Saturday, August 21, 2010

Penang Market

Fish for sale. This one looked like a whopper - I can't imagine what I would do with it. Also on offer are some stingray, small sardine like fish and various other seafood delights.

On one of our last days in Penang we visited a local Chinese market where our friend was going to pick up some groceries for the week. I always love going to local markets when I'm traveling - you get a much better idea of how the locals are eating than if you just stick to restaurants. This market was really amazing. Not only was there a huge array of fresh produce but seafood like I've never seen, roasted meats, flowers and the fish balls and cakes that are so popular in Chinese cuisine.

Fish and squid balls, stuffed okra, other rolled and stuffed things unimaginable

We picked up some of the roasted pork when we first walked into the market and walked around eating it out of a little pink plastic bag. It was fatty and crunchy, a little bit sweet in that characteristic Asian meat sort of way. The sound of the massive cleavers whacking at the wood cutting boards followed us throughout the market. The meat is really popular and I don't think these women ever take a break from their chopping.

The meats, seafood and vegetables were all in one big open covered space. The concrete floor near the fish was wet and slippery as the ice melted down onto the floor. Not the best place to be wearing flip-flops (although I noticed most of the locals were wearing flip-flops or sandals)

In a second building fruit and flowers were sold. Asian fruits are so exotic and interesting. I've tried many of them now and know what they taste like but I still get drawn to them every time I see them. The hairy rambutans beg for a light brush of the fingers. The spikes jutting from the hot pink dragonfruit bodies catch my eye.

Rambutans (back), Mangosteens (front) and Longyans (right)

These flowers are made into long wreaths that Hindus offer to their deities

It's hard to imagine markets like these in the U.S. The roasted pork vendors would be shut down immediately - the local food police certainly wouldn't approve of the meat hanging in the open air on a hook, women chopping them up with their gloveless hands. Even worse, the seafood dripping its fishy ice water all over the ground just feet away from vegetable stands. But the locals in Penang don't seem to mind (and don't seem to be getting sick). They have fresh seafood and produce available any day of the week that us American foodies can only dream of. I wonder sometimes if our ultra paranoid approach to food is really a good thing.

If you want to know more about my trip to Penang please visit my travel blog A Day in the Life, where I've written a series called Penang: A Food Story

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Expat Soul

I know it's been forever.  It's almost like I dropped off the face of the earth.  I'm sorry for my neglect.  I just got caught up in this crazy new life I'm living.  So what have I been doing the last two months I haven't been blogging?  Traveling (San Francisco, Malaysia), eating of course, a very little cooking (it's still pretty tough to cook around here), and writing, although obviously not my blog.  I've been working on a new project, a food book for Taiwan along with a few other things.

But this post wasn't really going to be about me.  It was going to be about soup!  One of the first meals I made here in my new kitchen was this chicken soup.  We were going through a little bit of a rough patch, homesickness sticking to us like peanut butter sticks to a three year old.  So I decided to make some good old fashioned chicken soup to cheer us up and scratch our homesick itch.

It turned out really well for the most part.  I didn't have the patience or refrigerator space to make homemade stock, so I looked around our local supermarket for stock or boullion cubes or chicken base.  This is what I came up with.

It did taste a little like chicken, but it was also really salty, so I couldn't use a whole lot.  I have a feeling there was some serious MSG action in there too.  A side note - I am not against MSG per se.  However, it does tend to make both my husband and I swell up like balloons and give us raging headaches, so I try to stay away if I can. 

Anyways.  I used this as the base for my chicken soup.  I thought about going for the whole chicken and cutting it up to make the soup, but I was deterred by the chicken's head.  I can get used to a chicken's feet still being attached, but when he's got eyes to stare me down as I hack apart his body, that is a line I'm not ready to cross.  So I used a few different cuts.

I also found some really nice looking vegetables, all the things I would use for chicken soup back home - carrots, celery, onion, potato.

I basically just threw it all together with some herbs and some garlic and let it get happy.  And when it was done it made us happy.  It's nice that although we can't go home, we can have a meal from home every now and then.  Maybe not everything we want from home (especially without having an oven), but some things.  And that's good enough for us.  Well, for now at least.