On Malaysian Food and Petai

When in Rome, eat Italian food. When in Malaysia, indulge yourself in nasi lemak, curry, chilli pan mee, char kuey teow, bak kuh teh, and nasi briyani. To do otherwise would be heretic. Well, not really. But your taste buds would be missing out on so, so many things.

I think my five-year-plus stay here has turned my palate Malaysian. If I suddenly had to pack my bags and say farewell to this country forever, one of the first things I'd miss would definitely be THE FOOD. Caps locked, italicized, underlined.

I could rave on and on about the food here in My. True, some of my friends aren't that affectionate about it ("Everything tastes like curry!", "Everything is so red!", "Everything is so spicy!") but I believe the adventurous will love it. Nasi Lemak (fatty rice) as the national dish is a must try. There are also a variety of noodle dishes (both dry and soup-based) that noodle lovers will surely enjoy. Malaysian food is good all year round, Malaysians eat all day round, but there's a season when it's particularly fun to enjoy a real good gorge-fest - Hari Raya Aidilfitri. After the Muslims go through a one month fasting period, everyone goes on an extended period of feasting. Hurrah for Malaysian food!

I'm not really a big fan of petai, though. Petai is a type of bean aptly called by some people as "stink bean". Some friends made me try it out while I was still a neophyte here. 

"Try this out, Mari. It's delish." Friend puts a piece of petai in Mari's dish.

"Okay." Mari pops whole thing in her mouth. Friends await Mari's reaction.

"It's... fine." Friends burst out laughing.

The thing is, petai is also called "bitter bean". It has a tart, bitter taste in addition to a smelly aftertaste. People don't usually eat it on its own. Nor do they put the whole thing into their mouth and chew it like an almond nut (it's even bigger than an almond, dear friends). I think it will be enough to say that the bean didn't make it to my top ten must eats in Malaysia. It did make it to my top ten things to trick newbies into eating or doing. Insert evil laugh here.

I found out that petai actually tastes okay when mixed with sambal or when it's eaten with some spicy dish. On its own its something that I'll say no to. But with something else... it gives that something else a unique flavor.

I think God throws in a lot of petais into our life and we tend to isolate these instances and regard them as stinky and bitter. But when we mix in some spicy chili, some shrimp paste - different flavors from different aspects of our lives, or different ways of thinking perhaps - we realize that life isn't really that hard to swallow after all.

Hmmm. Maybe I should try eating some petai tomorrow.