Monday, June 09, 2008

arabian delights

when i was about to go for umrah, 2 of my students who had gone for umrah told me "teacher, you should try the ice cream". the other one said "teacher, dont forget the kebab". oh please, i'm going there to commune with God, not to satisfy my palette!

however, i'm a culture vulture and a foodie and so i cant resist the temptation. as Saudi Arabia has higher temperature compared to Malaysia, it is a common sight to see ordinary food stalls serving soft serve ice cream. even more amusing is to see grown men in ihram licking their ice cream away on a typical summer day which is around 40+ degrees celsius. fruit juices are big in Saudi Arabia - and i mean, real undiluted fruit juices, unlike the ones sold in malaysia, which is very much diluted so that cheapskate people can make more money. carbonated drinks are arabs' fave, a can only costs SR1, compared to our RM1+ over here. however, when i was there i missed my fave drinks - soya bean milk, winter melon tea, chrysanthemum tea, lychee drinks- typical south east asian drinks. and talking about drinks, i was offered kahwa by an arab woman in Masjidil Haram. it is supposed to be coffee, but it's not like turkish coffee that i had when i dined at Al Rausyar with my Seri Puteri friends. kahwa tasted more like some natural remedy for something - i could taste ginger, cardamom and god knows what else they put in there. and it tasted bitter. i took a sip. probably half a sip. and decided that i just couldnt drink anymore.

arabs eat a lot of breads, so you see breads everywhere. not sandwich breads, but rustic breads that look like thick pitta bread. they can eat it plain with yoghurt. my fave is shawarma chicken, which is thinlike unleavened bread (chapatti style) with chicken kebab and fresh vegetables in it. i also tried falafel, thought it was mince meat, but i was wrong. it's like vaaday, only less spicy. the briyani rice is nice, although i think a little bit more spice in the rice would be nicer. the portion was big, 2 persons can finish 1 serving. unlike in malaysia where we're so used to eating briyani rice with an abundance of dhall curry or honeyed chicken or ayam masak merah or pickles, their briyani rice only consists of rice and chicken/lamb/mutton. i guess you've to pay extra if you ask for curry. a container of briyani rice costs SR10. my brother the pilot had mentioned the rice he ate in a big tray, which is typical arab style of eating. he told me they love to eat the rice with kibasy (i really dont know the term in english). on the last day we were in mekah, the rayhar officer brought 2 trays of rice with kibasy, and feeling curious i decided to have a taste. and it was awful. i couldnt stand the smell and nearly vommitted, the smell reminds me of mutton. okay, so i know that i cant stand mutton and kibasy.

Ikan Celup Tepung

at last, after a hiatus of not cooking, i've returned to my domain of heavenly smells and (sometimes disastrous) creations.

when i was in mekah 2 weeks ago, i had this sudden craving for ikan celup tepung or flour batter coated fried fish. this is especially famous in Telaga Batin near to KTrg's airport, where you can see a lot of cars flocking the rustic seafood restaurants. go to the one with the most cars, and that means the first shop after the T-junction. besides fish, there're also other seafood such as squids and prawns. and what's more, you can enjoy your seafood with the seabreeze cooling you, and sweet air kelapa to quench your thirst, and a seaview with coconut trees. hahaha TDC should take me in as a writer for their pamphlet.

anyway, i've digressed from my original intention, which is to talk about how to buy fresh fish and how to prepare ikan celup tepung.

my sister was amused to see that some terengganu folks buy fish at hypermarkets, which is a big no-no for us the fish connoisseurs. but i prefer to go to the wet market, where everything is fresher. so how does one pick a fresh fish? a fresh fish should not have red eyes (unless you're buying red snapper). the eyes should be clear and lucid. the fish itself should be firm to the touch, and the skin should be silvery clear and not cloudy. the gills should be brilliant red, and not dull red. in kuala terengganu there are certain places where you can get the freshest catch - at chendering near to taman permint jaya, near the small bridge of SMKA Sheikh Abdul Malek, and also the wet market at Pasir Panjang.

it is best that you eat the fresh fish a.s.a.p, which is why i decided that the simplest dish is the best for such fresh fish. the batter is the same as the batter to make goreng pisang (or pisang goreng, as my BM teacher used to tell me) - which means some kapur (alkaline), turmeric powder, flour, water and salt. just dip the fish in the batter and deep fry it and voila! remember that the wok must be clean or else the fish will be stuck to the wok.