I don’t really know why Seabourn has us stopping at Langkawi – on one of 90 tiny islands off the Malay Peninsula. I am sure some people are living normal lives here but mostly it looks like a duty free haven that specializes in selling Corning ware (really?) and a beach resort that caters to a pretty mixed up international clientele, judging by the food offerings.
Tons of construction is going on here but as we rumbled through the dust on our shuttle into “town,” I saw Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, “artisan wood-fired pizza”, KFC, Subway, and Starbucks. Pretty eclectic. And a billboard advertising chocolate covered durian. Ugh.
I’ll tell you, it was hot and sweaty and I had been kept awake all night by elderly neighbors who cranked the TV up loud and then fell asleep, leaving it blaring all night long. I was feeling pretty cranky myself and we were only bothering to get off the ship so we could say we’d stepped foot in Malaysia. The shuttle ride wasn’t promising.
We had arranged to have lunch with Tom and Gale who had been off on a bat cave excursion that we had skipped (don’t mind bats, can’t handle caves) and they had come up with a recommendation for The Cliff, a place that reportedly served great Malaysian food. To our chagrin when we met them at 2:00, it turned out that the restaurant didn’t break out the authentic Malaysian menu until 6 p.m. We were sad. And hot (did I mention it was hot?)
I guess we looked sufficiently put out (and cranky) that they very kindly decided not condemn us to the burgers and fish and chips Tom and Gale had already ordered. Instead we had a small but amazing feast.
I remember the first time I had a Malaysian curry blend. I bought it at a funky international grocery in Bloomington called Moon’s which was the only place in the 70s that you could get fresh fish or anything more exotic than maraschino cherries. The curry powder came in a packet and it was unlike any of the Indian curry spice mixes I was familiar with. A little warmer and sweeter, more fragrant with cinnamon, maybe a touch more turmeric – I can’t be sure but I know it was different and memorable.
And here it was, in actual Malaysia, — even if we were just in a tiny tacky tourist town, suddenly it was heaven.
The curry of my memory showed up in Udang Karipole — giant prawns, cherry tomato & eggplant in “Curry Masala Gravy” which meant a rich Malaysian curry sauce. It was as wonderful as my imagination had made it — deeply, deliciously, hauntingly wonderful.
An order of Pad Thai with prawns was good, but came with batter-fried chicken instead of prawns. When we pointed that out they brought us a prawn. One, singular, batter-fried prawn, head on, with two eyes, looking right at us. Disconcerting, but good.
But the best of the best, so special we had to order a second helping, was the Kankung Belacan. Kankung is also called water spinach and ALSO called Morning Glory – it was wok-fried Morning Glory stems and leaves with chili shrimp paste and was it ever glorious!!
Why is this not a vegetable we eat all the time and where can I get some?
It was the kind of lunch that leaves your mouth humming a happy, soundless tune, the kind that sticks in your memory for years.