It’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut. I’ve always been the kind of person who bores easily, so I’m constantly trying new things, pushing myself to have new experiences and encounter new flavors. Even so, I find myself too readily falling back on what I already know: going to the same pubs and restaurants, watching the same TV shows, cooking with the same ingredients. When you’re busy you don’t have time to mess around. You slip into a mindless complacency and forget that the world is yours to explore, and it’s far too big and diverse to get bored in.
What do you do on a Friday night? Maybe you relax at home with a takeaway (there’s no shame in that), watch a movie and generally zonk out. Or maybe you hit the pub, the one roughly halfway between your office and the train station, and stay there for a few hours until somebody suggests you all go to Pizza Express or something. Or maybe you go to the cinema, which can so often be a surprisingly stressful ordeal, what with all the monstrously overpriced snacks, 20 minutes of advertising, and the inevitable person who persists in talking throughout the film. (Or maybe you are that person, in which case: shame on you!)
We go out on Friday night to relax and have fun, and yet so regularly we end up doing things that are neither relaxing nor particularly fun. One of the best Friday nights I’ve had in recent memory was Malaysia Night, a massive takeover of Trafalgar Square in celebration of all things Malaysian. To my knowledge, there’s nothing quite like it in London, and it was amazing to walk around the square and experience the palpable happiness and pride exuded by the exhibitors, vendors, and visitors alike. Traditional dance, arts and crafts, and travel info were all on colorful, enthusiastic display, but of course, I came for the food.
And what food it was. More than 20 Malaysian restaurants had set up shop, which was great to see, because in honesty I didn’t even know there were that many Malaysian restaurants in London! It opened my eyes to a whole new food culture on my doorstep that I hardly knew existed. I am not ashamed to say I stuffed my face, which I have a tendency to do when surrounded by delicious food. First up was rendang with roti canai from Pelangi – incredibly tender beef, braised for hours in a sauce of coconut, lemongrass, and ginger, served with traditional flatbread. Succulent and aromatic, it’s no wonder this is considered one of Malaysia’s national dishes.
Next, I sampled some specialities of the Terengganu region, keropok, a delicious sort of fish sausage, and some fish crackers which were absolutely amazing. Imagine prawn crackers made with mackerel and less grease; they’re exceptionally moreish and make a great snack or accompaniment to a variety of other dishes. I then moved on to the Tukdin stall, where I devoured a few of their delectable curry puffs: flaky pastries concealing a lush, satisfying potato curry, like a sort of refined Malaysian pasty. The kind of food I could happily eat several times a week, simple yet undeniably tasty.
As my internal fuel gage approached full, I settled on a final dish, sambal sotong from Delima: tender chunks of cuttlefish smothered in a brick-red, fiery hot sauce. It was so good I greedily snarfed the entire plate, even though I was full to the point of discomfort.
Like I usually do at good food festivals, I was disappointed with myself for getting too full to carry on eating, because there was so much more I wanted to try. But I left with an understanding of the British Malaysian food scene that I didn’t have before; the sheer amount of restaurants there excited me, and the the food was revelatory. With so much good food available, there’s no need (and no excuse) to settle for bland, boring, and safe! I am determined to shake up my Friday night routine every now and then with a visit to my local Malaysian. Malaysia Night comes just once a year, but with so many great Malaysian restaurants around, there’s no reason every night can’t be Malaysia Night.
Fancy a Malaysia night in? Don’t forget that Malaysian food is cheap and easy to make at home! See my first Malaysia Kitchen blog for more info.