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September 12, 2012

Why I Live Where I Do

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – I suppose it has crossed your mind when visiting Why in the world would anyone who spent most of his life in the Middletown Valley of Maryland choose to travel halfway ‘round the world to live? The answer is quite simple. It’s the food.


We eat a lot curry assembled by many different cooks. Like pasta sauce, each curry has its own taste and ingredients. Some are fire engine hot requiring gallons of water to extinguish the flames on the tongue while others are quite mild.


I enjoy my wife Suriani’s mom’s curry best, as it made from very fresh spices. It is just hot enough to announce its presence but not so hot that where a hose of ice water is required. She makes it especially for me.


Mee goreng is also a favorite of mine. A mixture of shallots, chilies, ginger, garlic and onions are blended together in a paste. The mixture is then fried in a wok with hot oil. Soft noodles are added with bean sprouts to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Leafy vegetables are also added. Soya sauce is stirred in and ingredients are thrown up and down over a fire until the noodles are a golden brown. The concoction is also allowed to catch fire giving it a flame taste. Sometimes small amounts of chicken or beef are added.


Chicken and beef are eaten in small quantities and are mixed in with curry and stir fried. Beef is very expensive because there are no vast prairies, savannahs, out-backs, pampas or other grasslands where cows and sheep can be easily raised.


Chinese stir fry waters my mouth. It has been a staple for thousands of years and is also a favorite in Western nations. We consume vast quantities made with fresh veggies from the green grocer. Living in the tropics, there is no shortage of variety.


There are so many different types of seafood, the main staple of the people here. I hate fish because I was raised Catholic and every Friday I was forced to consume those god-awful fish sticks which came out in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Thankfully, my daughters and my son Dzul like the dish as I have always told them just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean you should, too. Even the smell of it cooking brings waves of nausea. Funny that, after all these years. I do love shellfish, though.


Many of the familiar fruits are imported from China, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. We consume apples and oranges. Each apple costs about 40 cents. Soon the fruit season will arrive and an explosion of local varieties will have us eating rambutans, langsat and mangos. (Google them) Durians are also a favorite, but to me the odor is like a sewage treatment plant. However, here they are considered an aphrodisiac. There is a local saying “when the durians come down the sarongs go up.”


For desert, sweets are very popular. The Malays make a gelatin-like base sprinkled with coconut shavings. Local coffees are very strong and nothing like the brews we drink in America. They are often mixed with condensed milk. Suriani takes ground coffee from very fresh coffee beans and puts about one tablespoon in a sock-like filter. Water is boiled and then poured through the sock. Sugar and condensed milk is added to taste. Each cup is made individually.


I have introduced pasta sauce to our menu. We have two crock pots and we make a huge batch and then freeze it. (Suriani has learned from me and can now make a great meal.) The same is done with beef stew that cooks for over 24 hours. The beef here is like shoe leather and takes a long time to tenderize. There is no such thing as cuts of beef like we know in the states. It is whacked off the carcass and sold by the kilogram.


There are many different varieties of rice. Thai rice, Bario rice, rice grown in paddy fields and rice grown in the hills are just a few. I really cannot tell the difference between them but the locals can. The most expensive and delicious is the Bario rice grown in the Borneo Highlands. People from all over Malaysia come to enjoy this local delicacy.


Bon appétit and…


…Life is good. . . . .


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