Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Kickin' it in the Kitchen

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. But teach a man how to cook up that fish Malay style and he's got himself a dinner party! - Ancient Chinese Proverb (paraphrased)

Today I got schooled in the proper technique to cook Malaysian cuisine. I know, I know I keep insisting that no one here cooks. Well, that may not be entirely true. People taking cooking classes do!

Two American friends and I attended that LaZat home cookery school in Petaling Jaya (PJ) which is located just outside of KL. The classes cost RM 180 and last from 10am-2pm. Each day, Chef Ana rotates through a different menu which includes classes in Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian food.
The class is held in a leafy, residential neighborhood. Chef Ana's house has been converted into a giant kitchen. There's a large prep space in the back. In the front is her demo kitchen and individual work stations for all budding cooks. An outdoor patio serves as a dining room, and a spot to catch a breeze when the gas hobs leave you overheated.

Let me start by saying that even though I find it challenging to cook and follow a new recipe at the same time (much like walking and drinking, which I won't even do) all of my dishes tasted GREAT. I know I made some mistakes, but this was still the best food I've tasted since I've been in KL. It's largely due to the fresh ingredients. Plus, Chef Ana's friendly staff who generally caught my mistakes before they negatively affected the taste of my creation.

What was on the menu you ask?
Otak-Otak: Marinated Fish in Banana Leaves

This recipe uses sliced white fish which is combined with coconut milk, curry powder, spice paste, and one kafir lime leaf. We spooned the mixture onto a kaduk leave, wrapped it in a banana leaf (which was run over a gas flame to make it pliable), and steamed it for ten minutes.

The result?

My fish didn't look great, in fact, I think it could have used another 2-3 minues on the steamer, but the taste was explosive. The spice paste contained lemongrass, chilies, and shallots and these flavors really stood out. It tasted fresh and slightly citrusy.

Char Koay Teow

This is a seafood fried noodle dish that is considered Malaysian comfort food. It is from Penang and looks similar to Pad Thai, but it doesn't have the same sweetness. I'd ordered this in a restaurant once and the result was a little bland. However, the way I cooked it was the way Char Koay Teow was meant to be cooked!

Kari Ayam - Chicken Curry

Malaysian curries are quite different from Indian curries. They use a spice combination of cinnamon, cloves, cardamoms, and star anise blended with coconut milk that gives the dish a flavor that is much sweeter than it's spicy Indian cousin. I left the star anise out of my dish because I'm not partial to that black licorice flavor. My curry was tender, flavorful, and not at all oily.
Roti Jala - Lacy Pancake
This is a version of the bread roti. The batter is simple to make and not nearly as messy as chapati batters I've attempted to make. The great things about Roti Jala is that instead of rolling out the dough, you pour it from a Roti Jala Maker (a cup with holes). You make circular patterns and the result is a pancake that looks like lace! I never really caught on to the method for this, but mine still came out cute and tasty!

For anyone who has ever stepped foot in a cooking class, I think you'll agree that this is the best part of the day. Eating!

We made SO much food during this class that Chef Ana packed up the excess and sent it home with us to share with our loved ones. Unfortunately, my loved one won't eat fish, chicken, or seafood. But he loved the Roti Jala. And I loved the leftovers!


Mr. Happy and I continue to devour any new taste opportunity that comes our way. Tonight we went for dinner at Hakka, an open air restaurant behind the Pavilion Mall in Bukit Bintang.

Hakka ='s Fun: The restaurant attracts large parties of people who gather at the round tables to share heaping portions of pork, steamed chicken, spicy prawns, and fried intestines (!!). Twinkle lights and red Chinese lanterns add a festive touch to the night. Each dish is served in small, medium, and large portions and roughly range in price from RM10 for a small to about RM25 for a large.

Hakka ='s Yum: Our group ordered a DELICIOUS dish of pork belly. It is cooked in a sugar and soy sauce and you eat it with steamed buns that are served on the side. This was everyone's favorite (except Mr. Happy, my vegetarian) We also ordered noodles with pork, steamed sweet potato leaves with garlic, and a tofu hotpot. We washed it all down with large bottles of cold Tiger beer.

What the heck's a Hakka?: For those of you who, like this eater, aren't familiar with Hakka cuisine, it's a cooking style specific to Southeastern China. Hakka restaurants are very popular throughout Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Our food at Hakka was fantastic and the menu is extensive. We stuffed ourselves and all agreed we can't wait to go back. There's a lot more I want to try -- although I'll probably give the fried intestines a pass.

I think Mr. Happy may have overdone it!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Tiger Woods Wouldn't be Caught Dead in That!

Last night, Mr. Happy attempted to play golf for the first time ever. More accurately, he went to drive golf balls with some friends at a nearby country club. He was concerned about his attire as his wardrobe isn't really golf friendly. I didn't take a photo and I won't embarrass him by discussing what he wore, but I assure you, if you saw him you would not guess he was going out to play golf. Luckily, the club has a relaxed dress code for driving balls.

It looks like we'll have to 'swing' by the shops soon 'fore' some new clothes because a little 'birdie' called me on his way home-- I was having dinner at the Mid Valley Mall -- and asked me to price golf clubs. I didn't.

How to be Irresistible to Your Mate

On Tuesday, the Oxford & Cambridge Society of Malaysia held a class - How to be Irresistible to Your Mate & Win Over Your Boss. Wha? I need a class in this? Of course not, but Mr. Happy and I thought it would be a good way to meet some new people in KL while honing our irresistibility.

The people we met were really nice and we plan to return for some other events they are holding. They were especially friendly toward us since we are new to the city. They offered some KL tips. Here's my favorite:

#1 Tip: If you see hundreds of dead snakes in the road, turn around and go back to where you came from!

No argument here! Apparently, one of the new housing projects being built suffered a landslide recently. A few hours before it happened, hundreds of snakes fled the hill and tried to escape toward the road where they were subsequently run offer and turned into snake fritters.
Snake Fritter ='s Danger!!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

There's No Place Like Home

For all of the fans of this site who are not able to come for a visit soon, I've taken some snaps of our new pad to assure you we are living indoors.

A view of the kitchen where we make coffee.

A view of the dining room where we eat our take away.

A view of the living room where we watch pirated DVDs.

A view of the master bath where we fix up!

A view of the bedroom where we rest up.

A view of the office which Mr. Happy needs to clean up!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Market Day!

In Malaysia, everyone is a food expert. And everyone is always eating. Whatever your location in KL, you will never be more than 50 meters from the delicious sent of intermingling cuisines. Indian, Chinese, and Malay foods being cooked in outdoor kitchens tempt you to eat just one more snack before you head home.

Cooking at home is a rarity in Malaysia. The hawker food is so cheap and so scrumptious that few people bother. This, and the fact that few kitchens are outfitted for proper Western style meal preparation. Many homes do not have ovens and my apartment only has two burners. But sometimes a girl just wants to eat at home! This past weekend, Mr. Happy and I headed out to the Imbi Wet Market, also known as the Butik Bintang Market. Wet Markets are where you buy your produce, meats, and fish. Then, at the end of the day the entire area is hosed down for a cleaning. The market did not disappoint!

The aisles were stacked with fresh, exotic fruits and vegetables. We piled colorful lemons, kiwi, papaya, and pineapple into our bags. We bought Japanese eggplants and stocked up on onions, garlic, and hot sauce. We even stopped for a bouquet of flowers on impulse. After this, we hit the hawkers!

Of course we were now the proud owners of quite a lot of food, but by the time we got it home and cooked it up, we may have starved to death! We couldn't resist a few pick-me-ups!

These vegetarian popiah may now be my favorite food in Malaysia. They are made using a sweet sauce, turnips, crispy bits of flour, spices, and additional ingredients of goodness. I'm glad I managed to take a photo before I gobbled it all up!

This dish is what draws the hoards of people -- including VIPS-- to the market. It is a Malaysian classic breakfast of toasted buns, a slab of butter, and kaya (coconut jam). The set meal also comes with soft boiled eggs. We topped it off with refreshing iced coffees.

Here's a close up of the butter as it melts into the coconut jam. I enjoyed this more than Mr. Happy who thought it was too sweet. I'm sorry, wha? Is there such a thing?

This is how you are served your soft boiled eggs. You must keep the bowl on top of the water for four minutes and then the egg should be good to go! Stop watch anyone?!

Despite Mr. Happy's smile, eating a soft boiled egg with chopsticks is NOT easy!

And of course the final, indispensable ingredient to a fabulous day in KL!

Can't leave home without it!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Sky High

You may wonder what one does in Kay-El when not working, eating, sweating, shopping, sweating. Well the answer of course is we are chillin' out maxin' and relaxing all cool, sitting by our rooftop swimming pool.

We've got stunning city views from our chaise lounge.

Ahhh, the good life!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Are You Qualified to Read This Post?

When I moved to Dubai, I was shocked by the classified ads. Sure, people are specific about what they are looking for in the personals, but in Dubai they were specific everywhere. Job ads would call for a "Western educated woman in her 20s," apartments were available for "professional men from Kerala." Following Eid, a Muslim gift giving holiday, the paper would have an entire section dedicated to "Unwanted Gifts for Sale."

In KL, it's pretty much the same thing. Equal opportunity is more of an after thought, if it's a thought at all. Today, I met some friends for lunch and, as we cruised the hawker stands, we came across this doozy of a help wanted ad at a pancake house.

They actually have a minimum height requirement to work there! Woman must be at least 5'3" and Men 5'6". If you want a management position, add on an extra inch! These people aren't operating heavy machinery. They aren't even being taken for spontaneous rollercoaster rides. They are making pancakes! Maybe, maybe, there are extraordinarily high counters back in the kitchen.
One vertically gifted worker posed for a photo for me. He was pretty tall, I think he will make pancake president one day.

They also request you send a recent snapshot with your resume. Don't short, unattractive people deserve the chance to earn a living? Not in the pancake industry, my friend, not in the pancake industry.

Lazy Sunday

We tried to have a relaxing Sunday in preparation for Mr. Happy's trip to Singapore. We headed down to Butik Bingtang where we treated ourselves to a Thai massage at the newly opened Ancient Thai Bodywork Therapy on Jalan Tong Shin. They are running an opening promotion. Our Thai massage was 45 minutes for RM40. It was well worth it. They do a foot massage for RM33 and that looked divine as well.

We planned to head to Chinatown for dinner, but passed this restaurant on our way. We skipped their food, but Mr. Happy requested a photo before we walked away. Can you guess why?

Chinatown was CRAZY! Completely packed and bustling. I couldn't believe the number of wallets and purses available on Petaling Street. I can't imagine there is enough business for all of those people to earn a living. As I was in the market for neither a wallet nor a purse, I just felt a little overwhelmed. We managed to make it onto a side street where we ordered a mushroom hot plate RM10, soup dumplings RM 1.90/each, and BBQ Port noodles RM 9. As I suspected, it turned out to really be BBQ Pork. Yay for non-halal restaurants!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Friday the 13th

Is it just me, or has there been an unprecedented number of Friday the 13ths this year? Somebody get this girl a calendar!

Received a Telegram...Stop

Today we received a telegram! I feel so last century. WHO would be sending ME a telegram? I didn't even realize one could still send a telegram in today's digital age. Malaysia is the base for numerous electronics companies, so it isn't as if it's behind the times in terms of technology. Though I was thrilled that we received a true blue telegram, I wasn't impressed with its efficiency.

The telegram informed us that our boxes had arrived at the airport cargo terminal. I had already picked up said boxes more than twenty-four hours before the message reached us. Mr. Happy called two days before using Mr. Alexander Graham Bell's handy invention. We got the information faster and the phone call was cheaper than the telegram. But a few extra ringgit were probably worth the novelty factor. STOP.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Landing in KL

Hellllllllllo Kuala Lumpur, or KL to those of us in the know. KL is the capital city of Malaysia and it is fantastic. Whenever I stepped off the plane in Dubai I felt like I was taking a giant step back into the past. In KL, I feel like I'm leaping into the future. The city is vibrant, the people are nice - they smile, laugh, and are helpful. It wasn't until I arrived here that I realized I never heard people laughing in Dubai. A lot of people move to Dubai out of necessity. They are earning money to send back home or to create a nest egg. There's very little sense of community and most people can't wait to get home. In KL, people are here because they love it. I love it!

But I have no time to run through the streets with my arms opened wide. We must get down to work and my job is to try and find an apartment. I spend days apartment hunting. My husband and I don't want a place that will be a hassle, so condo living is for us. We are hoping to take lots of long weekends and breaks so we can explore this part of the world. We don't want a big place we have to clean or a garden we need to look after. I see lovely flats in the suburbs of Bangsar and Mont Kiara, but it's obvious pretty quickly that it's necessary to have a car to get around. We want to stick to mass transit, so I limit my search to KLCC - Kuala Lumpur City Centre. There's a lot to choose from. The economic downturn has reached all the way to Malaysia and a lot of expats have left or have found their housing budget slashed. That said, after living in NYC, London, and Dubai the rent here is peanuts! You can get a nice 2 bedroom apartment in the suburbs with a pool, gym, and tennis court for around RM 3000. The exchange rate at the moment is RM 3.7 for $1 US.

The apartments in the centre of the city are a little smaller and the amenities aren't quite as nice for the price, but we compromise. We take a place in the Parkview. The location is excellent. We can walk everywhere. It's a little noisy due to some nightclubs nearby, but our landlord Mrs. Chong is working to soundproof our place.

Just outside our door is a row of hawker stands. You can fill up on a buffet lunch for RM4. That's less than $1.10!! The food in Malaysia is unbelievably delicious and I plan eat it all!