Diary: Tuesday 9 February 2016
It’s the second day of the Chinese New Year.
With only four hours’ sleep, I need a strong cup of tea in this morning.
Generally, I only drink tea without milk. However this is Malaysia and our national drink is probably teh tarek which translates to ‘pulled tea’. Basically it is very strong black tea with condensed milk, and traditionally the tea would be boiling hot. In order to cool it down, the tea would be poured from one container into another. The more experienced the tea maker, the greater the distance would be between the containers when the ‘pulling’ was done. Needless to say, not a single drop of tea should be spilled in the excercise.
These days the street vendors are hard to come by and teh tarek has moved, along with other traditional stalls, into the air-conditioned food courts located within shopping malls. Is this a good or bad thing? On the one hand, you lose the the atmosphere of perching by the road side but what you gain is some sense of safety because, as we all know, Kuala Lumpur is full of opportunist snatch thieves on motorbikes.
So our day started with tea and nasi lemak. This is a traditional Malay dish of coconut rice, fried peanuts and anchovies, cucumber, egg and some chilli paste (sambal) or curry on the side.
We also had several rounds of roti canai which is a layered bread, but this is a wholly inadequate description for the intricacies of the process. You need to witness the making of it in order to understand the beauty and genius behind it. I mention this because Junior 2 asked if it was hard to make and Junior 1, who makes his own sourdough bread by hand, gave her a ‘don’t even think about it’ look.
Our food adventures continued with a lunch of wantan mee which we found in another food court. This really is a childhood favourite: a plate of springy wheat noodles tossed in dark soya sauce and served with barbecued pork and some greens. Junior 2 decided to have some crispy roast pork on his bonus version. The wantan in the name refers to the dumplings served alongside it.
Our day finishes with a dinner which started with yee sang and here Chinese superstition comes into play again. The Chinese words for plentiful and alive also sound like the words for raw fish so that’s what we put in this salad dish. Nowadays you can pander to the rich by offering abalone or lobster, or oblige the vegetarians by having mock goose and prawns.
The base consists of shredded vegetables, pickles, deep fried crispy things and bound with plum sauce and a bit of oil. I have made this before in our London kitchen and since we are having a family reunion with relatives in two weeks’ time I will post the recipe then.
Everyone at the table has to toss the salad together, using chopsticks and making sure the salad gets lifted as high as possible. You say nice things to each other like I wish you a big win in the lottery this year or I hope the stock market rises and rises for you this year. You get the idea…have you met a Chinese person who didn’t think that money was important?
Of course it wasn’t just all eat and no play…we did spend some time in the Bank Negara Museum and Art Gallery, we checked out a great supermarket, B.I.G in Publika, and we went swimming late in the afternoon. However it’s nearly 8 a.m. KL time on Wednesday as I write, and I can hear the children walking up. Really, it’s time for another round of nasi lemak.