Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Taste of Malaysia

Recently, I had the joy of taking a Malaysian cooking class with my new friends, Meredith and Elizabeth. What a treat it was! We cooked from 10:00 - 2:00 and learned so much...not just about cooking, but also about the colorful multicultural history of Malaysia. I'm convinced that there's no better way to experience a country than to spend a day in the kitchen with local cooks willing to share not only their family recipes, but also themselves. Our menu was - Otak-Otak (marinated fish in banana leaves), Char Koay Teow (Malaysian fried noodles), Kari Ayam (chicken curry), and Roti Jala (lacy pancake).

First, each dish was demonstrated. Next, we had the treat of sampling it. After that, we went to our individual cooking stations and cooked the recipe ourselves. Finally, as this picture shows, we feasted on a full serving of our creations. Yummy!

A picture of my Otak-otak...first time for me to use banana leaves in preparing a meal. The origin of this dish was interesting. Our instructor shared that otak means brain and that the recipe was developed as a way to use old fish, including its head or brain. The ingredients for otak-otak are: "fresh" fish, egg, fish curry powder, coconut milk, tamarind paste, kafir lime leaf, kaduk leaves, salt. sugar, banana leaves and spice paste( lemongrass, red chilies, onions).

This dish was so much fun to make. The Roti Jala or "lacy pancakes" had the texture and taste of a chewy crepe. The ingredients for Roti Jala are: flour, salt, tumeric powder, egg, coconut milk, water, oil. After being cooked on one side only, the pancakes are folded and then rolled before being served with curry.

A picture of one of my favorite dishes, Char Koay Teow! This is a national "comfort" food. I'm guessing our equivalent might be homemade macaroni and cheese. The ingredients are:oil, garlic, chili paste, fish cake, prawns, flat rice noodles, egg, bean sprouts, chives, light soya sauce, thick soya sauce, water and salt.

The beautiful cooks who shared their talents and heritage

Figuratively speaking, there's more than one way to "taste" a country and just like in sampling any cuisine, there are going to be dishes that you love and others you'd prefer not to have again.
In closing this posting, I'd like to say that the cooking class at Lazat is an experience I truly look forward to having again and again. However, the attempted motorcycle mugging that took place yesterday, I'd prefer never to sample again! Fortunately, I am sitting in the safety of my apartment typing about it and counting my blessings rather than in a hospital room recovering from what "could" have happened. I'll be the first to admit that being jerked onto my hands and knees by a tug on my purse strap by a passing motorcycle mugger into a street full of rushing traffic really took the wind out of my sails, but I'm not going to let it stop me from continuing to explore this beautiful country that I've been blessed to spend a bit of time in. I'm a little scraped up and sore, but thanks to the experience, a whole lot wiser. Cheers!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Recent Road Trips

The following entries are a small sampling of our recent road trips. We're so fortunate and thankful to have a car and driver which makes it possible to leave the city for these short little jaunts.

March 21, 2009
2 hours to the north... Fraser Hill

Sam and I ventured out of KL once again. This time we headed 2 hours north and explored the wonderfully weird little highland town of Fraser Hill. We not only enjoyed hiking jungle trails, but also savored the cool mountain air while having coffee and shortbread on the veranda of a beautiful English cottage all the while listening to the sweet sounds of the town's over 250 recorded species of birds and the call to prayer from a local mosque! After several hours of trekking around the jungle and town, we finished the day by dining with the locals at a quaint Chinese restaurant just off the main square.
The center of town...By the way, to get to Fraser Hill, we traveled on the only road into town, The Gap, a one lane former mule train road that is open on odd hours for going up and even hours for coming down.

Ye Old Smokehouse- built in 1924 by the English Red cross as a gift to surviving dependents of soldiers who had lost their lives in WWI. Today, the Tudor style house is a hotel and restaurant. It was a photographer's dream...and it's my dream to be a photographer!

Having coffee at the Smokehouse with our new friends, Elizabeth and Auden. They recently moved to KL from Washington D.C.

Looking into one of the Smokehouse guest rooms..wish these windows could talk!

Wild beauty spotted along one of the jungle trails we hiked.

March 14, 2009
2 hours to the south...Melaka

Our first major road trip was to Melaka. Melaka was once a thriving port...had an important role in the spice trade which prompted the Portuguese, Dutch, and British to successively colonize it. Today the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The first protestant church in Malaysia. It was constructed by the Dutch using the bricks that had been used as ballast in the ships that sailed from Europe.

St Paul's Church...the first Christian church in Malaysia. It was built by the Portuguese in 1521.

Jalan Hang Jebat, formerly known as Jonkers Street...a colorful shopping street in Chinatown just across the square from Christ Church.

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. It was built in 1646.

Lunch! Chicken rice balls..a specialty of Melaka :)
My next goal will be to post complete albums of all of our snapshots on Shutterfly. With any luck and a little determination, I'll have that done before we take our next road trip. "Selemat jalan" for now!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to season a wok and other tidbits from Chinatown

It's always nice to meet new friends, learn interesting tidbits of history, taste different foods, and acquire new talents...all of which I got to do today! I toured KL's Chinatown along with about 15 others as part of a field trip organized by the American Association of Malaysia.

Of course, meeting new friends is the best! I met ladies from Whales, France, Canada, various states within the United States, and even a lady from Katy, Texas. That makes 2 women from Katy in 2 weeks. Can you believe it?

The most interesting food that I was served was actually a special drink. It was iced nutmeg tea. The owner of a Chinese restaurant located in KL's historical Central Market explained that it takes over five hours to brew as it requires a double boiling process. It was quite flavorful..sort of had a peppery taste and is claimed to have positive medicinal qualities.

As far as history, I learned things like KL was originally a tin mining town, and that the founder of the city, Kapitan Yap Ah Loy, has a very small street in Chinatown named after him in addition to an altar of honor at See Ya, the oldest temple in KL. I also learned about the three largest ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese, and Indian, and how their cultures, religions, and viewpoints on life contribute to a diverse experience for all.

However, the most unique lesson of the day was learned in a Chinese shophouse that sold anything and everything for the kitchen. One of my new friends and I returned to this shop after our tour was completed in order to purchase woks. I would've gladly paid twice what we paid just for the experience! Not only did we leave the store with cast iron woks, but also with very through animated instructions on how to season them given to us simultaneously by both the Chinese shopkeeper and an elderly Indian "auntie" who was also shopping at the store.

The instructions are as follows:
1. Wash the wok with soap and water.
2. Get a fresh coconut from the market and have the grocer mash the coconut.
3. Rub the mashed coconut flesh all over the wok
4. Boil water in the wok and add Chinese tea...allow to simmer.
5. Drain the tea and fry a chicken egg.
6. Throw the cooked egg away.

After completing these steps, the wok should now be seasoned and ready to use. According to many sites that showed up on a Google search, I could simply use vegetable oil, but how fun would that be? Tomorrow, I'm planning to shop for mashed coconut and Chinese tea. With any luck, the wok will be successfully seasoned, and Sam will have fried rice for dinner!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hiking Malaysia... a Sensory Smorgasbord of Green!

32 years ago we hiked the hills of Malibu Canyon ... Today, it's our joy being together hiking and exploring a whole new world .... How thankful we are for the friendship we share and for those of you who've lovingly encouraged us and have journeyed with us over the years!

So many shapes and shades of green...

This picture fails to capture the awe we felt as we hiked up this mountain bike trail to the canopy walk...but it's the best we could do with Sam's cell phone camera :) Next time, we'll take a movie!

I guess this is why it's called a rain forest!

I've been in Malaysia 2 weeks now, so I figured it was time to sit down and record some thoughts...share some pictures, especially for my readers who may not have Facebook, my favorite mode of communication these days.
First of all, let me assure everyone that all is well. It's amazing how quickly that I've made the transition. In fact, in less than a week after arriving, Sam and I had already entertained visiting co workers in our apartment twice. There's no way I could have done that my first week in Bangkok, but I guess the move to Malaysia is more like picking up where we left off.
Our field trips so far have included markets (both big and small), restaurants (mostly neighborhood), and parks. I saved the best for last in that list. If I were to choose one word to describe Malaysia so far, it would be "green". However, the color is just the beginning. Walking....hiking through the parks is much more like trying to sample everything possible at a sensory smorgasbord...the earthy smells, cool rain drizzling or pouring down, birds or maybe monkeys taunting, thunder rumbling, cascading's a feast for sure, and Sam and I are "pigging out" as often as possible!
Oops! "Pigging out" was probably not the best choice of words in an Islamic country. In order to purchase pig products (bacon, ham...), one must go to a separate section of the store. So much to learn!