My days in Penang, the beautiful Pearl of the Orient are coming to a close as I prepare to shift focus back to Europe for a while, and to be honest, I’m going to miss Malaysia and in particular, Penang.
I’ve made a lot of friends here during my stay and met some incredibly interesting people. I’ve gotten involved in all kinds of capers and eaten some of the most bizarre and delicious food I have ever tasted. Malaysia is Rojak.
Rojak for the un-initiated is a medley of cucumber and tropical fruits with added extras tossed in a sauce and sprinkled with toppings. A vague description, I know, however, Rojak is different everywhere you go. One man’s Rojak in KL will be significantly different from the fella’s in Johor Bahru. A chap from Kuantan will tell you what his Rojak consists of and it’ll be very different from the Rojak a lady from Malacca will describe to you. In Penang- food paradise of The East, they change it again and it changes from hawker to hawker. Here’s a picture of Penang Rojak:
Why am I banging on about Rojak? Well, because to me, Malaysia is Rojak, it’s a grand mixture of all kinds of things. It’s sweet and sour by turns, piquant, savoury, at once familiar and then strange, a melange of flavours that your mind tells you at first wont work. But it does work. I love the fact that Malaysians take their food so seriously. I think it says a lot about a culture, when a typical greeting is not ‘how are you?’ but ‘have you eaten yet?’, that although there are many things that Malaysians do not agree on, they all agree that a good feed is entirely necessary. Yesterday I went to Red Garden Hawker Centre with fellow hypnotist and man of mystery Frankie Lee, and there we both sat gorging ourselves on Loh Bak and Dim Sum. We (I) over-ordered and missed out on having some Char Keow Teow, Frog Porridge and fried oysters – there simply wasn’t any room. Whilst I was there, I was hit by a premature wave of what the Portuguese call Saudade. I looked around and saw the uncles and aunties, the young potential boyfriends desperately trying to impress the immaculately turned out Chinese girls, the large extended Malay family out to celebrate, the Indians playing cards wreathed in cigarette smoke, the waitresses wending their way through the cheap plastic tables, slotted into their Carlsberg and Tiger dresses and of course, the singer accompanied by a synth-pop backing track, adorned in a necklace that highlights her singing prowess, growling bitter notes of unrequited love in Hokkien and Cantonese.
All Malaysian, all getting on because Malaysia boleh!
Another friend of mine from KL, Chi master and Silat practitioner Henzi Nusantara will be walking blindfolded soon across Peninsular Malaysia one kilometre for every year of independence to celebrate the idea of Satu (one) Malaysia. That’s right folks, 55km blindfolded.
One dish, many ingredients.
Hope to be back soon, gotta get me some of that Rojak and Laksa, and Bak Kut Teh and Hokkien Char and Kuih and Satay and Belecan Chicken and Roti Canai and Ice Kacang and Nasi Kandar and Nasi Campur and Nasi Lemak………..