After the gastronomic monotony of India (for vegetarians), my appetite has returned. Predominantly Chinese cuisine, there is a wide range of foods to be found. In the evenings, hawkers set up their stall, often adapted trishaws, on which they cook rice and noodle dishes, often with fish or chicken, in constantly stirred woks. One can sit at a roadside table and choose from a variety of stalls. In the two weeks I’ve been in Malaysia, I’ve yet to find a favourite food. Martabaks can be special: they’re inexpensive yet filling. These are a kind of pancake/omelette filled with meats and/or vegetables served with a curry dip and sold at Indian stalls – but not seen in India!
There are, of course, drinks a-plenty. The milk is of the heavy sweetened condensed variety, which means it’s revolting, worse than Indian chai. I try and stick to unsweetened Chinese tea with no milk. Milo, so difficult to track down recently in the UK, is very popular; they even sponsor sports events. As thirst quenchers, I like one made from a type of lychee which is “good for headaches, fever and fartulence” lime juice, and the ever present 7-Up. On principle, I won’t drink Coca Cola – I don’t like it anyway. But with the heat and humidity I am downing a lot more sweet fizzes than I did in India. Most of them taste like iced tea, which I like, although some, like Sarsi, taste like bitter aloes which when smeared on finger nails was supposed to stop me biting them, but didn’t.
Although the cake shops have interesting concoctions containing cream of coconut, for dessert, there are few puddings. However, for 20 cents (sen) one can buy a slice of pineapple or water melon. Then there are fruits never seen in the UK such as rambutan. This is a bright red hairy fruit, a bit like a horse chestnut, which breaks open to reveal a ‘lychee’ fruit inside. This tastes really nice, but I can’t get used to the slimy smooth texture. The same holds true for nangcur (jackfruit). This is enormous, weighing a few kilogrammes, and inside the green knobbly exterior there are yellow segments, each a very large mouthful. I haven’t yet come across a durian; by all accounts this is delicious, even though it smells like a sewer.
I can’t yet say that I’ve tuned into the fact that I’m now in south-east Asia. Perhaps that’s because there are so many reminders of ‘home’ here. The local supermarket has McVities Digesttive and Abbey Crunch biscuits – at £1 per packet. I’m not tempted at those prices. However, I did find a tube of Rowntree’s Fruit Gums, something affordable I wasn’t aware that I was missing until I found them.
The local English language newspapers have regular news of English soccer. So it’s good to know that Charlton have made their usual good start, gathering enough points to avoid relegation at the end of the season. (Note: They were promoted to the second tier as runners up.)
I’ve been to the cinema too. Apart from relaxing in the pleasant relief of air conditioning, I like to go to some entertainment with locals, if only to share in their amusement, or to sit bemused because I can’t. The big hit here, in both box office and visual terms, is Arnold Swartzenegger imitating the Incredible Hulk in Commando (trailer). At times I burst out laughing, and the rest of the audience joined in. As one of the characters says in the film: “I can’t believe the bullshit I’m hearing!” I couldn’t either, and assume that Barry Norman and the Guardian’s film critics have slagged it off. (Note: Barry Norman said: “Schwarzenegger is not an actor, he’s a human special effect.”)
Next week I’ll be in Thailand, a land where I’m going to have to learn some of the language as apparently English is rarely spoken. India taught me a lot about communication problems, and I hope I’ve learnt enough to get by. It will also be the first time I spend Christmas in a non-Christian country, and that should be interesting.
I hope yours is too, have a good one.