Posts Tagged ‘street art’

For the Love of Anchovies, and Other Tasty Morsels

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

For all the foodies out there, you may have heard that Malaysia is exalted for its food culture, and specifically on the island of Penang.  Malaysian cuisine is a clear representation of the myriad of cultures that have decided to call it home over the years.  Here you will find dishes from as far west as Lebanon and from every country of the east.  The greatest influence is from China, being the biggest immigrant group in Malaysia.  The island of Penang is over 60% One of my favorite thingsChinese, and this is apparent on every street you walk down in the food and the number of Chinese temples.  Other major influences include India and Indonesia, and the Malays have their own style of cooking, but who would have known that they have a love affair with anchovies, and yet it is so.  I tried a couple of their national dishes featuring these salty little fish, and don’t envision the soft ones that come in a can back at home.  These fish are pulled fresh out of the sea, salted and dried on the docks, and then served fried, crispy and crunchy.  If you like anchovies, you will love these.

Most often served for breakfast or lunch is Nasi Lemak, coconut rice with fried anchovies, fried peanuts with herbs, and sambal, a spicy red sauce.  Sometimes it comes with cucumber, one time I got it with green beans, and almost always it is topped with a fried egg, another thing the Malaysians love.  Nasi Lemak can be really delicious, or it can be quite average.  The first time I had it was the best, but I kept trying.   For a snack there is Ikan Bilis, a yummy dish of Ikan Bilisanchovies fried with peanuts, chili peppers and onions.  When this one is good, it is really good, and goes great with an ice cold Tiger beer.   And then there are the dishes without anchovy, like Loksa, a soup of rice noodles, boiled egg, red onion, cucumber, fresh herbs and chilies in a red mackerel broth.  This one is different, and not my favorite, but I’m glad I gave it a try.  Their version of the pancake is called Roti Canai, and they love the roti in all of Malaysia; a thin, doughy rice pancake that is folded together and then chopped so it is easy to pick up and dip in dhal, the saucy lentil side dish it is usually served with (unless you get a sweet roti, and then it just comes as is).  They will put anything in the roti, from egg and cheese, to banana, to sardines or other meat, to brown sugar.  I like the roti, almost as much as the dosa (the thin Indian crepe like pancake), which you can also find here, but is called tosai.  And to drink with your roti or tosai is teh tarik, “tossed tea,” which is tea and condensed milk mixed by tossing from one glass to another.  Very tasty.  Then there is Rojak, fresh fruit tossed with Yum!peanuts in a sweet and spicy sauce.  Yum.  For those who don’t like the spicy so much, Malaysian food is not spicy like Thai, there is just a hint, palatable by most.  It is deliciously wonderful to be back in a place with authentically good Indian food (which I ate a lot of), with really fresh made Chinese food (which I ate a lot of), and with other variety when desired (Japanese, Korean, Bangladeshi).

So, where does one find these tasty morsels?  Like so much of SE Asia, at the night market, which basically means “on the street.”  There are several streets in Penang which host countless food carts, some open by day and others by night.  All you need to do is find a local who is excited to share the fabulous food culture of their country with you, and you will try many things, as I was lucky to do one night.

You may be wondering what else I did in Malaysia besides eat, and yes, I actually did some other things.  I started in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city.  It was okay, but didn’t capture my attention like Bangkok did.  The highlight there for me was the Museum of Visual Arts, a free contemporary art museum Scary Highfeaturing Malaysian artists.  They have a great collection, and it was a very cool, air conditioned break from the oppressive midday heat.  I also went to the top of the KL Tower, which is currently the 7th tallest building in the world.  It offers an expansive view of this growing city which hosts lots of new buildings with modern glass architecture, and old historic buildings.  It also gives one an opportunity to see all the green space around KL, where the jungle abuts the city limits.

From KL, I headed to The Cameron Highlands, and the main town of Tanah Rata, set high in the hills in the middle of the jungle.  This is a beautiful place, and the center of the Malaysian tea industry.  While it was similar to Munnar in India, it didn’t have the same fairytale feel to it that Kerala’s tea plantations offered.  Regardless, there are so many shades of green it would be impossible to count.

I did two day hikes while I was in the area.  The first hike I did with two Brits I’d met at my guesthouse.  We were told that the trail we’d chosen was one of the easier hikes; I think it was just one of the shortest because it was quite steep Hike in Tanah Rataand challenging, with the reward of an amazing view of the surrounding jungle, mountains and tea plantations.  The second hike I had started on my own, but fell into line with a man from Hungary, with whom I ended up completing this incredibly beautiful, secluded trek.  It was really stunning as it followed a river with a waterfall, and several small streams running through the forest.  Both treks ended in vegetable farms, several miles from town, and the number of buses are limited, so what to do but hitch a ride back.  The first day we were picked up by a Hungarian tourist, and the second by a Malaysian couple.  It’s so different culturally from the US in that regard, hitching is safe and common since so many people don’t have cars and often have to travel long distances.

My next stop was the island of Langkawi, in the far northwest of the country.  I’d heard that this was a beautiful island, but mostly I went there because I’d read online that it was a rock climbing destination.  Well, I ended up disappointed on both parts.  First, it used to be possible to rock climb there, Tanjung Rhubut the one man who did it had passed away and nobody else offered it; and second, the island is beautiful, and I will say it has one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to, Tanjung Rhu, but the island is very touristy.  It became a duty-free island a few years ago, and since then the tourism industry has boomed.  I did meet some great people there though, so that did make it more tolerable, in addition to the fact that the beaches there are covered in shells, and shell collecting is one of my all favorite pastimes.

I ended my time in Malaysia on the island of Penang, staying in the capital city of Georgetown.  As I’ve already mentioned, the food is amazing there, and one of the main reasons people go there, but it is also known for its street art, and one artist in particular, Ernest Zacharevic.  All around the city there are Kung Fu Girlapproximately 30 works of fun iron sculpture and big wall murals by him, as well as paintings by others.  Searching out street art is one of my favorite things to do in cities.  Also on Penang, in the northwest there is a wonderful national park called Taman Negara, where the jungle meets the ocean, and with a challenging hike to the lighthouse for an expansive view.  The island is also home to the largest active Buddhist temple in the world, Kek Lok Si, which is incredibly impressive and colorful.  It houses the largest statue I think I’ve seen in all my travels.  It is of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, and stands almost 100 ft. high.  For pictures of Malaysia, click here .

All in all, I really liked Malaysia.  The scenery is memorable, the people remarkable, and the food, I’ve already told you.  If I hadn’t made plans to go to Sumatra (i.e. plane tickets) I probably would have gone to Borneo and stayed in the country longer, but plans had been made, so off to Indonesia I went.  That story is to come.

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Shiva Festival

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

At some point India had to become difficult.  Everyone I know who has ever been here has had their stories of some sort of challenge.  Dore & I had been cruising along, wondering if this was true, if it all really had to do with the people themselves, their personalities and outlooks on life, the way they handle themselves in any challenging situation.  Well, welcome to North India, to the Shiva festival, and thousands of male pilgrims on the same path as you.  Add in a rickshaw driver who won’t take you where you want to go, but will take your money; a bicycle rickshaw driver who takes you 20m, tells you he can go no further, and takes your money; and a long walk through narrow unknown old city streets, following and trusting a complete stranger, who gets you where you need to go, and will take your money.  For that moment, it had become difficult.

Little did we know that our journey to Varanasi and Rishikesh, two of the holiest cities along the Ganga River, would be coinciding with the Shiva Festival.  Had we known, would we have changed our plans?  Probably not, especially since we had no idea what it meant, but also because these are two spiritual cities that we really wanted to visit.  The challenge comes from the fact that we are a spectacle here in India; white women walking with our rucksacks on,  surrounded by hundreds of juvenile Indian boys; well, not really boys, young adults and men, but they act like children.  “Hello. How are you?” followed by something in Hindi which we can only perceive to be in some way sinister by the way they snigger.  Cell phones pointed at us without the sometimes polite “Photo please, Madam.”  This can become extremely tiring, annoying, and challenging.  Dore had finally let an “F…Off” come out, while I found myself holding up my hand to block my face from their cameras like some Hollywood starlet.  It’s not so much that I have a problem with being in their photos; it’s more the sheer disrespect of them not even asking, yet being incredibly blatant.  Starts to make one feel like a caged animal on exhibition, yet without the bars.  And while this uncomfortableness came to being in Varanasi, it came to its pinnacle in Rishikesh, and in some ways tainted the spirituality of these mystical cities.  Thankfully, we have had a full week in Rishi post-festival, and been able to get more of a feel for the place.

Once past the initial shock of being ripped off by not one, but two drivers in Varanasi, the city itself grew on us.  Dore more so than myself; being a very religious city, there are cows everywhere, and I found it arduous to constantly dodge piles of cow dung.  Yet, regardless, the soul of Varanasi is apparent in the overall ambiance.  The holiness of the city leaches into you.  In walking the Ghats (the stairs that lead down to the river) it is impossible to ignore that the Ganga is where people gather to pray, pay homage to departed souls (famous for the cremations which take place in public along the rivers edge), as well as cleanse their bodies and souls (dipping oneself in the Ganga is a baptism of sorts, washing away ones sins).  The evening puja ceremony is beautiful.  Even nonHindus can sense how special it is, watching 7 Hindu men cloaked in white perform their spiritual fire dance along the river’s edge, giving thanks for the day.  We spent two days there walking the Ghats and people watching, witnessing a funeral and puja ceremony, and experiencing sunrise and sunset on the river, the main attractions in Varanasi.  Having done all that, and because the city was so crowded due to the festival, we decided it was time to move on.  Our time in India is rapidly coming towards completion, and there is still much to see in the north; plus, we are looking forward to getting more yoga time in.

On to Rishikesh, a city known for its yogic soul and sheer natural beauty, situated along the Ganga, enveloped by green mountains.   There are dozens of ashrams in Rishi, countless places to practice yoga, and where we made our home for 12 nights.  We found a room with a kitchen, and a flat mate for the first six nights, Adeline from Paris, who we traveled with on the train.  Within our first day, we ran into a woman we’d met at Sivananda, and she turned us onto a great yoga teacher who holds classes in a hotel right next to our guest house.

At last, we have found our guru.  His name is Sirander, and it is apparent that he loves to share his yogic knowledge and culture.  He is a teacher who deserves the guru label; a patient and peaceful soul who has an amazing ability to read his student’s needs.  He is able to lead each one of us individually, on both a physical and spiritual level, even as each of us is one of several students.  While the physical practice has been rewarding, challenging, and expansive, I feel like I have finally found the yoga I had come to India for: the Dharma talks, the spiritual explanations of this path and journey, yoga with a soul and the soul of yoga.  On more than one occasion, his Dharma talk went in the direction of something I had thought about earlier in the day or practice, and his explanations and analogies are simple to understand, as life should be.   I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to practice with him for over a week, and have contemplated a return visit.

Ready to leave Rishikesh, yet sadly leaving this specific practice behind, I look forward to one last class with Sirander tomorrow morning before we head off to witness another powerful soul, the Dalai Lama.  Our next stop is Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama has resided in exile since 1959, and if we are lucky, he will be addressing an audience while we are there.  Hadi Om.

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Posted in nature, Spiritual, travel, Yoga | 9 Comments »