Monday, August 4, 2008

Roti, Roti, Roti!

Two years ago, I spent three weeks touring Malaysia. Mostly I was traipsing through the jungle collecting plants while fleeing from blood-thirsty leeches and pit vipers, but I also found time to try as many types of food as possible. I quickly became a fan of roti canai, a Malaysian staple consisting of fried flatbread served with a yellow lentil dal and usually a coconut chutney or other various condiments. After having a delicious breakfast of roti the first morning I was in Kuala Lumpur, I decided to branch out the following evening at an outdoor restaurant that served dozens of types of roti. Unfortunately, the menu lacked any description of what each type was, so I picked purely by the sound of the name. I was naturally drawn to the one called "roti boom"; I figured you couldn't go wrong with a name like that. Unfortunately it turned out to be very sweet, like a dessert roti, and I had ordered it thinking it would be my dinner. Never one to turn down dessert, I ate my roti boom and quickly ordered some standard roti canai to finish the meal.

Malaysian fruits on display

My previous attempts to find roti canai outside of Malaysia have ended in disappointment, but I was hopeful once I saw that the Malaysia Week 2008 festival was taking place in London right near City Hall and that the festival would be featuring Malaysian food stalls. Our friends Alice and Jon, also roti lovers from their trip to Malaysia, joined us last weekend in our hunt for roti at Malaysia Week 2008. Not only did we find the Powder Blue Orthogonal Pavilion still in place, but we successfully found some really tasty authentic roti canai from the restaurant Awana (although sans coconut chutney). The roti was being made by a by a man who would enthusiastically yell "Roti, roti, roti, roti, roti, roti ca-nai!!!" to attract customers. I had already bought the roti by the time he started yelling, so all he succeeded in doing was getting the song "Ruby" by the Kaiser Chiefs stuck in my head.

Sarsi and roti canai: a dream come true

Much to my delight, another food stall was selling Sarsi, the Malaysian equivalent of root beer. I personally love Sarsi (no surprise there, perhaps) — it tastes mostly like a typical sarsaparilla with a hint of fruitiness, but there is also a subtle bitterness reminiscent of the aroma of a Chinese herb store. Sarsi is certainly not for everyone, but I would recommend it to all fans of root beer out there.

9 out of 10 macaques prefer Coca Cola to Sarsi

Tasty Malaysian foods at Malaysia Week 2008

Malaysian desserts can be a bit of an acquired taste, at least if you're coming from a Western perspective. Whether you want to acquire the taste for red beans and corn in your dessert is up to you — I'm on board with the corn, but I'm still working on truly enjoying beans for dessert other than as a novelty. Ais kacang, or ABC (which stands for 'air batu campur' meaning 'blended ice'; it does not, alas, stand for 'already been chewed'), is a popular dessert, similar in many ways to Hawaiian shave ice, but with the addition of corn, beans, sweetened condensed milk, variously colored bits of tapioca, and grass jelly. While it was great to see this in London, it lost a bit of its appeal after my initial order got snatched by a pushy person who had just walked up, I had to wait another 10 minutes to get another one, and after all that it ended up looking a bit too much like icy roadkill for my taste.

Looks can be deceiving

We all had lots of fun wandering Malaysia Week 2008: in addition to the food, there was traditional dancing, art and handicrafts, and even a short fashion show. I hope more nations of the world have their own weeks in London — I'm currently trying to will Mexico Week into existence.

Malaysian fashion show


American in London said...

LOL - yes, Mexican week would be pretty fab.

Awana's roti canai was definitely the highlight of the Malaysia Week festival. Let's plan on eating at the resto soon. : )

Jordan said...

Wow, the memories... Was there no durian paste for you to sample at Malaypalooza?

Andy M. said...

Luckily no durian paste was around. Not that I would have been tempted to eat something that tastes like and encapsulated gas leak - once was enough.