Thursday, January 03, 2008

Questing for Banana Fritters in Foreign Places

"One's home is like a delicious piece of pie you order in a restaurant on a country road one cozy evening - the best piece of pie you have ever eaten in your life - and can never find again."

Lemony Snicket

It seems the instant you land in a strange country, discomfort begins to fill every cranny of your body. It eases into every pore, slithers between every strand of hair, and snuggle right into the front of your underpants. There, not contented with making your crotch feel funny, it snakes to the back and wiggles a greasy finger up your ass. Everything feels like they are persistently poking the sides of your sanity till you're just one shove away from completely losing it. Every breathe you take fills your lungs with air that feels... different. It may be the humidity, the temperature, or even the shape of the dust motes and the species of dust mites floating in it - you can't say for sure, but it's definitely not the same air you breathe back home. You take a drink of water, and there's a distinctively alien quality in the flavour which have never tasted before. Its aftertaste will haunt you for hours after. Everything feels so wrong. Suddenly, you begin to regret that you have never learnt how to teleport because dammit - that's what you feel like doing desperately. To disappear and reappear back home in that bloody instant.

Homesickness is a chronic state of mind that just gets worse as time goes by, and it takes heckuva long time for it to regress to a more manageable level. People are depressed because of it. The weaker ones would crack - they would just burst into tears at any random time because the combined strain of the inhuman demands of university life, unhygienic living conditions and the ghastly weather pattern just proves too much to handle. There's always one or two that would just give up and head for home, with a middle finger up at the medical school they came to India to attend in the first place. They can't stand it even for a second longer.

Minaret of the mosque downtown.

People have developed strategies to cope with the constant niggling of missing home. The primary weapon in their arsenal would typically be an army platoon's rations' worth of Maggi Mee, which they have sacrificed precious luggage space to lug from Malaysia (not to mention regular shipping of booster packs of the instant noodle from the parents too). No matter what flavour you like - ayam, tom yam, kari, asam laksa - they always, always taste of home. It's what every true Malaysian grew up with. Sure, they have Maggi here too but they are made with Indian flour ground from Indian grains, and the seasoning is processed from Indian spices. Like the water, the air, they taste weird and unfriendly.

The few who can cook, does. I know a girl who even brought dried herbs, dessicated mushrooms and other relatively non-perishable foodstuff just for that extra li'l bit of Malaysia in her dishes. Admirable dedication, albeit the sort I simply couldn't be bothered to emulate. In fact, I came here two years ago without having a single packet of Maggi Mee on my person. And I didn't have any sent to me either. Considering the fact that Maggi constituted one third of my standard diet back home, I'm surprised that I'm not suffering from any withdrawal symptoms.

The Muslim coffee shop beneath the mosque.

Admittedly, I am sort of resistant to homesickness. I was brought up and taught to make do with whatever that's available. As a plus, I actually do sincerely like Indian cuisine. Even back in my college days in SS15, I was a regular at Silva's - frequenting it like 4 to 5 times a week on the average. I particularly enjoyed their tosay with their red chutney.

Of course, I'm not saying that I do not miss Malaysian food at all. I do, and I order it frequently from the eateries here that serve pale imitations of it. In true entrepreneurial spirit, it is available in a lot of restaurants in Manipal which thought of taking a crack shot at the homesick Malaysians market. But frankly, none of the shops' dishes is even the least bit acceptable, much less satisfactory. Their Indian fares are way better, but did that stop me (or everybody else for that matter) from ever ordering these pricey Malaysiana knockoffs?


The strangely posh wash area in that coffee shop.

We know that they SUCK the moment the sorry excuses for food masquerading under the disguises of our Malaysian nosh touch our lips, but we keep shoveling them in anyway. They are mockeries - inferior, substandard - and I'd probably enjoy a dosa or a bowl of Hyderabadi biriyani more over them at about a quarter of the price or less. But still I'd order the mutant "naase ayam masak mera" or "chauw kooay tiow" the next time I see it on a menu. I know that's stupid and irrational but I can't help being and wanting to be led on again and again like the world's greatest chump.

Maybe I find solace in eating something that at least carries the name of a food I enjoy, if not its flavours. It's as if the name lends it a hint of familiarity and because of that, I could somehow forgive its foreignness and accept it on the merit that it tries so hard to be liked.

Our country isn't perfect. Our government isn't always just. But it's still Malaysia, and we still wear its name like a badge to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world. It is our birthplace, the place we were raised and educated. The place where we know people who are just like us. Our simple and often inexplicable love for This Place; they aren't found in Maggi Mee or nasi lemak or roti canai or whatever you like to eat most that you can't get anywhere else on the globe. As corny as this sounds to you, it's in our hearts. And sometimes, all we need is just something elementary, something basic to help us recall just how we feel about home.

Something like the taste of a dish we love and grew up with.

Or even just its name.

"Goring pisagh." The left one looks like it has a vagina, and the left one looks as if it's sporting a dinky little penis. 6 Rupees apiece.

Yesterday, I traveled downtown to check out the what I was told the only place in Manipal which serves goreng pisang - and basing on the hype I got from the people who've been there, I got my hopes up-and-sailing that they would actually taste close enough the ones we have back in Malaysia. The place was quite easy to find. After all, it was right right under the mosque which was located behind a dingy Baskin Robbins shoppe (which could quite conceivably be the only one in the entire state of Karnataka).

I didn't like the fritters very much but I'll definitely return to the coffee shop again soon - because I forgot to pay for my drink. The proprietor of the joint, a jolly white-bearded Muslim man, was so incredibly pleasant and trusting that I feel quite awful for shortchanging the bloke.

I seriously have no idea what those gunky stuff at the bottom of the glass was but the tea itself tasted quite good.
It's a bit like teh tarik. Ask for "Special Tea Double". Or was it "Double Tea Special"? "Doubly Special Tea"??? Meh.

The samosas there, however, was absolutely top class. I never cared for the snack food before but I really like the ones they serve here. They are much smaller and daintier than the ones I am used to seeing, and their crusts are definitely thinner and crispier too. The stuffings consisted mostly of just onions but the taste wasn't at all overpowering, oddly enough.

3 Rupees apiece.

Still Malaysian,
k0k s3n w4i


pinksterz said...

haha the goodness of maggi. some people here took advantage by selling it at super high price. -.-"

haha here also got one asian restaurant and the food was well, okaylah, acceptable although it tasted nothing like nasi goreng back in malaysia. :(

but then we got lots of restaurants open by malaysias so it is super easy to get those roti canai, nasi lemak and stuff. :P

p.s: banana fritters are so damn easy to make. just cook yourself la. lazy bum.

k0k s3n w4i said...

And you buy those overpriced Maggi, I suppose? :p
There's only one shop opened by a Malaysian here, but she charges quite a lot for it. I can't afford to go there more than 3 times a week.
P.S. try making banana fritters without a stove or pot then hmph. I don't have any of those things.

pinksterz said...

no i didn't. in fact i hardly eat any instant noodles as it is bad for studies i heard.

omg you don't have a kitchen? i don't know whether i should laugh or :S

p.s. excuse. you can always buy those hot plate to cook and one small pot. hmph.