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October 25th, 2009

When you come to Southeast Asia, you will be impressed by the gastronomical variety of the local foods. The intense use of ALL parts of the animal, not cutting off the heads of chickens and ducks before they roast them, leaving the skin on the chicken of every dish it is served with, to the abundance and variety of ways to use coconut and curry and banana leaves and last but certainly not least pandan.  Pandan and I have had an interesting relationship since I first arrived. I noticed it right away, not being able to escape the brightly green colored bread that almost looked artificial. But all of the bread or cakes or whatever appeared to be this color, under this pandan label, seemed to have an intoxicatingly sweet aroma that piqued my interest every time. I remember the first time I decided to go for it, and purchased the small loaf of this bright green pandan bread; I think I ate the whole thing in a matter of a couple days. Since then, there was no turning back. If the menu had a mention of pandan in it, I was in. Pandan chicken (bits of chicken, wrapped and fried in a pandan leaf) is one of my favorite hawker center go-tos (but then again, I have a lot of those…)

Also, there is this horrid smelling fruit called ‘Durian’ and then a much sweeter one called ‘Jackfruit’. They are of the same family, and look similar (the jackfruit is smaller in size) and until I had come here, I had never even dreamed of a fruit like this. As you can see, it’s green on the outside, spiked and has a fleshy, yellowish interior. I also kept seeing signs around the city with pictures of Durians with a red X over the top; because of their strong, unpleasant odor, they are distinctly forbidden many places! The only people I have met that TRULY enjoy this fruit are native to Southeast Asia, and even some of them are quite wary. It has been described as “a mix of the banana and onion flavor”- not exactly a winning combo. But everything can come in this flavor- bread, candy, ice cream, cakes… I’ll stick to pandan. However, Jackfruit is actually not bad at all; it’s quite sweet and is difficult to describe in taste. Maybe like a watered down, sweetened mango without the tang?? Bad description…

yeah, yeah, no eating, but ABSOLUTELY no durian!

yeah, yeah, no eating, but ABSOLUTELY no durian!

Kaya, oh sweet, sweet Kaya. I remember the day I first had it- waffles are a very popular snack among Singaporeans. There is a waffle stall in almost every canteen and even one down the elevator from my dorm room! Walking past every day and smelling the strong, inviting odor of frying waffle batter, I opted to stop and explore. Looking at the list of flavor topping options, I saw ‘kaya’ and opted for that one- considering I had never heard of it before. When the guy tried to explain to me what it was, I didn’t quite understand, but when the sweet, thick, brown sugary substance that was melting between the two golden browned waffles hit my lips, there were no words. There are two types if kaya- regular (which is brown) and pandan kaya (which is, well, green). They are both made of sugar and coconut milk and are used as a jam like topping on breads and cakes. Delicious!

it tastes incredible!

it tastes incredible!

Of course, if you plan to stay here for an extended period of time, you will inevitably find a way to mix your old and new tastes. I find myself doing that quite a bit, and today it resulted in a Southeast Asian twist on an American classic; Toasted Peanut Butter and Banana sandwich on Pandan bread with Kaya. It’s like if Elvis and the Merlion had a love child. And the most unfortunate part of the whole ordeal is the unavailability of some of these products stateside. I may need to go over my weight limit for luggage on the way home…

today’s lunch: green tea, imported chips and queso- definitely fusion lunch

ahhh queso!

ahhh queso!

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