One of the best things to have happened to me this year is learning that I am allergic to almost everything. Instead of the usual old response to “how are you doing?” (which was “I’m okay I guess aslfjasklfnbj;js ……..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”), I can now regale people with fascinating insights on not being able to eat gluten, dairy, asparagus, almonds, mustard, cashew nuts, etc. It gives me a good 10 minutes of cocktail conversation at least. Sometimes people lose track and offer me a sour cream dip or cheese afterwards, but I don’t blame them, because the list is so very long — who can be expected to remember all that? I myself keep a list handy whenever I forget (which is often):
I am supposed to stay away from these things for six months, and indulge occasionally in some of the others every 3 or 4 days or so. The idea is to gradually reintroduce these offending ingredients into my diet in a controlled manner. In all honesty though, I eat eggs and coconut probably every other day — how else would I be able to eat Thai food otherwise? — and the rest … well, I now know that I’m allergic to them. And when I overindulge? Let’s just say I still bear the traces of my last two indiscretions on my chin, in the form of zits named “4 slices of Domino’s Pizza” and “pecan pie”.
So when I decide to fall off the wagon, it’s a real, conscious decision with pros and cons: pros (I will be happy), cons (I will look like I have leprosy). On my trip to Kuala Lumpur for my friend May’s birthday, I choose to go it whole hog, as it were, for as much as I can.
There are places we never miss while in KL, such as Overseas and their Chinese roast suckling pig, sliced into crispy fat-backed squares, laid atop a mound of sticky rice and served alongside steamed white buns and gravy boats (gravy boats!) of Malay-style curry. But May always tries to mix it up with dishes we haven’t tried before, and although that list gets smaller every time we visit, there are still, unbelievably, things there.
Such as Ipoh-style chicken and noodles. Where we go (creatively named “Ipoh Chicken Rice”), we try all the things we are meant to, even though it is our second lunch of the day after a quick “breakfast” (15 minutes ago) of succulent pork belly char siu with a side of stir-fried thread-like egg noodles and a plate of gossamer cooked lettuce leaves. We eat the stir-fried bean sprouts, Ipoh’s best, awash in a light sour-salty sauce and a platter of chicken with meat so custardy that it barely resembles meat:
Plus the noodles. As a Thai, I am supposed to say that they were bland and strangely resistant to chewing, but as a Glutton, I can say that their texture was strangely addictive, bouncy and sweet from all the shallots.
At Kukus (26, Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 1, Taman Tun Dr., 03-7731-3559), open only three months ago, we go batshit crazy and each order what can only be described as a gigantic circular tray of rice (150 g or 300 g’s worth of 100 percent Basmati rice, take your pick) topped with various types of sambal ranging from sweet vegetarian to a slightly spicy dried fish version and incredible fried chicken (“worthy of a Southern matron,” says my friend Nat).
There was also a rice dish hailing from Malaysia’s Northeast, where the Thai influence is strong, and the chilies are more predominant. The rice is colored lavender with butterfly pea extract, a dollop of curry rests alongside it, and the “salad” accompanying it resembles a spicy-tart Thai “yum” in taste, melding the textures, smells and flavors that both Thailand and Malaysia are known for.
My favorite dish of the trip, however, may be the spicy crab at Sweet Inn (18 Jalan SS20/10 Damansara Kim, 03-7732-6623), where freshly cooked crab is stopped with a mixture of deep-fried shallots, garlic, scallions, flour and plenty of salt and sugar to form a dish that is better than anything that Under Bridge Spicy Crab in Hong Kong could ever come up with.
Yet it is with a feeling of something like relief when I get on the plane to get back to Bangkok. Not just because I will have to detox for days before approaching anything like normalcy again, but also because there is something else popping up on my chin that will soon get big enough to develop its own allergies. Time to call it a day.