Image taken from Salon
Finally here's THE MAN, James Oseland, who will do justice to Malaysian food. And what beautiful, beautiful prose for a cookbook.
Here's an excerpt of James Oseland's interview with Salon.com
The Julia Child of Malaysian food
James Oseland, editor in chief of Saveur magazine, talks about culinary colonialism, his love of home cooking and why Malaysian cuisine may be the next big thing.
Dec. 12, 2006 | Pre-made sushi and pad thai may now be making appearances on American dinner tables from coast to coast, but mention Malaysian food to your Midwestern aunt, and you're still likely to get a raised eyebrow. James Oseland is on a mission to change that. Just as Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' brought French food into the hearts and hands of American housewives 40 years ago, Oseland's new cookbook, 'Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking From the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia,' is a comprehensive and charismatic attempt to introduce Americans to a great, global cuisine.
'How do Malaysian flavors blend into the American palate?
I've traveled extensively throughout Asia, especially Southeast Asia, and actually a lot of the common ingredients of the region are fundamentally American favorites: nutmeg, cinnamon, which is in fact cassia, and ginger, for example. And though certainly not deep and old in the American taste vernacular, there's also lemongrass, lime leaves and coconut milk, which are just immensely approachable tastes. I couldn't break that down into hard science, but I've felt it and I've seen it in other people, too. It's almost as though they have been etched into our genetic knowledge of flavor, our genetic palate -- as if subliminally we can immediately identify with the tastes of Malaysia in ways that we can't with those of Thailand, say, or Vietnam or even Japan or Korea.'
Continue reading the interview below.
Excerpt from his book on Spice Islands cruisines.
From Cradle of Flavor, 2006
By James Oseland
'...Next, she pressed a small piece of dried shrimp paste, a salty, pungent condiment made from fermented tiny shrimp, onto the tip of a bamboo skewer. I rose from my chair and moved closer. Over a low flame on the stove, she twirled the skewer so that the fire touched all sides of the shrimp paste. Soon a sharp, burning odor permeated the air. I recoiled. Inam burst into laughter.
“The smell is no good, but the taste is delicious,” she said, still laughing.
“Why grill it?” I asked.
“It makes it more halus,” she told me. I grabbed the paperback dictionary that Ann, Tanya’s mother, had given me. Halus meant subtle. I continued to watch, admiring the relaxed, unhurried way Inam went about her cooking. It was as though she were meditating with her eyes open...'
'...A four-week train journey up peninsular Malaysia, from the country’s hot, flat south to its hilly, jungly north, allowed me to start clearly seeing the influences that Chinese, Indian, and Arab traders had made on dishes over the last 2,000 years of traveling to the region for spice trade. I ate foods in Malacca, an ancient spice-trading port on the country’s west coast, that combined Chinese and Indian ingredients with Malay sensibilities, such as popiah, jicama-stuffed Chinese spring rolls drizzled with a typically Malay-style peanut-chile sauce. I also tasted assam laksa, a rice-noodle soup that was Chinese in concept but was made with tamarind, fresh mint, shallots, chiles, and pineapple—favorite Malay ingredients. I ate nasi kemuli, a gorgeous Nyonya rice dish seasoned with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, cumin, fennel, and poppy seeds—it called to mind Indian briyani (spiced rice), but was wholly Malaysian. I watched spellbound as street-food hawkers made Chinese-style stir-fries with local greens.
I ended my travels that year in Penang, an island city built by the British in northern Malaysia. One late afternoon under a neon-pink sunset, as I sipped sweet milky tea in a noisy Chinese coffee shop, I thought for a moment that I had found my home...'
Read the full introduction to the book here.
An article from James Oseland website.
The Spice of Time
'...Still, it’s cooking that offers Chua her most immediate connection to the past. “It allows me to communicate directly with my ancestors—to see what they were thinking, to know what they were about,” she says as she smashes a palmful of chiles in a mortar. “My family has few recorded recipes, so we must protect our food for tomorrow, before McDonald’s wins the war and my son has no idea what it tastes like. If I don’t take the time to do this, who will?” With that, Chua serves her meal, a testament to the past and a prayer for the future, to seven of her closest family members and me. From the spicy yet comforting nasi kemuli to the tart-hot-sweet acar, these dishes produce a pungent harmony of tastes...'
Image taken from www.jamesoseland.com
Read the full article on James Oseland's website.
Also read about James Oseland in The Salon and how Malaysian food could be the next big thing in America.
Image taken from www.jamesoseland.com
One note. At times, it seems to me that James Oseland does a bit of romanticising about our land and its people. But perhaps we do look that exotic to an outsider and our food do taste that much more flavorful. Maybe, just maybe he's not being mawkish about this part of the world. It might be us who are suffering from 'gastronomical amnesia'.