in Malaysia — for those who celebrate — it’s kind of like Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one. And, like those holidays, it’s celebrated with special foods, like ketupat.

Ketupat is rice that’s packed into cute little baskets woven from coconut fronds and then boiled. As the rice cooks, it expands to fill the packet, creating a compressed cake of rice. (Actually, “cake” or “dumpling” is a nice way to describe them; “brick” would be a less flattering but more accurate term.) Ketupat is traditionally served with rendang, a dry Malay curry thickened with toasted coconut. The texture of ketupat does work as an accompaniment to the curry — like a heavy matzo ball, it absorbs the flavors of the rendang — but all in all, I still prefer the other festive rice dish, lemang, which is glutinous rice steamed with coconut milk inside bamboo. (Unfortunately, lemang can be difficult and messy to serve without a machete, as we discovered.)

The question is, what do I do with my leftover ketupat packets? They would make great projectiles, but we don’t have monkeys at our condo (yet), and I don’t think management would be too happy about me hurling them over the balcony.

The Great Japanese Department Store Food Halls

19 Apr

The other day, I mentioned to Tom my last visit to one of the big department store basement food halls in Tokyo, and how I’d been offered a sample of something unusual*, and Tom suggested I do a blog post on the Japanese department store basement food hall, or depachika for short. (It’s an abbreviation/portmanteau of “department store” and “chikashitsu,” which means basement.) “But everyone** knows about the depachika,” I protested. “Besides, I didn’t take photos.” Tom quibbled with my definition of “everyone,” and upon consideration, I decided it would be fun to write about — even if I had to borrow someone else’s photos from Flickr.

Tasty offerings at the depachika. (Thanks, ae-j, for letting me use this!)

The depachika is a food wonderland. Imagine Harrod’s crossed with Whole Foods (the ginormous one in Chicago) with Trotter’s To Go, and then imagine if they were also giving out samples like a Costco on a Saturday. (I confess to making a lunch out of those samples many a time as a high schooler with a tiny allowance.) Some of the depachikas are like open-air markets (like the Odakyu Halc, where my grandma does a lot of her shopping), complete with whatever-mongers yelling out the day’s specials, while places like Isetan showcase high-end boutique foods. Halc is where you get food for yourself; Isetan is where you get food to give to other people, like these adorable sweets:

I took this photo myself, which is why it's not nearly as good.

My mom’s second cousin once removed on her mother’s side (or something like that) brought these on a visit. All of them are basically the same thing — sweetened bean paste — but that’s not the point. The point is that they’re an attractive and edible way to convey the greetings of the season, in this case, early spring (hence all the cherry blossoms).

I don’t want to imply that depachikas only sell food that’s fit for gifting. What’s great is that they sell the food you buy for yourself (deli items, groceries, the best prepackaged sushi ever) and the crazy-expensive-impressive stuff. I always miss depachikas when I come back from Japan. Whole Foods, you need to step it up.

*Horse sashimi, if you must know. It’s a delicacy in southwestern Japan, as I found out when I visited my grandma’s family in Kumamoto.

**”Everyone” meaning people who are obsessed with food, or have traveled to Japan, or both.