Teh Tarik (Malaysia and Singapore)

Batam, Indonesia - Teh TarikIn fact, I had this drink at an Indian restaurant in Batam, Indonesia, but that island, as close as thirty-five minutes to Singapore by boat,  is so filled with unscrupulous Singaporeans – like the city-state itself – that it remains a valid place to try today’s subject,
teh tarik.

Yes, teh tarik, a sweet drink composed of black tea and sweetened condensed milk, calls Malaysia its home, though it’s nearly as ubiquitous in Singapore.  Though, I have a few bugaboos when it comes to food and drink, and not one is terribly logical.  The one involving teh tarik regards my mostly blanket disapproval of artificially sweetened beverages – does passion fruit juice really need Splenda? – but this Malaysian specialty is a notable AND rare exception.  I mentioned that it’s not a logical gripe, primarily because I have no problem with pairing teh tarik with kaya toast, aka buttery Singaporean goodness.

As for the meaning of the name, teh signifies “tea” and tarik is “pull” in Indonesian and Malay.  Pulling tea sounds like an act of torture in that part of the world, and in some respects, it is.  The origin stems from the act of the vendor having to quickly pull the concoction between two vessels, in order to skillfully mix the condensed milk with the tea.  For a clearer example of what that means, check out this video (it’s the same thing on mute).  The allure to some customers is that, while the peddler is preparing the sugary stuffr, not even a drop of it is splashed onto them, even though your expectations lead you to believe you’d become a teh tarik manusia, or human pulled tea.

Have you tried this before?  Feeling bushed after just two sips?

Posted in Dessert, Drink, East & Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Street Food | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

What’s the Opposite of Yummy? Yummy.

Jakarta - Ricotta Cheese (Yummy brand)Daybreak, JakartaThe scene: A supermarket at the Plaza Indonesia mall.  What’s on offer there?  Food.  Powdered milk is the norm in Indonesia, and I have a hunch part of the reason is that electricity is not always reliable.  Being in the tropics doesn’t help much either.  Though, since it’s an expat-friendly supermarket, some dairy products are even refrigerated.

I was in the mood for some cheese.  Strike number one.  However, I didn’t feel like paying expat prices.  Strike two.  Thus, I settled for ricotta produced by Yummy, an Indonesian company that exists for the benefit of no one. A question remains though- is any part of Indonesia known for dairy?  Breed some water buffaloes, and you’d be on to something…in West Sumatra.

In spite of that anomaly, let this post be a lesson for you:  if a container of Yummy ricotta costs less than a similar size might in Italy, an infrequent splurge is probably worth it!

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Snack | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Chechebsa (Ethiopia)

Addis Ababa - ChechebsaChechebsa, or kita firfir, is a nauseatingly filling breakfast item from Ethiopia.  In one sitting, I’ve eaten six slices of a New York (pizza) pie in a sitting, obscene amounts of cheap sushi and half of a lemon- don’t be impressed, even though the seat cushions were – but finishing a bowl of this, nay even 3/4 of a bowl proved insurmountable.

So, get to the point: the main ingredients are kita, a wheat bread similar to chappati that also contains the Ethiopian spice blend berbere, and niter kibbe, or clarified butter.  It’s all fried, then chopped up and placed in front of unsuspecting ferenji looking to waste their vacation time writhing in agony in bed instead of touring the sites of Addis Ababa.  Bonus: For all of those mysophobic readers, this is a rare dish from that part of the world that you don’t need to eat with your hands.  You know, the bowl and spoon were washed in the local human spray, but at least your hands catch a break.

Without honey, I would’ve been in much more trouble.  As a dessert in small quantities, it’s nice.  Rich, but nice.

Where do you think this meal should fit during the course of a day?

Posted in Main Course, Sub-Saharan Africa | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Walnut Milk (China)

Beijing - Walnut MilkThis is a big oneWalnut milk*…from China?  A dairy drink from East Asia worth mentioning?  The joke’s on me, it’s probably just powdered flavor spirit, ya know, MSG,
a slew of sugar and walnut shavings that some factory worker happened to get in his lunch box.

Whatever it was, they had my number. Throughout my walnut milk drinking career, nearly half of it spilled, thanks in large part to that wondrous packaging and rebel straws.  What remained in the pouch though, that was a winner.  Smooth, sweet but also filling, it’s something to reward yourself with after a soccer match, not before it.  Or, if you’re a spectator, during it.  This brand, Mengniu, isn’t the only show in town, but the taste was better than any other equally dubious mainland dairy company.  I say dubious because the average carton of Chinese milk probably started off its life as glue, which, if you know about the history of glue, is awfully coincidental.

Regardless of these theories, I’d say if you’re near a packet of walnut milk and haven’t had dessert yet, give it a go.

*Walnut = 核桃 (hé​tao)
Milk = 牛奶 (niú​nǎi)

Posted in China & Hong Kong, Dessert, Drink, East & Southeast Asia | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liquorice Juice (Egypt)

Hey there, welcome back.  I hope that the first of many of 2014’s new year’s celebrations is going well for you.  Without further ado, let’s jump right into the topic: liquorice juice in Cairo, Egypt.

Cairo - Liquorice JuiceFun fact: liquorice makes me nauseous.  So then, for whom is it fun?  Not to mention, if it’s a fact, why did I order it?

Damaging Detail: Probably because it cost one Egyptian pound, which at the time was, US$.14.

Upon first taste of the drink, it was rather nice.  Somewhat bitter, unsweetened, refreshing (I can’t imagine a warm glass of the stuff), doesn’t pair well with anything except anguish, likely in an unwashed glass- I was temporarily emboldened.  Things rapidly took a turn for the worse when the liquorice flavor arose.  Even a carton of broccoli juice sounded less threatening.

To make matters worse, the shakshuka I ate, naturally served in a plastic bag, had a coin in it.  Can’t wait to go back to Egypt~

Would you dare drink liquorice?

Posted in Drink, Turkey, the Middle East & North Africa | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

There’s No Street Food in Singapore

Yes, Singapore, East Asia‘s archetype of blandness had to find something to lure in those flying the Kangaroo route, and that something is most likely food.  Or, a gentle reminder of where you are.  No, it’s definitely food.

If Collateral Lettuce’s aim wasn’t clear enough, food is a priority for me.  During my first visit to Singapore in 2004, I had what is still easily one of the best dishes I’ve eaten while there, chili crab with fried mantou.  Since then, because I don’t like southern Chinese (namely, Fujian and Guangdong provinces) cooking, my culinary tour has centered on Little India, kaya toast and a Japanese-style food hall at the Ngee Ann City shopping center.

But there’s one place I left out- hawker centres, the open-air cheap food complexes in which the city-state prides itself.  In other words, if there’s a storm passing through, you (and your meal) will know about it.  You know what else you’ll quickly learn after a visit to these Singaporean staples,?  They definitively aren’t street food vendors.

Where is the street food anyway?

Singapore - Mango (Durian) Ice Cream Sandwich

THAT is rare evidence of street food (from October 2006), consumed across the street from Esplanade- Theatres on the Bay.  That Bay Area-influenced slice of Wonder Bread was unusually folded around a brick of mango ice cream, which disappointingly also reeked of durian. I never came across it again, so maybe the joke’s on me.

I expected to see street carts all over the place, but in a city (somehow) well-known for being sanitary, their presence might defeat the purpose.  In any case, for a city so fond of eating, as with Hong Kong, sometimes all I want is rotisserie chicken on-the-go.

Familiar with the Singapore food scene?

Posted in Dessert, East & Southeast Asia, Snack, Street Food | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

But Really, I Don’t Need It: Jakarta’s Cobra Soup

I was walking down one of the most illustrious boulevard’s I’ve encountered in my travels, Jakarta‘s Jalan Mangga Besar, when I sat down at a street vendor for some gratuitous late-night food.  But this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill street stall…unless you lived near one, or managed one yourself.

Right, as I was getting to, this vendor specialized in serving things to keep a man virile.  Put it this way – random green and yellow pills in vials, the average age of women on this street is half that of men, cigarettes smoke themselves, the only direction to go is up – that’s virility.  If you’re more familiar with Japanese culture, eel “provides” similar benefits.

The chef had cobras slithering around cages, waiting to be drained of their blood for the next customer to choke down.  Same idea as above, folks.  All I wanted to do was order a plate of sate ular, cobra satay, because my last memory of a snake-related item – viper ice cream – wasn’t a good one.

While I was waiting, a middle-aged local sat down for a shot of jantung ular, cobra heart, and sop ular, cobra soup.  No need to pass judgement…but apparently, he took my presence to mean “here, have a taste:”

Jakarta - Sop Ular

Greasier than a walk through Little Italy, and topped with enough fried shallots to make you forget that you’re eating someone else’s soup.

As long as his motives are limited to that, we’re cool.

Are these virility huts sprouting up in your neighborhood?
Planning to place your toothpick on a stranger’s French fries?  What would happen?

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Street Food | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments