KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16 — Do you ever wonder what expats eat when they live abroad? Are they adventurous and try every local delicacy they can track down? Or do most simply stick to what is familiar to ward off the wretchedness of being homesick?
I remember a steady diet of Käsespätzle (egg dumplings with cheese and fried onion) and Weißbier (beer brewed with malted wheat) while a student in Munich. Later I grew fond of gado-gado, a Sundanese salad topped with subtly bitter emping crackers over a year in Jakarta for business. But how about those who make our beloved Malaysia their second home?
I decide to ask Wayne Zanussi, an Australian friend who has been living in Kuala Lumpur for more than 10 years. A geophysicist, he grew up in Home Hill, a small town in North Queensland.
He says, “My town is dominated by sugar cane farming. The community there is largely made up of Italian immigrants.”
It comes as no surprise then that Wayne’s childhood foods had a heavy Italian influence. There were lots of pasta, pizzas and Italian desserts.
He says, “My favourite food growing up was polenta with stewed chicken. For desserts, that had to be masala pudding.”
When Wayne arrived in Kuala Lumpur, he was introduced to a whole new world of flavours thanks to Malaysia’s multicultural make-up. If he grew up with Italian staples in Australia, here he discovered dishes drawing from Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Portuguese and other influences.
“I’m a big fan of Malaysian food. I love beef rendang, nasi lemak, Hokkien mee and chicken briyani. In fact, there are very few local dishes that I don’t enjoy,” he says.
That sounded like both a challenge so we decide to bring him to one of our favourite kopitiams for brunch one weekend.
Restoran Mei Sin just off Jalan Imbi is a typical Malaysian coffeeshop where you can get a strong kopi O to go with a variety of foods from different stalls.
Our favourite is a silky-smooth Ipoh-style kai see hor fun (flat rice noodles with steamed chicken doused in a savoury soy sauce gravy and topped with fried garlic). We prefer the “dry” version and Wayne offers two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Other delights include an aromatic char kway teow, perfectly fried with plenty of wok hei and cockles, and pork noodles that arrive with generous amount of pork innards and a lighter-than-usual broth.
Don’t miss the nian gao (also known as kuih bakul or fried gold cake), a Chinese New Year treat made from glutinous rice and palm sugar. Here it is usually sandwiched between slices of sweet potato and yam then deep-fried in batter. Sticky and sweet — a perfect end to a kopitiam brunch.
The next weekend Wayne invites us to his home where he reigns supreme in the kitchen. While he adores local cuisine, he tends to stick to Australian favourites when dining in.
The various influences of the different immigrant cultures Down Under are apparent with hummus from the Middle East, couscous from North Africa and baklava from Greece all making an appearance.
Wayne moves deftly in his small but well-equipped kitchen, not unlike a professional chef. And the results taste amazing. Find out for yourself by trying Wayne’s recipes below. As his mamma would say, “Buon appetito!”
This Middle Eastern dip that is popular Down Under is given a punch of flavour by Wayne with the addition of sun-dried tomatoes.
1 can of chickpeas (400g), drained
1/4 cup of liquid reserved from the chickpeas can
1 clove of garlic
8 sun-dried tomatoes
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 dozen baby carrots, cut into halves or small sticks
Blend the chickpeas, reserved liquid, oil, garlic and 6 sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor on high speed. When well combined, then transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining 2 sun-dried tomatoes roughly chopped and serve with carrot sticks.
BAKED CAULIFLOWER WITH CHEESE
Hearty and homey, this works beautifully as a side dish.
1 medium-sized cauliflower, broken into florets
1/3 cup butter
2 spring onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons plain flour
1½ cups milk
250g grated Mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 180C. Boil the cauliflower florets until tender. Add salt to taste and line in a medium-sized baking dish. In a small saucepan melt the butter and sauté the onions on low heat. Add the flour to the mixture and combine until smooth. Next add the milk and salt to taste. Stir constantly until sauce thickens. Pour the white sauce over the cauliflower. Top with the grated cheese and bake for 20 minutes until the top is a golden brown.
PAN-SEARED SALMON & COUSCOUS
This is a simple and delicious way to prepare salmon which is rich in healthy omega-3 fats. Rest it on a bed of fluffy, flavourful couscous for guilt-free comfort food.
1 cup couscous
3 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Black pepper to taste
2 fillets of salmon, skin on
Table salt for drying the salmon
3 tablespoons sesame seed oil
Juice of half a lemon
Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the stock to the couscous in a casserole dish and cover for 10 minutes. Next use a fork to fluff up the couscous with butter and Parmesan cheese to give it a savoury richness.
To prepare the salmon, dry the fillets thoroughly using paper towels. Sprinkle the salmon skin with a generous amount of salt. Rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile heat the sesame oil in a skillet on medium-high. Brush the salt off the fish and lay the fillets skin side down in the skillet. It should sizzle as it touches the pan. Squeeze lemon juice over the exposed part of the fillets. Cook for 4 minutes before turning over for 20 seconds to finish cooking.
Shape the couscous into two fillet-sized blocks on warmed plates and sprinkle with a little Parmesan and cracked black pepper. Top each bed of couscous with a salmon fillet straight from the frying pan.
One of Wayne’s favourite Greek desserts, his rendition uses plenty of aromatic walnuts. It’s very sweet and goes great with a cup of black coffee.
400g walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter
14-16 sheets of filo pastry
2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 170C. Crush walnuts in a bowl, stir in cinnamon and set aside. Melt butter for lining the filo pastry. In a baking dish of comparable size to your filo pastry, layer 2 sheets of filo pastry and then brush lightly with butter. Continue layering and brushing another 4-6 sheets. Then sprinkle half of the walnut mixture over the pastry.
Layer another 2 sheets of filo and then sprinkle the remainder of the walnuts. Top the walnuts with another 6 sheets of filo. Remember to brush each sheet with melted butter. Slice into rectangles (2-3 inches lengthwise). Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until the pastry turns a golden colour.
Meanwhile make the syrup by combining the water and sugar on a low heat until dissolved. Bring to a boil then lower the heat. Add honey and lemon juice. Stir and simmer until the syrup has thickened slightly. After removing the pastry from the oven, pour the syrup over it and allow to rest uncovered for 4 hours.
For more recipes, visit http://wjzanussi.blogspot.com