Goodbye, Malaysia. A Memoir in Food Photos

I’m leaving Malaysia for good after eleven wonderful years living in Penang. Though there are people and customs and culture and other things I’ll miss about Malaysia, I thought my Goodbye Post should highlight some of the food items I ate in my last week. I will miss all of this tremendously.

Imagine the fragrance and flavor as you look at these beauties:

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Beef Rendang – Indonesian, coconuty, Amazing!

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Nyonya – Roti Babi – fried pork sandwich. Yum. Oh, and some greens.

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Nyonya Pork Rendang. So different from the beef, but equally delicious.

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Sambal Goreng – so unique, prawn, coconut, eggplant, sambal

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Thai Long Bean & Pork – tremendous curry sauce on it

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Indian! The best butter chicken masala with garlic butter naan.

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Dry Curry Mee Noodles. Oh. My. Goodness.

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Manchurian Califlower – fried, spicy, crunchy

The terrible thing about these photos (besides I’m not going to be able to eat these foods daily) is that it truly only scratches the surface of Malaysian fare. It’s diverse, flavorful, and dare I some, some of the best food in the world.

Goodbye Penang. Goodbye Malaysia.

 

Intersection of Meaning

I snapped this in Georgetown, Penang a while back. I suppose I was just be nostalgic. But what a meeting of forces.

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Kapitan is on Pitt Street.

Two of the best. One one street. Amazing.

Okay, explanation needed. Pitt – as in William Pitt – as in Pittsburgh, the city near and dear to me, a mere 25 miles from where I grew up. I have been a Pirates fan since 1976 when I discovered them on the radio at the age of 9. I’ve never looked back since. Modern Pittsburgh has grown into a wonderful city. I love going to PNC park in the summers whenever I get a chance.

So to find Pitt Street as the location of the famed Kapitan, wow! The stars have aligned. Kapitan is regarded as one of the best, if not best, Indian restaurant in Penang – and Penang has many wonderful Indian restaurants. Crispy chewy naan bread (mine with butter and garlic) to dip in chicken tikka butter masala. Or hey, why not some briyani rice. You can’t go wrong and you’ll walk away with a tone of flavorful overtones which will last a long time.

Two important impressions in my life – one on the palate – one on my memory and heart. And here they are together in the place where I’ve lived for eleven years.

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Perhaps the Best Beef Dish in the World.

The Minangkabau are a people group from the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. And man, do they know beef! They make, perhaps, the best beef dish in the world: beef rendang.

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Here in Penang, near my house, there’s a small lunch stand called Nasi Padang. Nasi means rice. Padang is a town in West Sumatra. Okay, you know where I’m going with this? This is real Minangkabau beef rendang, and it is absolutely out of this world. It’s expensive. Each piece is RM3 which is about 75 US cents. Okay, so I lied. It’s actually expensive for here, but it would be dirt cheap in a mall food court in America. It would also be the best tasting dish in any food court in North America.

First, let me explain that dish above. Top right is a tasty combination of Indian-spiced cabbage and bean sprouts. They’re terrific. Very top left is a wonderful egg omelet and botton left is the sauce to a great sweet-spicy chicken which is covering the rice. All of it is fantastic, but the true hero of this plate is center-bottom. That’s the three pieces of beef smothered in the most flavourful sauce you will ever taste.

For real beef rendang, they start with a plethora of spices and coconut and grind it all with a pestal and mortar. Liquid, oil, and other delightful items are added to the beef, and it’s slow-cooked for hours until all the liquid evaporates, and you are left with an extremely intense coconut and lemongrass flavor. I can’t properly describe it, because it simply explodes in your mouth. There’s nothing like it, and it coats the fall-to-pieces slow-cooked beef to create a perfect combination of bite and flavor. Oh my goodness! It’s tremendous.

There are many types of beef rendang. All of them good. There are many Malay-Indian restaurants and shops in Penang which make beef rendang. Most of them are liquidy and seems more like a curry. They still taste good, don’t get me wrong. But the original, the Minangkabau beef rendang is the standard. Maybe the world standard for a beef dish.

I love it so much. If you ever get a chance, do not miss it.

 

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These are the moments we remember


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Look closely at this photo. What do you see?

I see memories which will last a lifetime. Not for me, no, but for that family of aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews, mothers and fathers.

if you look closely on the center left, you’ll see two children playing in the sand at the edge of the ocean’s waves. On the right is picnic-central, complete with thermoses, snacks, extra clothing, blankets, mother, father, and daughter. The kids will run back and forth from the water while the parents will chat in the cool of the shade, enjoying the holiday, Malaysia Day 2016.

I took this photo from my usual writing spot, and the scene struck me so vividly that I had to take a photo of it through the trees. It was a lovely scene, the kind my family had when our kids were small. It’s a nostalgic scene, the kind that the Malaysian Normal Rockwell, if he exists, would happily paint and immortalize.

I can imagine what these kids will think in thirty years. Remember when Mom and Dad would pack the car and we would travel over the bridge to Penang Island, weave through the bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic, making the 45 minute ride to Batu Ferringhi where we would picnic by the sea for the entire afternoon, coming home exhausted by midnight? Remember?

Everyone, of course, will remember. And when these young kids have kids of their own, they too will come to Batu in search of the idyllic family day.

It’s moments like these that we all have to hold on to. It’s moments like these that make me glad that I’m a writer.

Happy Merdeka, Malaysia!

Fifty-nine years ago today, Malaysia declared its independence from Great Britain. I remember the 50th anniversary like it was yesterday. Where did those nine years go?

But I thank Malaysia for all the wonderful memories during these past eleven years. It’s a truly unique and amazing place. Its diversity sets it apart, which makes all the fusion food second to none!

It’s been my home, so I’m happy to celebrate the day with the thirty million citizens of this unique country. Here are a few photos of my home away from home.

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Dutch Square - Stadthuys Ethnographic Museum on the right. Christ Church in the background.

Dutch Square – Stadthuys Ethnographic Museum on the right. Christ Church in the background.

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My Life is Marked by Lychee Season

It strikes me every year. And I’m always surprised at how fast it comes and how it doesn’t feel like another year has passed. Without warning, one day, I see this.

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Lychees are in season once a year, starting in mid-May and running through early June. They are grown in sub-tropical climates. I became accustomed to lychees when living in Northern Vietnam. Hai Duong, halfway between Hanoi and the coastal city of Haiphong, if famous for their lychee orchards. Each late spring, on our trips to Hanoi, we would stop in Hai Duong and buy the delectable fruit.

They have a hard outer, colorful shell that pops off with a little prying with the fingernail. The white fleshy inside is sweet and wonderful, with a large pit in the middle. We used to play the game of who can find the lychee with the smallest pit. We would eat huge quantities sometimes finding very tiny pits. A special variety of the lychee, highly sought after, are known for their small pits. That means more wonderfully sweet fruit flesh to enjoy.

Fresh lychee is up pretty high on my list of favorite fruits. But I only get them once a year, so they are special, and they mark the year in pronounced ways.

Lychees mean the school year is closing and summer is around the corner. It’s also a sobering reminder of how fast one year really goes.

Lychees, thanks for the reminders and the good eats. I’ll miss you when I’m no longer in Asia.