Some people fantasize about the delectable meals they’ll eat when traveling. The endless buffets in Las Vegas, the baguettes and wine in France, the succulent Peking duck in Beijing, the fragrant alfredo in Italy…. the list goes on. Well we’re on a budget, folks… we don’t get those delicacies. What we do get is something I’ve decided to call, “scary delicious”.
We’re in Malaysia and we really have no idea where or what to eat. I mean, there are TONS of options, literally every dark and dirty alley offers some food for the buying, but we’ve just come from the luxury of kimbap chunguk, we tend to avoid dark and dirty alleys like the Seoulite snobs we are…. We prefer our Paris Croissants and our Mr. Pizzas. However, having a rumbley, grumbley, growling tummy tends to help you ignore these preferences. So when a new friend from the hostel, Amjad, offered to take us to a Malaysian food ‘restoran’, we had to accept.
Walking past a pharmacy (or farmasi in Malay), a souvenir shop and a nice looking Nikon store front gave rise to hope that this man would show us to something well lit, clean, and heaven forbid – air conditioned.
We continued following Amjad, a traveler from London who had been in Malaysia for 3 months and knew the ins and outs of this bustling metropolis, until he announced, “we’re here!”…. ….. …. We see a gap between two buildings with people packing in as tightly as possible. I thought to myself, “this can’t possibly be ‘here’…”. I can’t speak for Noel but my first reaction was, “this was a bad idea”.
But we stuck it out. We,too, shoved our way into the food line, or rather the food mob. It was what looked like a huge vat of rice surrounded by a potluck-type assortment of questionable food items in Tupperware. A jolly looking man with front tooth missing and skin that showed the years of serving food in the confines of his tiny, grimy, nook of a kitchen. He recognized Amjad, and was pleased to see new foreigners as well. As this large set, happy man proudly passed me a plate of rice I thought, “well here goes nothing.”
The meal was called biryani which is an Indian-Malaysian dish with a bas of flavoured rice and your choice of sides/toppings, then with either a sweet/spicy sauce or a spicy gravy. I chose some pleasant looking cooked veggies, a tofu block slathered in a red sauce, something resembling quiche, and a fried potato fish cake which Amjah had recommended. Keep in mind that there are hands flying in all directions, orders being yelled out, pushing, grabbing, and general chaos on all sides throughout this whole process. I managed to get a large plate full which brought me to the grand total of 6 ringgit… roughly 2 bucks. I had to remind myself that at least if it was awful, I only wasted 2 bucks. There was no hope of eating our packaged meal in the ‘restoran’, so we parted from our friend and went in search of a park to eat in.
An hour’s walk brought us to the Garden Lake Park, and we also realized, an hour away from any eating utensils… so a purely Malaysian meal this was going to be, complete with shoveling food in with our hands.
We unwraped our neatly packed food parcels and surveyed the mess. I’ll admit, it did have a pleasant aroma, and hunger was adding to is appeal. The park was beautiful, the temperature wonderful, why not make the most of our meal – forget the stranger’s hands that had touched it, forget that a sweaty man had served it, forget the generally dirtiness of the alley where it originated, forget the scariness of it all.
We dug in. Literally. And man, oh man, was it delicious. Scary Delicious! I devoured my food, shoveling in handful after handful, interspersed with hmms and mmms and a few nom nom noms for good measure. I ate every sliver of rice and every crumb of potato fish cake. I did leave the raw cucumbers untouched though, because travelers will tell you (and most likely from experience): cook it, peel it, or forget it. So I forgot them. But what a good meal!
Fast forward to today when our taste buds compelled us once again to venture to that gap between buildings. This time I gleefully watched as the large, sweaty, happy man took our tofu in ungloved hand and dunked it into the gloriousness of sweet/spicy sauce.
Yes, it was scary, but it was scary delicious.