Food fortunes favour the brave

Food fortunes favour the brave

It was on a bright spring afternoon about 20 years ago when we heard urgent knocking on the front door of our home. When we opened the door, it was our neighbour. “Is everything OK?” he asked in a somewhat irritated tone. “Um, yeah. Why do you ask?” I responded. “There’s this horrible smell coming from over the fence. It smells like some sort of poison gas!” he exclaimed, with his eyes wide open. Up to that point, I hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, and then I realised what it was. Poh Ling Yeow; Foodie; Yeow Family

I invited him in and led him to our outdoor kitchen in our backyard. There we found Auntie Kim, wok in hand, dry-roasting some Belacan (pronounced buh-LAH-chan) – by far the most pungent ingredients in Malaysian cookery. If you think Durian is bad, wait till you get a whiff of this stuff. Growing up in a Malaysian cooking-crazy household, I’ve also grown insensitive to some seriously funky smells to the uninitiated. While it has a Pavlov effect on us, our neighbour thought that we were all going to die! Poh Ling Yeow; Foodie; Yeow Family

To make Belacan, hardened shrimp paste (made from tiny shrimp mixed with salt and fermented) is ground into a smoother paste, then sun dried, shaped into blocks, and allowed to ferment again. Powerful in both smell and taste, belacan is always toasted and used in small quantities in curries and other forms of chilli pastes (e.g. Sambal Belacan) to take it to the next level. Poh Ling Yeow; Foodie; Yeow Family

Trying to describe its taste is like trying to describe what salt tastes like. To understand, you just need to try it. Similar to the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” adage, you should never judge Asian food by its smell. So, next time a trusted (and I emphasise ‘trusted’) friend tries to get you to try something that’s nasally challenging, give it a chance. As with all fortunes, those of the food variety also favour the brave!Poh Ling Yeow; Foodie; Yeow Family



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *