Thursday, March 17, 2011


Malaysia has been wonderful. And it's not because of the cities, which are nice, but nothing to write home about; nor is it because of the scenery, although it is pretty. It's because of the food. Malaysia is extremely multi-cultural, with Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Indonesian immigrants all calling it home. This has resulted in some of the best food we've had this entire trip, if not EVER! What?! No, it's true!

It has been one exquisite meal after another. In Melaka, we had mouth-watering Malaysian laksa soup that just blew us away. Then Penang brought us beautiful, complex Indian curries and the absolute best chicken biryani of our lives. Who knew that chicken is best with mint and yogurt? THE FUCKING INDIANS, that's who. It's like the Indians have decided, "You know what? We're just going to take everything delicious, and cook that. And we're going to NOT cook anything that's NOT delicious. Fuck yeah, this is going to be awesome." And they were right, it IS awesome! I have so much respect for Indian food.

This is the Indian restaurant that BLEW OUR MINDS:

I love the culture surrounding the food even more than I love the food. (The word 'food' is starting to look a bit funny. Foood.) In one restaurant you will commonly see Indians eating with their hands, Chinese people with chopsticks, Thais using a fork and a spoon (using the fork to nudge the food onto the spoon, which then goes in your mouth), and the lowly tourists eating with their forks. And because everyone eats in their own way, the atmosphere is very laid back and entirely unpretentious. No one cares if your face or hands get dirty; no one cares which utensil you use. Just eat however you're comfortable eating, no self-consciousness necessary.

I have found this incredibly liberating. Normally, trying new foods while traveling is fun, but a bit nerve-wracking. You're never quite sure what to do. "Am I supposed to be using my fork or my hands?" or "Is that a soup or a finger bowl?" Add to that my seemingly unstoppable ability to spill food all over myself at nearly every meal, and eating inevitably becomes a bit embarrassing. But here, it's all good. Just enjoy the delicious food, that's the important part.

One night in Kuala Lumpur we decided to go to a "steak stall," a tiny little hawker stall rumored to have amazing steak. We found it under a highway, in the middle of a parking lot, surrounded by plastic tables and chairs. I was dubious at first - how can anyone make good steak in a STEAK STALL? But then it turned out to be the best steak since Argentina, and I realized you don't need to have a fancy restaurant to have good steak. I love this lack of pretense - I'd much rather sit at a plastic table than have some stuffy waiter draping a napkin over my lap.

Steak stall:

Yes, we take pictures of our food. What of it?

Over time, we've gotten better and better at picking restaurants here. The secret is to go to the small, dingy hole-in-the-wall places that are teeming with locals. If the kitchen is just a counter in the middle of the restaurant with a little old lady furiously flinging food around, you've hit the jackpot! At first we were intimidated, because these kinds of places normally don't have menus, and often the protocol is unclear. But we got braver as we went along, and now we realize that the rule of thumb is, the less you can figure out what's going on, the more delicious (and cheap) the food will be.

Little old lady furiously flinging food:

In this vein, yesterday we walked into a restaurant and ordered their one dish, "lorbak," not really knowing what it was. They brought us a plate of various meats with chili sauce. We recognized pork and calamari, but the rest were a mystery. As we chowed down, half of me was thinking, "I hope we're not eating pig brains right now!" but the other half was screaming "WHO CARES? It's delicious!" And that, I think, it the essence of eating in Malaysia.

And tomorrow we'll be in Thailand! Yay!

Here are some more photos of Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, and Penang.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Treatise on Durian

Hello from Malaysia!

It's nice to be on our way again after being in Singapore for over a week. Singapore was a really cool city, but it felt a bit like a vacation from our vacation. We spent most of the time eating, shopping, riding the skytrain, and hanging out on the internet in our air-conditioned hotel room. It almost felt like we were back in Vancouver. Except for all the Asian people.. wait, no, that was also exactly like Vancouver.

Here is a fucking SHIP on top of 3 skyscrapers. It doesn't get any cooler than that.

I think the thing I will remember the most about Singapore is, unfortunately, the durian. For those who haven't heard of durian before, it's a very popular southeast Asian fruit. Wikipedia describes it best:

The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine and gym socks. The odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia.

I think what Wikipedia is trying to say is that durian smells like something you should never, ever eat. It smells like it has spent thousands of years evolving in such a way as to tell everyone in the vicinity, "BACK THE FUCK OFF ME, BITCH, OR I'LL CUT YOU."

And yet people do eat it, constantly. There are stalls selling durian everywhere. We were extremely suspicious of them until we read this account from Alfred Russel Wallace:

This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed.

Sounds amazing, right? We figured that if we could get past the horrible, horrible smell, that maybe it would actually taste great. So we decided to try it.

Big mistake.

Getting close enough to the durian stall to buy some was a hurdle in itself. It smelled like we were trying to buy fruit out of a dumpster. I don't know if you've ever done that (and I kinda hope you haven't), but it's very off-putting. It makes you feel like perhaps you should re-evaluate your life choices.

And then we saw the price tag. $15?! What the hell is going on here??

(Un)fortunately, the guy gave it to us for $10, but that is still really expensive for a piece of fruit that smells like what I would imagine it would smell like if a toilet could fart. We took it back to our hotel room, which, looking back, was our second big mistake, because if I had still been in the presence of the guy who sold it to us, I'm pretty sure I would've cussed him out and trashed his stinky-ass fruit stand. I feel like that would've been the only right thing to do. A part of me still wants to go back there and do it right now. What kind of person makes a career out of selling durian to people? Think of the children.

So I guess it goes without saying that durian is, without a doubt, the most revolting thing I've ever tasted. If I were trapped on an island and the only food was somehow durian, I would starve to death before eating it again. We each managed to take one bite before spitting it out, washing our hands several times, and vigorously brushing our teeth while shouting, "Why, God, WHYYYY?". Not only is the smell so much worse when it's up close, but the texture is horrifically, nauseatingly creamy. As my friend Frances put it, "The only thing worse than rotting trash is creamed rotting trash." It clings to the mouth, lingers on the breath, and assaults the soul. It is absolutely vile. Little known fact: it is Satan's preferred fruit.

This is the face of durian:

Our misery was prolonged for several hours because we couldn't get the smell out of the hotel room. And even after cleaning every nook and cranny of our teeth, the smell would punch you in the face again every time you burped. It's the fruit that keeps on giving. And by giving, I mean nauseating. I feel a bit sick just writing about it and I'm going to go brush my teeth again.

I'm not sure what the point of that rant was. I think what I'm trying to say is, don't ever eat durian. It's just not worth it. It will haunt you.

Other than that, Singapore was great.