NOT a food blog
I never had a doll when I was a child. My father, having lived in severe conditions in his youth, never knew what a doll was and consequently never realised its importance in a little girl’s life. Instead, he gave me things which he craved for in his childhood. He built a library for me and my brothers, and every time he received his paycheck we made a visit to the bookshop and purchased hundreds of ringgit worth of books. Enid Blyton when I was five, engineering and mathematical solutions when I was ten, and chess endgame analyses when I was twelve. I discovered Agatha Christie when I was fourteen and found the entire collection of her writings, silverfish et al, in my school library where I spent hours on end crouched amidst the bookshelves, relishing in the musty scent that became my comfort then and in the years after.
When I received an invitation from YTL Hotels to spend a long weekend at its property, the Cameron Highlands Resort, and to participate in its activities, themed A Curious Twist In Christmas Tradition, my heretofore repressed Poirot-ish instincts were stirred. After decades of studious research (fiction only) in the art of committing (and solving) the perfect murder, I knew that my moment had arrived. We were to play a grown up role-playing game, a murder mystery game to be precise, where every guest had a part to play and the ultimate goal was to identify the murderer. And while we were running around the astoundingly beautiful property looking for clues and dead bodies, the kitchen staff and wait staff slaved laboriously to ensure that we did not go hungry or thirsty. The game went well into the night, and sadly with every passing minute, I transitioned from Poirot to Piggy. All things Christie and Marple vanished with the appearance of each sumptuous dish. I wish I could tell you the moral of the story, the point of being well informed about the intricacies of committing a murder, but I’m afraid that the only benefit I have derived from all that reading is an active imagination and little sleep.
Thank you, YTL Hotels, for allowing me to indulge in a spot of amateur acting (sans porn and with a totally contrived French accent) and for the hours of fun and camaraderie, but more importantly, for showing me that paradise exists in Cameron Highlands. The weather was less than perfect; unbearably hot one day and wet the next, but I sought cover within the walls of the resort, and while the visitors at the market were sloshing through puddles in their cheap japanese slippers smelling of mud, sweat and vegetables, I was wearing my cheap japanese slippers in the resort beside the koi pond, my tush firmly planted on a rattan chair, my left hand grasping a flute of champagne and my right, some freshly plucked strawberries with chocolate and cream.
The air is different here; the quiet pitter patter of the rain on the koi pond and the tinkling of Christmas decorations from the gentle breeze brings about a renewed sense of spirit and purpose and an assurance that everything will be alright.
Photo credit: Final seven pictures – Chelsia Ng (Thanks for letting me use them!)
Apparently, a lot of people know who Chef Edward Lee is. It helps that these days there are a gazillion channels on TV, out of which only a jillion or so of these channels are about cooking classes, celebrity chefs, reality cooking competitions and attention-deprived cake shop owners. Earlier this year, three-time James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef Edward Lee, who trained in classical French kitchens and has spent the better part of a decade cooking in 610 Magnolia in Kentucky, came to town and cooked a stupendous meal for a fortunate few under the Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows Gastronomy 2012 series. His inspiration for the meal came from his week-long immersion in the heritage and culture of our beloved country, Malaysia, including visits to the Selayang market to Little India and interestingly enough, to Publika to experience our growing coffee culture. Hmmm. Anyway.
Episode 1 of Chef Edward Lee’s travelogue focuses on his visit to the Selayang wholesale market. In this episode, he is introduced to a variety of local produce and ingredients including our very own petai (fondly known as stinkbean for obvious reasons), cili padi (bird’s eye chili) and galangal. It’s interesting that the things we take for granted in our Malaysian kitchen, like turmeric root, are quite alien to Chef Edward Lee but he takes it all in stride. Malaysian host, Will Quah, shows him around and seems quite at home in the market. My favourite part is at 1:13 where Will Quah says kacang botol with such panache that I’m totally blown away. *grin*
It was the period of Al Jarreau, Journey and The Police. I was 13 years old. I had just come back from school with a message for my parents.
“They’re not offering Commerce in my school,” I said, and promptly burst into tears.
My parents didn’t understand the intensity of my emotions and dismissed it as a phase all teenage girls go through. After all, what could possibly be so terrifying about cooking classes?
In the old days, female students were streamlined into “Commerce” and “Home Science” depending on their inclination. Having grown up in a predominantly male environment, I had an aversion for cooking, sewing and cleaning, all of which were covered in the Home Science stream. As I scanned through my Home Science text book that night, I shivered. I read Chapter 1, Safety Measures on Using a Stove. I burst into tears again. They’re going to marry me off early, I thought to myself. When I eventually nodded off to sleep, my dreams were filled with visions of child brides, toothless husbands and exploding stoves.
As fate would have it, within a week, the school had a new teacher who could teach Commerce, and all students were quickly segregated to the respective streams based on their primary school grades. It was a simplistic method and an overly easy way out for the administrative office – the ones in the first two classes were put in Commerce, while the rest were put in Home Science, presumably so that they could be married off easily upon completion of high school. As a naive 13-year-old, I didn’t think too much of it. All that mattered to me was that I didn’t have to study Home Science. In one careless, uncomplicated decision, my fate was sealed. I studied Commerce, went on to become an accountant, and got married at the ripe old age of 32. I also did not encounter any exploding stoves.
My friend, Adle, who currently lives in Canada, initiated our class reunion. Once she got the ball rolling, Janice and Ivy managed to get flight tickets from Australia and France, and soon after that, we got the locals to commit to a date. Other than a grand get-together at Simply Mel’s, a smaller group of us decided to spend the day cooking at Bayan Indah. With the help of Yvonne, our Malaysian liaison, we locked in a date with Rohani Jelani and gave her a list of dishes we wanted to learn how to cook. Over the years, we had all developed a mutual appreciation for good food and, via Facebook, we shared our love for it. As such, it made perfect sense to consolidate our discussions and organise a private class with the affable Rohani Jelani. I have said so much of her and her classes in previous posts (see links below), and I will not hesitate in recommending Bayan Indah to those who want to learn hands-on cooking in a warm, friendly environment.
And so we toiled over the stove as we whipped up ayam percik, briyani, rendang, fish curry, char koay teow and tako, not always with the ease of experienced chefs, but with laughter, camaraderie and intimacy that only old friends can understand.
Thirty years later, without the benefit of attending Home Science classes, it feels like we’ve finally come full circle.
Bayan Indah’s website – www.bayanindah.com
Food, for me, is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Food, for me, represents the love of family, the fellowship of friends, and the community and communality it brings.