It all started when I lived in Saudi Arabia for nine years. Being an expat, and working in a multicultural background, I was often asked by my colleagues about traditional Malaysian dishes, and I hardly knew the answers. Cooking wasn’t my forte; even making a bowl of instant noodles was a big mission for me at that time! Somehow, my poor explanation of Malaysian foods made me swallow hard. But, those questions also made me reflect on the good food I enjoyed at home. Collectively, the vivid memories of foods prepared at home by my mum and grannies, as well as traditionally prepared local foods I had tasted around Malaysia were my benchmarks whenever I described Malaysian delicacies. And these same memories made me crave for mum’s home cooked food and local Malaysian dishes even more !
At that time, the internet was my only source for Malaysian recipes, other than from my mum, whom I have always regarded as the best cook ever. I could have asked her for recipes and details instead, but somehow my ego was larger than me. Besides, I needed to prove to her that I too, can cook! As a result, after I prepared my dishes, I always ended up frustrated when my food tasted nothing close to what I had expected, in comparison to the flavours that are registered on my taste buds. I might be exaggerating a little, but then again, the listed ingredients sometimes called for the use of artificial flavouring that my mum never used in her cooking (and I don’t fancy either), or typical Asian ingredients that I couldn’t get in Saudi Arabia. Honestly, I do believe these factors affected the final results. Out of curiosity, I am always on the lookout for any relative information, especially regarding substitute ingredients, in the making of original Malaysian dishes that don’t compromise the original taste. So, yes, back then, many long phone calls back home to mum, did relieve some, if not all of my misery.
Known as the melting pot of Asia, Malaysia is a country where food is equally represented in the diverse, multiracial, and multicultural society, as reflected on the gastronomic scene that has expended tremendously. It has a vast variety of food choices ranging from local, international, or fusion, either from hawker street food stalls or at fine dining restaurants, all of which are available at the convenience of the consumers, and to suit all levels of budgets. Indeed, I am still developing my sensory palate, as Malaysian foods are so rich in cultural and regional influences.
On a side note, I occasionally find similarities in other regional foods. Some of it is very similar in taste, being claimed as traditional local food by few countries. For instance, Nasi Goreng or friend rice in English language, is being claimed as Singaporeans, as well as an Indonesian local dish, while in Malaysia too, we have our own version, and not forgetting Thai fried rice. So, this makes me question the criteria for establishing a dish as a local delicacy. Moreover, how do people validate the identity and authenticity to make such claims ?
Now that I am back in Malaysia, I have set myself the mission to sample and learn as many local delicacies as I possibly can. At the same time, I wish to explore its history and how that influences each and every dish, in order to fully understand the food, to appreciate the local produce, and altogether to embrace the contrast I am living in. Simultaneously, I hope to try cooking many of these new recipes, as well as perfecting my home cooking skills. In other words, I am challenging my own ability in recognising the complexity of the foods I am consuming, thus expanding my own culinary repertoire.