Till Stomach Do Us Apart
Humans have been known to have various sauces and condiments to go with their food since way early in the culinary life, we Malaysians are no exception to that. We are mainly talking about the food that was served purposefully with its sauce/condiment by the cook, and not in addition by the eater himself. Yes, I am such a snob. This is because, I believe we should respect the cook, as when they make a dish with the sauce in mind, then they would make sure the taste it is made accordingly, else if served plain, then you eat it as it is. Tasty or not though is another matter altogether.
Since young I have scorned at the thought of adding soy sauce to freshly fried noodles, now thinking back I wonder where that kind of passion came from since I have yet to even learn to cook yet. I guess it was always in me then, this epicurean snob thing. I say no to the ubiquitous tomato or chili sauce, that we Malaysians, sadly like a lot of people in this world, love to pour liberally onto almost everything they eat, you name it they does it, from American steak to British fish and chips to Chinese fried rice. I still stood flabbergasted every time when I see someone do that, and sometimes to tip me of the edge, they would do it without even first tasting what the dish really is like!
But I am all for the sauces and condiments that are served specifically along with the dish. Think tortilla chips with salsa, think Thai fish cake served with its sweet slightly spicy sauce. These as we know for sure that they had been brought together and blessed in marriage by the cook itself, pairing them ever so perfectly for us to enjoy! For the Malaysians, we are very familiar with a variety of sauces and condiments that goes with our various fried food, barbecue food, steamed food, boiled food and even for desserts, across all of its races. Here are few condiments or sauces that I can’t bear to separate them from their fellow dish spouses.
Photo by santos
Who would have thought that this humble yet pungent condiment, of various blended chilies, sometimes made with belachan (fermented shrimp paste), would serve as such a must-have for so many of our Malaysian heavily fat laden foods such as an accompaniment for fried noodles, black-sauced ones for the Chinese style, or with our fatty rice, better known as Nasi Lemak (rice cooked to tenderness in coconut milk)? Just like a good friend of mine, given a good dose of sambal, she would happily wallop the entire dish of fried noodles, adding generous portions of it onto every spoonful of noodles before shoveling it into her mouth. Trust me though; this act would only make the observer hungrier rather than anything else that you might have interpreted by just reading my description. Words do no justice, so try it out for yourself! And Nasi Lemak would not be Nasi Lemak if it wasn’t served with its infamous sambal ikan bilis (anchovies), which pairs so well with the rice to make it a complete dish due to its bold flavours, smells and tastes.
Photo by ccdoh1
As for satay sauce, who can ever deny the thick ground peanuts, spices and chilies, which is a must for dipping the entire satay (juicy grilled meats of your choice on stick)? We always try to have the satay serve as a spoon to hold all your sauces in before gingerly putting into the mouth with great care, as we would not want to drip the yummy peanut sauce onto our chin, or worst our shirt. As for me, I have also been notorious in using various other means of ‘vehicles’ to pick up this addictive sauce, such as using the satay stick to poke into sliced cucumbers or onions (my favourite vehicle due to its curve nature that acts very much like a deep spoon) and then use it to scoop up the sauce, and then drive it right into my mouth. Sometimes the satay sauce is what people go for when they are looking to eat satay, funny it is but I guess for me, both has got to be good, therefore making them a pair made in food heaven!
Photo by tarlia
Curry, the worldwide famous dish, of Indian powdered spices with chilies which were cooked with loads of liquid to make into delectable gravy, while stewing the vegetables, legumes or meats for deep flavours. This amazingly should have been a dish itself, but due to us Malaysian being such culinary geniuses, we decided to cook the curry dish with lots, and I mean loads of gravy and then conveniently turn it into a sauce for another dish. For instance is the roti canai (Indian flatbread) which we would dip or pour the curry sauce over before eating it. When I was young I used to eat roti canai with brown sugar, yes what blasphemy, but it was because I was not trained for spicy food yet, and so my mum gave me as such, I love it back then but now, after being introduce to roti canai’s real true love, I have never looked back, it must be them together for me to eat! There are also fellow Malaysians who would even use the curry as sauce which they would doused freely over the plain white rice, which will become almost, sometimes is, a complete satisfying dish itself!
Who would have thought such a simple act of dipping or pouring if you’re so inclined had been embedded in us for so long till we no longer realize these acts ourselves. The act of expecting the sauce or condiments to be served alongside with is counterpart and as well as the act of dipping, scooping, dousing, and even drowning the partner in it was done without a single second thought or even a first thought for that matter. The dish and its accompaniments are inseparable, served alongside together as if blissfully married and sworn to be together forever where only till stomach do they ever part!
Rokh is a food columnist on Malaysia Travel Guide, she’s an epicurean and a cook who loves to eat, also writes in her own Malaysia Food Guide – Thamjiak.com . In this column, she will bring you along while she explore various Malaysia foods, like what is good, what makes them so special and how or where to best well enjoy them. More [+]