PART 2: The smell of durian and the taste of reality – homecooking in the Malaysian countryside.

19 Oct

Remembering

It was so hot that day. The strong sun was heating up the streets of Kuala Lumpur, making it almost unbearable to be outside. If a normal person could not stand this heat, it was even worse for me. At the time I was very sensitive to the sun and heat so I convinced mom we had to go to the coast where we could swim and get away from the stressful, humid and polluted city.

Just as on all our other trips with mom – did not matter if we were the middle of nowhere in Egypt, up in the Indian mountains or on some picturesque Greek island – we were going to travel the local way, this time by bus.

I remember how we, after running in the streets of the crowded city, got on the bus.

I do not know what I expected when we got of, but it surely was not what struck me. I got of the bus, exhaled – nice to have reached the destination – and took a deep breath. But there was something wrong. In stead of fresh sea air, a very strange and weird smell hard impossible to describe if you have not felt it, filled my nostrils. Even though we walked, the smell did not seem to disappear. Eventually mom explained that this was the smell of the fruit durian. Before us we saw it. Durian, durian durian. And durian. Everywhere was durian – tons of it. The bus had dropped us of near some durian-market-festival-sort-of-thing. There were all versions of the spiny fruit – frozen, dried, mixed, fresh edible things to hats made of durian.

Trying to get away from the smell, we walked and walked. Eventually the smell was replaced by a lovely smell of food. The air was full of it. The durian now a distant memory. We noticed how hungry we were and passed by four, five restaurants in our journey trying to trace the source of the lovely smell.

The source of the smell is one of the main reasons why the biggest influence in my eclectic cooking is Asian. Thus, you understand, the source was not something regular.

When we found it we could not really believe that was it. Out from little hole in the wall with six chairs and two tables a  came smell that would attract the crassest of chefs. The owner was a mother and the hole in the wall an extension of her simple home – an  attempt to make life a little easier. For fourty(!!!) cents, you could get rice with six different dishes. I instinctively went for some green veggies. When writing this, I can feel the taste in my mouth. Crispy, fresh, garlic, somewhat hot, a little salty, but the dominating ingredient – the passion of a mother.

The following days became a walk between the beach and this place. Three times a day we enjoyed the lovely food and everytime we sat there wondering how it could be so good. Even though the food was totally awesome, I in the back of my mind was longing for the dish I had had the first day.

Full of curiosity, we could not avoid asking what the secret ingredient was, why the food turned out so good. The mother ( the cook) just laughed. My mom took it to the next level and asked if we possibly could join her some day in her cooking. At first, the mother was a little shocked – and I think embarrassed – so she just said no. But after seeing the excited gaze of me, my sister and my mother, she agreed. She told us to come 7 am the next morning.

7 am. “The kitchen” equaled minimal back yard where she had a big wok over a gas thing. I remember how she handled the ingredients as they were her own children and when we saw her passion, we all understood why the food tasted as it did. She made a variety of dishes ; fresh shrimp in tomato masala, fish in coconut, fried rice – and finally the dish I ate the first day. By my appearance I guess she read how much I wanted to help out with this particular dish. We made the dish and it was first when I noticed how focused I had been. The backyard was not longer was it once had been. Now it was full of people… Her kids, her sisters, her husband, and many locals had made the back yard even smaller. They stared at us wondering what we were doing. The atmosphere became wistful and inquisitive.

Totally laconic, I looked at them and smiled.

They smiled.

Happiness filled me.

We did not have to say anything.

We knew. They knew.

She knew.

In a few seconds, the strained atmosphere altered to its opposite.

The birds filled the sky, the people started to talk. Everybody was cheering

For the people, that was the beginning of another day in the life on the Malaysian countryside.

For me it was the day when I learned one of my favorite dishes.

Today it is the reason why I started to cook Asian food.

Morning glory

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 cup of water

Morning glory

½ red chili, fairly spicy

2 teaspoons of salt

Oil for frying

Serve with rice

Wok

1. Heat up oil in a wok, the highest temperature, preferably a gas stove

2. When hot, add the morning glory, chili and garlic

3. Stir properly so the garlic and chili does not get burned

4. After four minutes, add the water and the salt, mix properly

5. Serve over rice

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