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Culinary Porn?!

August 13, 2017

How is my Culinary Porn collection?! From MY KITCHEN. Authentic recipes. A small serving of my homely cuisine. Is this not feast fit for a king???

Learned of the word for the first time today. I must have known, having posted very many recipes from my kitchen here.

Googled it but when I clicked on Google images, I was in for a rude shock (not rude really)! Apparently Google forgot the word ‘culinary’ in the phrase going by what I saw there!

Anyway, reminded me of my 20-year odyssey in the virtual world. Almost. Because although I have transformed into a keyboard warrior now, originally that was not how I started!

My first blog was penned well before the millennium – in India Times space actually which came free, from Malaysia my residence then. It now makes me realize how fatty-rich the guys must be! Modi ji please order an IT raid at Times of India office today! Also at The Hindu!!!

A few verses that I dared to call poetry became my first blog post that still found some readers!!!

It was an experimental period when I was looking for various platforms for expression of thoughts and ideas. I had quit work before arriving in Malaysia, and until then I did not know what it meant to be at rest, having run all my life.  Writing was cathartic but the IT web space was single dimensional. I sought to expand my horizons and that is how I landed in Yahoo pages.

Now Yahoo had a different and interesting page lay-out and most importantly scope to upload pictures – again, must have been the year 1999. Having a PC at home was something then and owning a scanner-printer was unimaginable!

I was fortunate to have a 24 hour nonstop dial-up network internet eonnection which was reliable.  I decided to diversify and the thought of a food blog hit me from nowhere.

We lived in Terengganu, the northern plains of Malaysia for over 2 years, where we used to frequent a Chinese restaurant that went by the name ‘Regent.’

My husband loved Malay and Chinese food over Indian (which was butchered by Malaysian Indians beyond recognition anyway) and my little son enjoyed their sea food immensely. Terengganu coast was popular for its sea food spread – prawns, king fish, river fish and crab more so especially. My beta’s favourite there was stuffed crab. Sungais were short rivers that ran every 30-40 kilometers in Malaysia and in Terengganu, they met the sea at full throttle (not spent like in India) in rich blue-green hues which reflected on the fertility of the equatorial Malaysian soil. Malaysia, particularly Terengganu, was a natural paradise for those with fishing as hobby, and reeling in your catch, parking your car for a couple of minutes, even sometimes en route to work was not considered out of ordinary! Fishing equipment was in the boot of every car.

I think I missed all things good in Terengganu where it concerned food – being a vegetarian.

As a vegetarian, I found Malaysia punishing, but surprisingly that is not so here in the middle-east. There are more and better Indian eating places now in Malaysia, but there weren’t many in 1997-2001. KL, Penang, Kuantan and other cities and towns with sizable Indian population were manageable. Terengganu the Malay hinterland was an altogether different story.  Kelantan, the next state was worse. There were a few Indian restaurants here too but nothing was palatable to me. But even in Kelantan,the northern most part of Malaysia touching the Thai border, we have dined at an Indian restaurant where Punjabi Singhs turned out hot, fluffy idlis and full vegetarian meals on banana leaf for us (on request) and chatted us up in Tamil! I think Malaysia is the only nation on earth where Sikhs could be more fluent in Tamil than in Punjabi/Hindi! Even our flat owner in KL was a punjabi Sikh who spoke to us in Tamil.

I started liking Chinese food in Malaysia. In KL, it was possible and comparatively easier to order chinese vegetarian food.

The chinese restaurant Regent understood my vegetarian requirements. You have to spell it out for them clearly: no egg, no fish, no meat, no chicken, no beef, no pork, no shrimp sauce, only sayur (vegetables) only tomato sauce, soya sauce, chili sauce, white pepper!!! And please toast the rice in a fresh pan, not in a used one in which you have toasted meat or chicken fried rice or whatever! Use fresh oil, not the leftover from fish fry! And please, don’t mix up the laddles, spoons, serving spoons! 

I parroted this desperate plea to whichever restaurant we went. Some understood, some agreed, some understood but would not agree and so on and so forth.

In one incidence, a Malay restaurant gladly agreed and accepted my demands. In a few minutes hot food arrived but I did not touch it. On inquiring we were told that since I wanted only sayur (veggie), the chef had removed the meat from it and left the gravy with onion, garlic, tomato anyway!

Yet another day we were dining out on way back from an island resort, with a Malaysian Indian Tamil family. We ordered food and our Malaysian Indian friend asked the Malay chef about the gravy of the fried rice when food arrived. The chef replied that it was beef gravy but with beef pieces removed (our friends had clearly insisted they wanted no beef). Our friend asked the Malay muslim chef whether he would similarly eat Pork gravy rice with pork pieces removed. A scuffle broke out and we had to make our way out on empty stomachs without eating there!

So I grew tired of explaining my predicament to Malay and Chinese restaurants in Malaysia that whenever we went on road trips (which was often in Malaysia during weekends etc), I would cook my own food and take tiffin boxes to put in fridge in the resorts to reheat later in the microwave. Mostly we went to weekend chalets in the islands that dotted the Terengganu coast from the South China Sea side (where exactly you have international maritime dispute today with the Philippines and China engaged in a serious war of wits), to some of which you could even ferry your jeep (we did not use fancy words like SUV then, a jeep was a plain jeep, nothing more). Or you could park in the jetty close to the waters where transfers to and fro were most convenient. I remember taking my electric rice cooker along and vegetables and cooking in the resort. Because in deep Malay heartland, no way could a vegetarian survive other than on fruits and milk (which came in milk powder form). (May be world was less civilized then?) (I still could not stay away from coffee so we bought the expensive ‘Fern Leaf’ brand milk imported from New Zealand, considered a luxury. My Madras Filter Coffee had Chinese lovers, my husband’s friends! I took kilos of fresh ground coffee from Chennai every time I flew to Malaysia. People came home for my coffee).

Back to Regent, I observed how they tossed the special vegetable fried rice for me, understanding my vegetarian sensibilities. Chinese, some of whom were Buddhists, understood what it meant to be a born vegetarian. The problem was only with Malays. The Regent, like most Malaysian chinese restaurants in those days, was run as a family business. The chef, the waitress, the barman, the cashier were all family members, mother, daughter, son and father.

Malaysian Chinese Fried Rice – the Nasi Goreng was different. It was spicy.

In Restoran Regent (Malay word for restaurant is restoran, word for Ice cream is Ais Krim and now you can guess the Malay IQ), the chinese women put in straw mushroom (vegetarian mushroom) (never button mushrooms then), spinach, spring onions, bean curd (i never heard the word ‘tofu’ there) and fresh soy chunks (not the hardened ones you have to soak in India) (but then neither did we hear of this Manchurian concept in Malaysia, thoroughly an Ind0-chinese fusion from Wang’s Kichen, Kolkata, originally)! Then they added a dash of soy sauce. I would not ask for tomato sauce. In a side place (real small with diameter hardly 3-4 cms), they would put before me grated garlic with soy sauce. And a pot of hot chinese tea (note this was before the green teas became a rage or were even known).

Now this kind of chinese fried rice which was entirely and 100% different from anything I had ever tried, did not have carrots or beans or green peas in it.

I became addicted to it that I decided to try it out at home and did manage to put forth exactly the same version that was served by Regent to me during our weekly visits. The rice I used for this fried rice was Thai rice (not like the one you get here in Doha) (as Thailand was only 4 hours away from where we lived, we got top of the range No.1 quality Thai rice in Malaysia. STILL believe me or not, Ponni Raw Rice from India was the best seller and most expensive brand in the entire south east Asian nation. No.2 was Basmati rice from India again. )

The chinese fried rice from Restoran Regent, i have not found anywhere again in my life. I have tried the Nasi Kandaar Malaysian restaurant in Chennai. Tried a few even here in Doha. They have Nasi Goreng, Mee Goreng etc but never what I ask for.

I think it is Regent’s own recipe.

Once in the year 1999, I made the same Regent style chinese fried rice with Thai fragrant rice. The sayur (veggies) were: bean curd, spinach, straw mushroom, spring onions and fresh soy chunks. I clicked the ingredients and uploaded the pictures for the first time for my food blog in Yahoo. I wrote the recipe.

I had a few faithful followers of my blog then (mostly men hahaha) and i got some rave reviews.  It was a hit post.

Yahoo soon removed the blogs (3-5  years later) and I lost my first ever photo uploads and kitchen recipes.

My husband’s favourite Malay breakfast was Nasi Lemak served with dried fish. Rice would be cooked with a pandan leaf in Malay style with the leaf removed when the rice is done. In fact the 4 years we lived there, he always breakfasted out because Nasi Lemak in Malaysia cost only one ringitt then. My son loved their Sathay.

I think I had pictures of him eating Sathay as well.

My other favourite Malay food was Kozhithiyo (i don’t know if I have spelled it right). It is not noodles exactly, more like the spaghetti, easier to spoon. Zeroed in on a Malay restaurant that also understood our food requirements, willing to go out of the way to  serve us.

They made me the finest spaghetti-like Kozhuthiyo in my life, spicy and loaded with sayur. I am also by the way searching for Kozhuthiyo ever since. The best like I remember from our Terengganu days.

And last but not the least were the Kuihs, also from Terengganu Pasar Malams (night markets) (obviously a Kerala/India influence) that were steamed dumplings in rice packed with sugared centers of scraped coconut etc (like our Modak or Kozhukattai with Poornam filling or Uppu Kozhukattai exactly). Just like in India, these kuihs were cooked and served wrapped in banana leaves. The kuihs were sold by Malay families in the weekly night markets, not to be found anywhere else or in restaurants. Came straight Kampung (village) Malay kitchens. My husband’s chinese friend sent me almost everyday kuihs he gleaned right from kampongs in Terengganu because he wanted to give me back something for my filter coffee!

I wish I could have taken pictures of the food we ate then.

Clearly, the word ‘culinary porn’ somehow reminds me of our Malaysian days.

For a life time vegetarian like me landing in a foreign country for the first time, the very sights of restaurants could give a cultural shock.

My first experience in a chinese restaurant was having to witness a chinese family sitting around a large, real large fish, cooked right on the table with sauces and herbs, with each chipping in to stake his/her share with knife and fork from his/her side. Around 6=8 of the family including father, mother and kids were sharing the single fish, cutting out slices from every side.

Instant and involuntary reaction from me: rising bile in my throat about to erupt into a big vomit right on the family and on the table!

Rushed out of the restaurant the same moment… and since then, I have come a long way in life…

During one of our road trips that lasted over 10 days during the Chinese new year time, after rounding up Penang, we entered the east most point of Klantan where the North South Expressway hinges on Thai border. It used to be virgin forests in those days. When we drove through those mountainous forests the other side of which was Thailand where numerous elephant corridors crossed, we never spotted a car in front of us or one after us. I am told that, even that thick forest is now ravaged by human intervention. Well, just a few feet before the forest cover began was this Indian restaurant. Malaysian Indian Tamils served us food on banana leaf. But the catch was, they had ‘nethili’ rasam and ‘nethili’ sambar (dried fish rasam/sambar). It was a first time once more for me to come across something as weird as neithili rasam/sambar. I thought chefs back home in Tamil Nad would commit suicide! So having found an Indian restaurant, I still had to forego my food but at least the 2 men in my family had something to eat.

I have full video recordings of some of our road trips, especially one to Penang and Langkawi driving through the North South Expressway to Singapore. Those days, I know, will never come back. Never did we imagine then that one day we would find ourselves in Middle East.

After our Malaysia days, I switched over to a couple of more blog formats and finally moved over to WordPress.

Here my objective was first to post only my kitchen recipes although I am clearly not a foodie.

Then I decided to become a keyboard warrior hahaha , a paper tiger!

This is where I fight my battles, I pour out my heart… but food is still my favourite topic to write about. By the way, I called my Food Blog, ‘Feast Fit For A King!’!!!

As I am not a gourmet cook or the so-called foodie, I never cared for pictures. I also go by the conviction that, food that looks super, need not have to necessarily taste good or do good (to your health and fitness). My food is plain and simple but it will always be sumptuous and healthy. Some say it is yummy – but I cannot speak for myself. Therefore my pictures are hardly flattering. I am seriously surprised how foodies can post such unbelievably good and sexy (!) food pictures. So that explains Culinary Porn! One thing i cannot stand is my food platter referred to as ‘exotic!’ What I cook is staple South Indian fare, more specifically Thamizh cuisine. Not junkie or dribbling with wasteful fat or oil loaded with calories.

I also sincerely believe you are what you eat. Cooking is also cathartic, and eating, a holistic experience for me. Everything is spiritual where I come from. Food for us is therapy for body, mind, soul. Whether sexy or porn I do not know, but my food is good for your home and heart. 

But I guess a few pix of mine, still may qualify for the word ‘Culinary Porn’ – and let me post them in my other blog Curry Leaf, under the same title.

Meanwhile,  I have a few more recipes and photos to download and write up the recipes.  Won’t qualify as culinary porn, but now that I know what it is, i shall try window dressing (that I normally hate) from now on …

 

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