Top: my little pot of beef rendang simmering at a consistency I prefer; below: the finished product, along with one of my curry puffs
For a food lover in Kuala Lumpur, it’s the most wonderful time of year.
The monthlong celebration of Hari Raya, the Malaysian Ramadan, is for Malaysian Muslims a month of religious observance involving fasting from sunrise to sunset. For the rest of us, it means a cornucopia of bazaars and buffets brimming with food choices as soon as the sun comes down.
I can’t believe it’s been a full year since the hubby and I moved here, but we arrived here last fall right before the start of Ramadan. Eager to take part in the local holiday, we wandered the streets of KL almost every night, aimlessly stuffing our faces with foods we couldn’t identify at the time other than “that eggy crepe curry potato sandwich thingy” (a murtabak) or that “delicious flatbread pancake doohicky“.
The array of ingredients that go into a beef rendang, including a spice paste, lemongrass, galangal, coconut milk, kerisik (toasted, pressed coconut), tamarind, and turmeric leaves
This year, we’re going to be more focused. Actually, we haven’t yet had the chance to check out a Ramadan bazaar, mostly because my giant belly saw its shadow last month, which meant 6 more weeks of hibernation for me. The hubby and I have vowed to each other that we’ll definitely make it to at least one, and I’ll be sure to write about it when we do. In the meantime, last week I visited the LaZat Cooking School on the outskirts of KL along with some friends of mine to learn how to make several classic Malay dishes, including a Hari Raya staple, beef rendang.
Beef rendang is a true labor of love:. First, it requires making a spice paste, which is added to beef and water and simmered for hours. I’ve taken classes and tasted different versions of rendang all over town, and every time I’ve marveled at not only how different each version is, but also how complex and layered the flavors are. I have to say, though, that the version we produced at LaZat, using their recipe, is one of my favorites.
Rashied tossing a tea from his teacup into a just slightly larger metal container, all while talking about the finer points of tossing tea
The highlight of our day, however, had to be Rashied, pictured above, who is an award-winning roti canai tossing champion and a pro at making teh tarik, or pulled tea. He showed us the basics of making a delicious base out of the tea and how to “pull” it by pouring it back and forth between two containers to create a froth akin to a cappuccino foam. Best of all, he showed us how a little fresh ginger infusion totally ups the flavor of the tea and changes it into an even more exciting drink.
This is what I love about living in Malaysia. Food is such a part of the culture and daily conversation here, and Malaysians take such pride in showing off and discussing their cuisine. (For example, one morning last week I turned on a radio show to listen to while bustling about the house, and the topic for the entire morning consisted of listeners calling in and discussing their favorite Ramadan foods. For four hours.) The folks at LaZat are certainly no exception, and I’ll be going back as soon as I can.