Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weird Stuff (Street Food)

In Bahasi Malay and Indonesian, warung means stall.  I am a sucker for a food stall, as we all know. Like my hero Calvin Trillin, I've got the gene that makes me love buying street food and eating while standing up.  In just 10 hours in Kuala Lumpur, I ate like a king.  Malaysia beckons me back....I had goreng pisang (battered and fried banana, right), and some thin crispy crepe with peanuts (see below).

 In Indonesia, I showed some uncharacteristic caution and resisted all food carts except the grilled corn being sold at the top of the mountain where we went to look at Mount Merapi (oh man what was that place called again...?).

In Singapore, the street food is housed inside, in hawker centres, where things are clean and tidy, and handily grouped all together. Calvin Trillin wrote famously about them in the New Yorker, and there's a guide to them you can pick up while in Singapore.  I trusted Claire and Huzir as my guides, and didn't go wrong. 


Carrot Cake.  Which is not at all what it sounds like.  Glutinous chunks of what Claire reported to be "grated root vegetable," sauteed in garlicky soy sauce.  I couldn't stop eating it despite my overly full belly. 
Teo Chew (braised duck with rice noodles): Man alive. So flavorful.
Rojak: We had a version of this peanut-sauced fruit salad while in Jogja, but this one was stranger and more delicious.  I will list the ingredients but you'll think I am joking.  Sliced guava, cucumber chunks, mango(?), and a few other fruits and vegetables, with chunks of giant fried churro.  Doused in an incredible peanut sauce. Oddly, inexplicably divine.
Chwee Kueh (steamed rice cakes with minced something or other on top): There is no end to how many ways I can enjoy rice products, apparently.
Apologies to Huzir for not calling the Char Kway Teow a highlight.

Weird Stuff, part 3 (Rijsttafel)

Rijsttafel meaning "rice table" in Dutch, ends up meaning a kind of lunch smorgasbord.  Or that's what it meant for us, anyway, as we sweated it out in the courtyard of the Hotel Mertua, gorging ourselves on a series of small Javanese plates.

Sitting atop our beautiful Jogja batik table cloth, they included the local salad teran chan--fresh grated coconut, ginger, sliced long beans, bean sprouts, and something else or two; homemade tempeh, which we were having for the second time, and is on a level that industrial tempeh just can't touch; serunding--another grated coconut dish, this one spiced and toasted I think; various satays; fried rice, noodles, etc.  

It is worth mentioning the distinctive taste of Javanese food.  Before we left Singapore we were warned by one person that the food's no good, assured by another that it is good, but very simple. I agree with the second person, though truth be told we ate only at our lovely hotel, the Bale Raos royal restaurant at the Kraton, and here.  And it's true--no sauces, nothing fancy, just simple ingredients, most of which we saw growing at some point, whether it be in the rice paddy fields in the local villages or up in the terraced mountains near Mt. Merapi. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

weird stuff, part 2 (breakfast)

My first day in Singapore, not 2 hours off the plane, we headed to Chinatown for dimsum.  I earned my stripes sucking bbq sauce off of chicken feet. Slurping red bean steamed buns and shrimp dumplings, blinking off jetlag and enjoying my new discovery: non breakfast food for breakfast. 

For the next two days, I drooled over nasi lemak: coconut rice with chili paste, little dried crunchy fish and then a big fried fish on top. Also good for breakfast is nasi goreng, javanese fried rice. Between all the breakfast rice and, well, the lunch and dinner rice (not to mention dessert rice--more to come on that), I am now basically one giant rice ball.

First day home and I am back on Cheerios and milk. What's up with that?

Another Singapore specialty is kaya toast, a kind of coconut custard spread on big fluffy white crustless bread, and lightly toasted.  We had this only the once, but it was delicious, and compelling.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

you eat weird stuff, part one

For centuries, travelers and "discoverers" have encountered new countries and new cultures and they have thought or said: "you eat weird stuff here!"  Some of those intrepid swashbucklers then add: "Can I taste?"  I am one of said intrepid discoverers, leading with her tongue.

I have just returned from nearly two weeks traveling Singapore, Malaysia (for 10 food-filled hours), and Indonesia.  Claire and Huzir took pains to introduce me to all of the important dishes, fruits, and tastes on offer.  As Huzir feared I would, I am now publicly declaring that I have met my match in those two. They love food journeys as much as I do.

I took pictures of nearly everything, and will chronicle it all here in such detail that your eyes will bleed. Or your stomach growl.  Whatevs.  I begin tonight, when I should be asleep already, with:


Upon arrival in Jogja (that's the island of Java, hey now), our houseboys greeted us with a welcome drink.  Last time I saw such a maneuver was on "Fantasy Island," and the gesture was lost on me.  Suddenly, on that hot Indonesian patio, I understood why we greet visitors with a taste of their new home. This drink sought to transform us from the inside out, sending streams of rose syrup, cinnamon, tamarind and lemon grass through our veins, synching our pulses with those of the Javanese.  This isn't it pictured here, but it's something similar.

In fact, at every turn, each time I reached for a Coca Light (see my recent HuffPo post on that ol' silly habit), Claire pushed me to try something new.
cincau: seaweed jelly cubes in syrup--was that coconut?

avocado "juice": basically an avocado smoothie. hello!

fresh squeezed sugar cane, with one of them mini limes

kickapoo joy juice: this is not a name I have made up. Seriously.
and the list goes on. 

In fact, I took a pic of a menu at a coffee shop (not what we think of when we say coffee shop. Something else) and it gives you a sense of all the crazy beverages they've got going on.