LUANDA, Nov 23 — What happens when you are a world away from home, whether for work or for studies, and missing Malaysia a lot? There’s the loss of your favourite pillow (or security blanket, as Linus van Pelt from the comic strip Peanuts would no doubt commiserate), an adoring lick from a pampered pet, and of course, our loved ones. Annoying siblings suddenly develop many admirable traits when they are not around to taunt and torture you.
What most of us miss most of all, if we are honest with ourselves, is the food. There is nothing quite like ayam rendang or char kway teow or roti canai, is there?
I remember an anecdote one of my friends once told me – one of the directors at her company would go on business trips to London every month and insist on eating nasi lemak for breakfast every morning, even if it costs £7 (about RM37) a plate!
Yes, we may go to great lengths to taste that humble slice of home (though not all of us may have the same budget for dining out as my friend’s company director).
Most of the time though, this is simply not an option as Malaysian ingredients aren’t always widely available (or if they are, they might not be fresh or inexpensive). Do we have to make do?
A crème brûlée doesn’t have the satisfying wobbliness of tau foo fa; fish and chips doused in salt and vinegar pale in comparison with a freshly grilled ikan bakar, served with a squeeze of lime and dip of kicap manis and finely sliced raw shallots.
No, I say. Do not make do. But we don’t have to strain our wallets in our search for something authentic (which may not exist even if we don’t mind paying for it). Instead, let go of having mee rebus exactly the way the neighbourhood makcik does it back home and try something else instead, something new.
Celebrate the meeting of two culinary cultures. Get creative with whatever ingredients you can find and make something delicious that brings back memories of home but is also something entirely new and different.
This was what my partner faced when working abroad recently. There aren’t many options for dining out in Luanda, the capital of Angola; everything is expensive thanks to the post-war boom and burgeoning oil and gas industry. Finding some chillies (both dried and fresh) at the supermarket is a stroke of luck; locating a couple of shallots is considered a miracle.
My partner’s solution is to eschew replicating Malaysian dishes in favour for fusion fare born out of necessity. There’s no reason you can’t have sambal, for instance, if you are in another country; you just might have to make some yourself. The result is a spicy sambal prawn pasta you can samba with. A brand new dish to savour is a pretty good reason to celebrate, no?
All you need is some imagination to bring the flavours of home with you wherever you go. Jom makan!
SAMBAL PRAWN PASTA
There are many different recipes for sambal. This particular version is a simple, straightforward take resulting from the dearth of a wide variety of spices and Asian ingredients when one is working or living abroad. You can easily expand on this basic sambal recipe by adding assam (tamarind juice), belacan (toasted shrimp paste), lemongrass and replacing white sugar with gula Melaka for a further aromatic hit and depth of flavour.
For the pasta, I prefer fusilli as these thick, corkscrew-shaped noodles hold onto the sambal sauce remarkably well. However, do choose whatever type of pasta you like best or experiment to see what works best for you. Just make sure you keep a little of the salted cooking water; if the resultant sauce is too thick, you can always use the pasta water to dilute the sauce a little until you have the perfect cling-to-every-strand consistency.
4 small red onions or shallots
16 large fresh chillies
16 dried chillies
4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cooking oil
For the pasta dish:
2 tablespoons of sambal
1/2 can of peeled plum tomatoes
6-7 small prawns (tails left on)
2 servings of pasta of choice
Combine all the ingredients for the sambal in a food processor and mix until smooth. Heat the cooking oil in a pan. Add sambal ingredients and fry for a few minutes till fragrant and darkened in colour. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. The cooled sambal can be kept in the fridge for a week.
Put a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. In the meantime, heat a non-stick pan. Add two tablespoons of sambal and the peeled plum tomatoes. Stir until well-blended. Add the prawns.
Remove from heat once prawns are cooked. Toss the cooked pasta in this sambal prawn sauce. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves two generously.
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