Monday, 24 September 2007

Cultural Exchange

One of the things that I enjoy so much about blogging is the cross cultural exchange. "What the hell are you talking about", I hear you cry....

Well, let me try and explain. In the course of blogging, I have gained many new found friends and a vast majority of them come from different corners of the globe.
I'm sorry, I'm really trying not to but I'm going to have to digress here. I just have to!

How can a globe have corners? The globe is round! Well, spherical actually. So it definitely can't have any corners! There. I got that out of my system. Sorry.

So, as I was saying. Many of my new found friends come from different parts of the world and they may not be exposed to or may not even have heard of many things that I simply take for granted. By the same token, I have learnt many things from reading the posts of some of my blog friends.

For example, I learnt about Harissa from Jenn - the leftover queen. I have never, ever heard of Harissa before but now I know what it is. Same goes for Chipotle. I had heard that term bandied about before but always assumed it was a kind of sausage, something along the lines of a Chorizo.

Credit goes to Marye of Apron Strings and Simmering Things for educating me on Chipotle - after all, she is probably one of the world's greatest fans of Chipotle. But it's not just about learning new ingredients or recipes. It's about learning something about the other person, about the tradition's they are used to, about the way they go about their lives and about the love that goes into their cooking. And so much more!

That's what I mean by cross cultural exchange. There is so much you can learn from other people and I love learning and sharing - especially when it has to do with different cultures and involves food! *greedy grin*

This weekend (22nd Sept) we decided to pile into the car and take a drive down to Melaka (or Malacca). That brings up another grouse I have. Why are places called different names (or spelt differently) in different languages? Why cant Deutschland be known as Deutschland all over the world and not Germany to the English speaking world, Allemagne to the French and Jerman to the Malay's? You get my drift...

Anyway, so we went to Melaka, which is about a 2 hours drive south of Kuala Lumpur. Melaka is a historical city and was once a bustling port and very famous for its spice trade. It was colonised by the Portugese in 1511, then the Dutch in 1641 and then the British took over in 1824. The Japanese occupied Melaka during the 2nd World War and after the war, it went back to British control until together with the rest of the country declared its independence in 1957.

So much for the history lesson. Back to food now! Melaka is famous for its Gula Melaka or Malacca Sugar, otherwish known as Palm Sugar. Gula Melaka is made from the sap of the flower bud of the coconut tree. Some refer to Gula Melaka as Jaggery but technically, Jaggery is sugar made from the Palmyra Tree, so it IS different!

Gula Melaka is lovely, dark and sweet and is used to flavour and sweeten many desserts in South East Asia - primarily desserts made with Coconut Milk. It is sold in its' solidified form and to use it, you would melt it down to form a lovely thick syrup. The picture below shows Gula Melaka still in its plastic packing. I couldn't take it out as once it is exposed to the humidity, it starts to weep a little and can get rather messy.

Gula Melaka is also one of the main ingredients in Dodol.

You like how I led you to Dodol? Hehehehehe. My son loves this sticky sweet confection. Dodol is made from Coconut Milk, Gula Melaka and Glutinous Rice Flour. Sometimes it is flavoured with Durian, the King of fruits. Dodol takes an extremely long time to make and is a skill in itself. Some people make Dodol at home and sell it at the night market. The taste is definitely different from that which is commercially available. This is a picture of the homemade Dodol from the night market.

Melaka is famous for its Dodol and is sold commercially, nicely packed. We bought a whole heap of plain Dodol as well as Durian Dodol.

Finally, to stock up our pantry, we bought some Sambal Belacan. Belacan is basically a shrimp/prawn paste used to flavour many dishes. Sambal Belacan is basically Chilli pounded and mixed with Belacan to form a paste. Sambal Belacan is delicious fried with Kangkong (Water Convulvolus) or just eaten as a side dish.

The kids had fun visiting all the historical sites in Melaka and they will have fun finishing off the Dodol and other goodies too!

So this is my contribution to cross cultural exchange for this time and hopefully there'll me more!


Anonymous said...

aww..thanks Dharm..I feel special.

And I just happen to have a cone of palm sugar in my pantry...I am wondering what would happen if I made chipotle praline with it...I mean how many cultures can you get in one dish? :)

KJ said...

I agree Dharm. And you are doing a good job. I have never heard of dodol before. Hopefully, I will have a chance to try it one day.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this completely, thanks for the post.

Dharm said...

Marye, KJ, Kim,
Thanks so much for the kind words. Hopefully one day you can all come visit and try the food!

Thistlemoon said...

Hey Dharm!

I love this post! You are after my own heart with this one. I think youcan learn so much from a person by what they eat - then when you start talking about national or regional dishes you get even more of a clue. It teaches you about the people, the environment from where they come (local ingredients and the like). The anthropology of food.

Thans for sharing these delights with us!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I wonder if our local Asian market would carry any of these things. I'm sure they probably might. Thanks for the great post Dharm about things we learn from our fellow bloggers. I have learnt about palm sugar today which I have seen here in our small community and not just in Vancouver.

culinaryprincess said...

I totally agree with you Dharm!Even though I've just started blogging, I've learnt so much from other bloggers about their food and culture.Melaka is a nice small town. I miss their satay celup!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Hey Dharm..I was speaking with my dad on MSN and he wanted me to let you know he was in Port Dickson, KKB, Seremban, Penang and the Cameron Islands when he was in Malaysia.I'm sorry about my spelling. I hope you don't mind me asking you a few questions on your postings? Dad said he loved a Malaysian fruit that was as big as a plum ,with a sweet white interior ,that was a little bit chewy with a pit in the middle. He can't remember the name of it. Also a fruit like an orange but the size of a football. He says one segment would be plenty for 1 person. He also does not remember the name of that fruit as well.

Chef Jeena said...

Hi there you have a great blog,lovely recipes. Feel free to visit my blog too :)

Jeena xx

Click Here For Food Recipes

Dharm said...

Valli, Jen, Jeena and CulPrincess,
It's definitely a lot of fun learning about everyone and everything!

Unknown said...

dodol é o melhor doce que já comi em toda a minha vida
Afectuoso abraço
Portugal, Lisboa


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