The Nasi Lemak Affair

I’m hardly a bona fide foodie.

My friends are constantly poking fun at my foreign palette. I’m the last person they’d ask for food recommendations.

“Don’t trust Tersh! She’ll say that everything is delicious.”

Traveling back and forth between two cities,  I never had a long standing relationship with anything or anyone here, what with the short spurts, even summer flings ended before it begun. Friends who left to US and UK were always on the separate ends of the metronome link , dad would be busy between church and work, I hardly saw my siblings – but I could always count on one constant thing to greet me every time I return home, a warm packet of Nasi Lemak.

I have an unbreakable gastro bond with this local dish; sharing a packet with a friend after a night partying in town, having it for breakie every morning when I’d return for term breaks, stealing the sambal sauce off dad’s half eaten unattended plate, piecing the condiments for pot luck parties – breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, hangovers – they taste good whenever, where ever (in Malaysia).  I’ve had every Nasi Lemak possible in KL – from basic ones at mamak stalls and elaborate westernized interpretations at fancy restaurants, to more authentic condiments under a tattered brolly near a ‘longkang’.  I’ve put up with over-priced one offs overseas that just didn’t cut it, counting the days when I would once again reunite with the real thing. So you see, its been a long running affair. An affair that spilled over into other aspects, and that’s how my romanticized love for KL started, over Nasi Lemak.

“So you’re going back to Melbourne for good? You don’t like it in KL ah?”
And there it is again, the most reiterated question of the century….

I don’t get why people assume that I’m just itching to go back to Australia; that I must be sick and tired of this place and that its only normal that I’d be going back because I’m unhappy here. I spend more time defending my homeland than I do reminiscing about the land down under. There are so many reasons why I love this country, aside from the rotten and corrupted politics and the sometimes infuriating religious squabbles. I don’t think my fellow Malaysian friends understand how good they have it here. Sure, the gay scene leaves little to be desired, what with undercover journalists sensationalizing the “underground” scene.  You’ll get stared at if you look remotely different from the usual crowd – and that, doesn’t take much to attract the unnecessary scrutiny. You’ll never get used to people eyeballing you, cutting ques and spitting out of cars – but that’s something I’ve learned to live with. Once you put aside the squatting toilets, mosquito bites, rats the size of cats, bad traffic, dangerous pot holes on the road, unscrupulous cops, horrid transport system and the weak ringgit, there’s a lot left to be desired. I’m not being sarcastic. I’ll tell you why.

I love that I can wake up to Disney moments with the sun shining and birds chirping, almost every single morning. The sociable culture here is amazing, people are dropping by for drinks, calling you out for coffee all the time! Never a lonesome moment. I can stroll out to the neighborhood roadside for a myriad of local delights. KL is foodie haven, I am never left wandering the streets for food – ever. There are food stalls, cafe’s and bars open till the wee hours of the morning, where you can survive your hunger pangs with the loose change in your pockets. Labor is incredibly cheap; you can fix anything, and not have to worry about the cost. Unlike Melbourne, fixing a watch strap requires one to reconsider ones economic priorities. Oh and I love the morning drizzle, clearing the skies for the sun to blaze through the day. Sure, it gets hot. But I’d rather this than murky, wet and gloomy days. I don’t have to wait 7 months a year to feel the warmth of the sun on my back. Traveling around Asia is incredibly (sometimes, ridiculously) affordable. You get 4 star comfort at budget prices. You can book a ticket for a quick getaway to an island somewhere, and be back by Sunday to watch the sun set. How I’ll survive after RM10 t-shirts, RM2.80 meals and having a helper cook, clean and do my laundry? Good luck to me!

I’m not saying that I don’t miss Melbourne. I guess I’ve just been having an incredibly great time, that I don’t find myself pining for the supposedly greener pasture. Yes, there’s the soy lattes, walks to vic mart for fresh oysters, cheap wine, buzzing music scene, government initiated city art installations, festivals, concept bars and quaint cafes, not to mention swapping between seasonal wardrobes. I admit, I do miss breathing in the mentos cool air, having a nice cold beer on the rooftop on a  lazy summer day. I can’t wait to sharpen my culinary skills, what with the readily available European ingredients that would otherwise cost an arm and a leg in Malaysia. But it’s incomparable. There’s so much to love about these two cities. I can’t ever choose one over the other. And so when people ask me if I’m leaving because I’ve had my fill of KL, or that I hate it here, miss it there? I try to put in as few words as possible… “Family and PR requirements”. Then I spend the rest of the conversation ranting on about how I love Malaysia – basically, everything I mentioned in this post.

It surprises people when I say that I’d stay in KL longer if I had the option to. And sometimes, when my friends backlash this country they call home, it makes my heart break a little because there is so much more than all the bad we read in the papers. Malaysia has given me the best years of my life and I’m going to miss it. The good food, the bad service and the ugly politics. There’s only one Malaysia (not inspired by Malaysia’s patriotic slogan), and its the one that I will always call home.

And hey, if all else fails, we’ll always have Nasi Lemak!

Nasi Lemak, road side stall


“KL Seconds” is lil pet project I’m starting, based on 20 seconds of raw video clips on various things that I love about Malaysia –  ranging from delicious delights, night/day markets, the “lepak” culture, my love-hate relationship with the weather, and the list goes on. Time to crack my rusty film knuckles, and give it my best shot. Pun intended.


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