Some food and drinks in Southeast Asia are new to me – new fruits and vegetables, new ways to prepare just about everything, new spices, and new prices.
Here are some noteworthy differences on our palates and in our purses so far.
Back in Singapore, we quickly realized ‘hawker’ stands were the places to get some yummy, cheaper eats. These stands sell things like beef, duck and other meats, stir fry dishes, and “carrot cake” – which is nothing like American carrot cake: it’s an omelette with a vegetable from the radish family and spices. Omelettes are almost always an option on the menu – sometimes with seafood, like oysters. And there are always chicken wings, and beer.
If there is one drawback to Southeast Asian dining so far, for Tedly, it’s the price of beer. It was high in Singapore, and now that we’re in Malaysia, we’ve discovered beer prices also are high here. He says he likes to drink beer more often when it’s hot outside. Well, this is the hottest, most humid place on Earth we’ve ever been.
Half-liter can beer prices:
- Singapore: between $5 and $6.
- Melaka: $2.25 for the cheapest one.
- Kuala Lumpur: $3.50.
Now, compare that to three half-liter cans of beer in Mexico: $2.
So. Yea. Tedly is grumpy about the price of beer in Singapore and Malaysia. The rest of Southeast Asia, well, stay tuned.
By the way, Tedly says the Asian beer he’s had so far basically tastes the same as any medium beer back home.
In place of beer, he can cool off off with a big bowl of sweetness called cendol. Tedly went for a walk one day and came back with tales of the best dessert he ever ate – some kind of ice dish. I half-listened, being an admittedly snobbish chocoholic. So when I finally had a cendol for myself, I was taken aback about how good it was. Beans with ice and ice cream? Slimy-looking green wormy things?
Oh hell yes.
Cendol is an iced sweet dessert popular in Southeast Asia. There are variations to the main ingredients, which are worm-like green rice flour jelly, coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, red beans, vanilla ice cream, and fresh fruit toppings. It’s served in a huge bowl — the portion is typically much larger than a double or triple scoop of ice cream in a bowl. In fact, it’s more like a meal – albeit a sweet one.
I liked it so much, if you put a chocolate cake in front of me next to cendol, there’s a 50-50 chance I’m taking the cendol. (I’m a chocoholic.) “See,” Tedly said, “it wasn’t just your blithering husband – it’s really that good.” His words, not mine.
These two giant treats cost $3.50.
Another dish we’ve tried in Malaysia is satay – skewered meat, fish, tofu, vegetables, cooked into peanut oil. Some specialty restaurants have the vat of oil right in the middle of the table. You won’t find this in the U.S. — just think of the litigious ramifications if someone was splashed on the arm.
Anyway – this was a fun experience at McQuek’s Satay Celup in Melacca. We picked our sticks from the fridge, placed the skewers into the oil vat at our table, and let it cook. An attendant came around to stir the pot and check the temperature throughout the cooking process.
Wow – is it filling! Go when you’re hungry. When you’re done with your meal, the attendant counts the sticks and adds up your bill. The majority of our sticks cost about a quarter, for things like fish balls, mushrooms, tofu. Sticks with real crab meat or a whole chicken wing cost a bit more. Theoretically, you could eat for really cheap at a place like this.
One thing we’ve learned in Singapore and Malaysia about eating out at restaurants: bring your own napkins. Not every restaurant provides them, especially if you’re off the beaten tourist path and you’re in the local neighborhoods. People simply bring their own napkins. The idea seems to be that you’ll use only what you need.
When we asked a waiter what rendang was, he answered, “chicken or beef rendang.” Yes, but what is it? We found out when we ate it.
It’s sorta like a gravy, but not runny. Kinda like a stew, but not that thick. The meat is tender, as if it were in a crock pot all day. And the sauce has some pleasant heat.
Rendang is typically ordered with rice. In nicer restaurants, we have to order rice separately. We typically order two dishes and share them. The price for our dinner pictured below, drinks and tip included, just $15.
I don’t eat beef or pork, and I have trouble eating chicken that comes attached to the bone. And this rendang came attached to the bone, so Tedly picked the meat off for me. I just can’t do it… and I often toy with going back to a vegetarian lifestyle. (I began eating chicken and some fish during my recovery from surgery five months ago.)
I’ve been ordering juices instead of sodas, and that can only be a good thing. Diet Coke, or Coke Zero, tastes too sweet here – like it’s made with a different formula. It’s all chemicals anyway.
Most of the time I get a veggie-based juice. I have taken an extreme liking to carrot juice – it’s not watered down here. Depending on where you order a juice, it can be as low as half a dollar. Cheers!
The adventure continues. I’m not a foodie by any stretch – but the food is quite different on this side of the world. We still have a lot more to try and experience as our Southeast Asia tour gets underway for the foreseeable future!