The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Monday, 3 March 2008

Introduction to Malaysian food - Part 1: making murtabak

Malaysian food is, without a doubt, very delicious in all its robust and strong flavours; yet I believe its best aspect would be the vast diversity and variety of Malaysian dishes contributed by the three main resident cultures: the native Malays, the Chinese and the Indians (strong influences from South India). My mother's heritage of Nonya Baba, in addition to Chinese and Malay influences, also has traces of Portugese, Dutch and British influences, resulting in some of the widest array of food attributed to one group. I took many photos of food on our trip to Malaysia, and I hope to give a small introduction to the wonderful array of food that is Malaysian food. My accounts are in chronological order, and do not imply any order of importance or abundance.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Tokyo late at night, and starving. On the way to my dad's house in Kajang from KLIA, we stopped by a Mamak (Indian Muslims) food hall that was still opened at 10pm. It contained a few stalls that served Mamak Indian food including roti canai/prata (Indian pancake-like bread) and murtabak (canai stuffed with meat and egg). They are always served with curry as an accompaniment and they are a cheap and delicious way to fill up empty tummies. I remember Rob's first encounter with murtabak on his first visit to Malaysia a few years ago - like most of the other Malaysian dishes he had on that trip, he fell in love with murtabak. These particular roti (Malay for "bread") weren't too memorable (there weren't any onions!), but I had the great opportunity to take shots of the guys making the roti, and the Indian guys were only too happy to pose for the camera. Rob's presence in this little hall in this little town certainly called for a lot of attention from the locals who were dining.

Close-up of one of the better murtabak we had later in the trip in Penang:

Starting out with a small ball of dough covered in oil/ghee, the cook flattens it out by flipping and twirling and eventually lays out the flattened dough. He then cracks an egg which is spread over the dough surface. I've seen many places do this part on the hotplate, but I guess different cooks do different things.

After posing for the camera, one of the cooks then transfers the dough to the hotplate and tops the dough with some meat filling.

After filling up the dough, the edges are then folded to form a nice neat package. Then it's lightly fried for a while until browned.

Presented with a couple of curries to dip in. The shot on the right is roti canai, which is just the dough that has been lightly fried.

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