Our little group of food tourists had dutifully followed our guide, Fadly, to street-food stands and local haunts throughout the village of Kampung Baru, tasting satay soaked in peanut sauce, burgers wrapped in egg and doused in Worcestershire sauce, squid stuffed with sticky rice and palm sugar, and cow lung deep-fried and dipped in chili paste.
And now as the sun set and the skies opened up, soaking the streets and sending little rivulets of water between the meat stations and produce vendors, Fadly said it was time to learn our way around the farmers market.
First stop: The meat market
Now, I find most markets fascinating for the cuts of meat and piles of fish that I’ve never seen and have no idea how to purchase, and this market was no exception. But Fadly showed us how to easily navigate the meat stands of Kuala Lumpur.
After the meat market, we headed for the produce section of the market, even as the rain thickened around us. Fadly rounded up umbrellas and donned a plastic bag for a hat – and we were off.
As we learned our herbs, I was especially taken by the fresh lemongrass. I could see why this herb was used in so many of the dishes that we had tried that day. It has a light taste, but it lingers.
When we reached a stand piled high with coconuts, Fadly explained that the coconut paste used to flavor so many curry and rice dishes in Malaysia is a seriously high-maintenance ingredient.
During his childhood, he knew playtime was over if he saw his mom bring out coconuts. It was time, instead, to start grating, toasting and pounding the fresh coconut meat into a paste called kerisik. For this reason, pre-made kerisik is a popular ingredient to buy at the market.
The Forbidden Fruit(s)
At the fruit stands, we tried some of the familiar and some of the unknown (but delicious) fruits that I’ve been devouring in morning fruit salads across Southeast Asia: dragon fruit, start fruit, rambutan, mango and, my favorite, mangosteen.
Digging into mangosteen is no easy task. Its juicy purple shell surrounds a cool, refreshing white fruit that falls apart like segments of an orange. But the purple juices from the fruit’s outer protection stains anything for which it comes in contact. This is why hotels throughout Southeast Asia ban this delectable fruit that is known as the “queen of fruits” in the region.
This knowledge solved half of a mystery for me. I couldn’t figure out why there were signs like this all over Thailand and Kuala Lumpur:
As we rinsed purple-stained fingers in a water basin, I understood the ban on mangosteen (which was also banned in the United States for a long time due to concern over importing fruit flies).
But what about durian? Why were there so many signs banning this fruit?
I was about to find out the hard way.
It’s the smell, you see
The smell permeated from the durian stand, even through the thick, spiky shells of the fruit. And as Fadly broke open a durian and handed us each a piece, I seriously thought that an entire locker room full of post-game hockey players had just taken off their skates and put their sweat-soaked socks on the table. Some of my fellow foodies smelled stinky cheese but, for me, it was sweaty feet.
Fadly made us promise to take three bites, explaining his logic this way:
To his credit, I did start to like the fruit after the third bite (once I got over the smell). Not so much for my German friends:
That wraps up this adventure through a Malaysian market. Now I know how to buy beef knuckles, peel a mangosteen and endure the smell of the durian fruit. And I have many new friends!