you know what kind of malaysian experience i really miss? obviously, food. but not just any kind of dining experience. the truly malaysian ones.
i return for a short business visit and i find myself strangely but quite comfortably turned off by malls and those fancy designer food outlets. i do not, for the life of me, even want a smell of pastas and pizzas or any of those fusion wannabes. i can, of course, understand how some malaysians may view these experiences as quite a luxury. and i don’t blame them. i just don’t want to have those experiences. not at the moment, at least.
i am drawn towards the small, incredibly friendly, and questionably hygienic warungs and sidewalk ‘cafes’. i want the mixed rice, chap fan and the kind of tile-walled eating establishments that understand what “kuah campur” means.
i want to eat with either my hands or a pair of chopsticks.
i want to eat cendol, or rojak or yong tau foo on a plastic stool, under a tree, while watching very congested traffic.
i want the aunty running the cashier to be the same aunty who earlier supervised the boiling of the wonderful soup that i find my mihoon-mee in.
i want the rustic al fresco malaysian dining experiences. those that include rempit gangs hanging out at the parking ‘area’ which is incidentally everywhere possible. those that include ah bengs with monstrously pimped up sound and light show on wheels.
i want that brader who takes my order to come with a clipped stack of recycled paper to write my order on in short form (TOALKG = teh o air limau kurang gula) and offer me a laminated menu.
i want nasi lemak from the makcik who sells them out of plastic tupperwares on a foldable table early in the morning. she would be the same makcik who sell ubi keledek goreng and pisang goreng and cempedak goreng and cokodok in the evenings.
to me, and i must really underline the fact that this is a completely personal take in a completely personal blog, there is far more magic to the malaysian dining experience than just food. the fanciest burger joint, for example – since burger is all the craze right now – can never ever replace the kind of relationship that we have with the burger ramli. and not just any burger qualifies as a burger ramli. it has to be made by the road side. frequently in front of a 7-eleven. the tools of the trade is a cement scraper and a potato masher. the chefs are often an enterpreneurial bunch of boys who park their motorcycles nearby. instead of lettuce, there would be raw cabbage, dihiris halus-halus so that there is still a bit of crunch. the bitterness of the cabbage would be disguised by a flood of watered down chilli sauce and mayo. for a ringgit extra, you get a slice of cheese on it. if you tell them that you want it special, they will wrap an egg around the entire creation. soft buns buttered with margarine are toasted over the oils used to fry the cheap burger patties.
so yes, on this trip, please excuse my preference for the relatively local. i miss these things. i really do.