Thursday, 17 April 2008

makanan; or, my longing for the pasar malam

Smell is such a powerful, evocative tool. Walking into my local Chinese grocery store reminds me of my childhood, the smell of spices and the rounded, heavy tones of Cantonese upon the air. The smell of stock, bubbling on the stove, reminds me of my mother, pounding blachan, spending hours chopping and spicing and stirring. Like my mother, I didn't really learn to cook until I left my parents' house: now it is my delight. There are styles of cooking that I struggle to replicate, dishes that I adore but never succeed in cooking. this latest trip has stirred such a passion in me, and my inability to cook Nonya and other local Malay styles is something that I intend to rectify.

My favourite way of eating in Penang is at the local makanan, or as my father likes to call them, mucking stalls. These sprawling, open air (though often covered, on account of the rain), tiny food stalls offer a range of food styles and drinks, the smell as you reach them is a delightful intermingling. The stalls will often only specialise in a handful of dishes, creating an interesting competition between the stalls. I love the noodle stalls the most: old Chinese ladies will select foodstuffs as you point at them, until the tiny basket is full and she will either throw it all into a wok, or put it in a bowl and cover it all with hot stock. It's fast and delicious, and the fast cooking is one of the more hygienic ways to prepare the food in the humid, stifling environment.

This visit we only had the opportunity to visit the makanan at the Batu Ferrenghi pasar malam, and alas, no photos, as the lights as always are dim and sketchy, and make for terrible photography.


daniels said...

Clearly you need to come to Melbourne, as we have a Night Market at the Queen Vic Market, complete with food. :) Not quite warungs, but hey, it's about as close as you're going to get.

a vegan about town said...

Hah, yeah, I've been to the Night Market at QVM. I love it, but totally different to the pasar malam. :o)