Back flip pulled tea
A trip to Malaysia will not be complete without sampling its authentic cuisine, and there are quite a few, from breakfast to late night supper, the latter to serve as essential tummy liners to pub-crawlers.
Even in the heart of Kuala Lumpur city, you might stumble upon a few finds. Like the mamak (or Indian) shops for hot, crispy roti canai (made of wheat flour, egg and ghee, this is also known in Singapore as roti prata) served with a choice of chicken, fish or dhal curry. Malaysians add a dollop of spicy sambal (chilli paste) in the curry and use their fingers to eat the bread.
Nasi Kandar Pelita along Jalan Ampang and opposite of Chorus Hotel is consistently good with its fast food rendition of Indian Muslim food which includes variations of roti canai (plain, tissue, bom, with egg, banana or shredded meat), all interesting and downright tasty.
Roti canai in different varieties
Mamak shops serve the popular teh tarik, literally known as pulled tea, which gives it the tantalising froth. Mr Moor Sazali, at the opening of the Malaysian International Gourmet Festival, drew gasps from 2,000 VIP guests as he twisted, twirled and even bent backwards yoga like to create frothy goodness.
Dollops of Malaysian Cuisine
Indeed, this celebration of food is no storm in a teacup for the Malaysian authorities that are bent on spreading the fame of local cuisine to the rest of the world. This includes issuing RM200 million worth of loans pooled to fund restaurant proprietors and investors in setting up bases outside the country.Malaysia has over 350 restaurants operating globally and this is to be upped to 8,000 by year 2015 to forge a stronger gourmet destination identity.
"The challenge is to develop a pool of Malaysian chefs and to export them to the world," said Mr Mohd Rosly Selamat, the chief operating officer of Pempena, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tourism Malaysia. Mr Selamat shared that an existing programme exists which invites overseas chefs to Malaysia where they get to sample and prepare local dishes. Malaysia Kitchen intends to promote gastronomic by-products such as sauces and condiments to the world, plus local culture and handicrafts (tableware, décor and music) through these restaurants.
Thirty restaurants participated in the month-long international gourmet festival beginning 2 November 2007, which is a step up from a mere 13 in 2001 when it first started. A Malaysia Truly Asian Cuisine showcase saw master chefs dabbling with local ingredients to create a dish that would typify Malaysia.
A definite step in the direction of savouring Malaysia’s heritage I say, as I help myself to another serving of Nescafe tarik (pulled coffee).
Heritage Tantalizes Tastebuds
More can be done, though, like profiling more authentic Malaysian restaurants in tourist literature and websites, banning the use of meat from endangered sources such as shark’s fin especially during gourmet festivals and encouraging local chefs to uphold traditional ways of food preparation and presentation.
Cuisines like and Aunty Aini’s Cafe, Rebung and Enak go a long way in restoring old - in some cases, dying - practices. Authentic dishes are environmental friendly too as ingredients are prepared using manual means and handmade tools as opposed to electrical appliances.
Chef Ismail of Rebung restaurant uses his grandmother’s old coconut grater in his restaurant, partly for sentimental reasons, and the other, to extract the best flavour from the fruit. "Food tastes better when prepared with love," he quipped.
Chefs making music
Give a Thought to the Environment
In authentic Malay cuisines, local produce is used most of the time, depending on seasonal harvests. Meat is gotten from local farms such as the kampong chicken that are free to roam and grow naturally. And where the only steroid used is sunshine.
Eating fresh is one thing. Not buying foreign produce means saying no to mass and over production - what we often see rows after rows of packed frozen and chilled goods in supermarkets. Frozen products also use up more energy in packing, storage and transportation.
If we switched to eating fresh at least half the week by way of buying from the local market or growing own vegetables and herbs, supermarkets would stock up half of existing supplies, there would be fewer cargo flights, fewer delivery trucks on the roads, less exploitation of land for farming, and less carbon and methane emissions.
Returning to basics, going back to simplicity and revisiting age-old practices is something everybody should seriously consider, especially the organisers of the next Malaysian International Gourmet Festival. It will be gentler on Mother Nature, and certainly gentler on our health.
Make a date to visit Malaysia during 2008 Malaysian International Gourmet Festival that takes place all around the country during 1-30 November. Visit www.migf.com for details.
Potos by Mallika Naguran.