adventures in craft beer and real food

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Malaysian dinner

My friend Kelly invited some friends over recently for a sampling of authentic Malaysian dishes.

Now, mind you that my knowledge of Malaysian cuisine is limited to what I read about it in the September/October 2001 issue of Saveur and an episode of No Reservations. In the magazine article, James Oseland experiences the cuisines of Melaka. If you're as geographically ignorant as I am, Melaka is a state and city toward the western part of Malaysia. So the dishes I experienced are not strictly from the same region, but the high praise he dished for the cuisine ("Malaysia was my France; my palate came alive there") piqued my interest.

Kelly prepared three dishes: pau, tom yam soup, and a tapioca dessert.

Pau are steamed rolls. They were filled with either pork or sweetened bean paste. I was told that they strongly resemble the Chinese bao zhe (Chinese-philes please feel free to correct my spelling). They were delicious, although it's certainly not something that I'm accustomed to eating. I found that this was a creative use of beans, since I'm accustomed to them in French (e.g. salade de lentilles) or in the Mexican/Mexican-American traditions.

The tom yam soup was good, too. She used a Lee Kum Kee brand base, and added green beans, broccoli, red bell peppers, and shiitake mushrooms. The batch was then split. To one half she added prawns and catfish; to the other portion, Kelly added fried tofu. This was all served over cellophane noodles. All a very good combination of fish, vegetables, and exotic seasonings.

Finally, the dessert consisted of tapioca boiled in water until soft to the bite. Some tapioca was placed in the bottom of mugs. One could then add coconut milk and/or palm sugar. Because I have a limited ability to eat tapioca on its own and didn't mix the dessert well, I actually wasn't able to finish it. But I imagine that with more exposure, I could develop a taste for it. And I quickly realized that it would look amazing served in wine glasses.

We drank reconstituted soy milk with the meal (served piping hot!) to keep with the traditional nature of the meal. As a Wisconsinite, I always thought there was something sinister about soy milks. I realize that there's an Asian tradition extending back nearly one thousand years of making milks out of soy beans. It's one of those things that when you apply a label to a product, you expect certain qualities. It's the same thing as when Heston Blumenthal served lobster ice cream. Customers didn't like it because they expected ice cream to be sweet. When he renamed it lobster bisque, his customers enjoyed it for what it was.

I tried to enjoy the soy milk as it was, but I couldn't drink much of it before my body started asking me why I was drinking it. Still, I'm glad that I at least gave it a try.

A German weissbier or a Belgian witbier would both accompany all three courses admirably. Saison would be an excellent partner will all of the complex flavors in the tom yam soup.

1 comment:

xenobiologista said...

Stuff people at home drink a lot: Tiger Beer (Malaysian), Anchor (Singaporean), or Carlsberg (Danish)... not sure what else. David had a Tiger once when he visited Malaysia and he said it was good.