I’ve recently started a new job which means meeting lots of new people. Meeting new people inevitable leads to the ‘so whereabouts in Austra… errr… New Zealand are you from?’ question which swiftly dovetails into all the who, what, when, and always the whys. Almost every Brit I’ve met seems to think it’s outrageous that we Kiwis would want to leave the luscious green land we call home for a smog smothered land that is London. Perhaps it’s something to do with them thinking our whole country is Middle Earth; breaking the news that it’s not is like telling a child the truth about Santa…
Once they get over that bombshell, they ask if I’m homesick, to which I usually reply… not really. More surprised looks ensue. Of course I miss my family but a couple of years away isn’t that long, and we’re always texting and skyping each other so it’s pretty much the same as being there!
Except recently I’ve been thinking it’s not. Now, I’ve surprised myself.
You can’t lounge around on the couch with your siblings watching rubbish movies, you can’t listen to your mum natter on about who she bumped into at the supermarket whilst she makes you a cake to take home, and you can’t wait impatiently at the dinner table for your dad to finish cooking your favourite meal… seeing it on instagram just isn’t the same, I learnt the hard way. Honestly, New Zealand in general I could take or leave, but it’s those moments I miss.
Naturally I turned to food to cure my minor homesick hiccup; I needed a dose of Malaysian food and I knew just the place to go – Sambal Shiok’s new residency at The Sun & 13 Cantons. All the gorgeous photos I saw on twitter and instagram really raised my expectations, but my standards are always high for laksa and nasi lemak – two of my favourite dishes and two which I think my dad makes extremely well. I’m probably a little biased but I swear, the man knows how to make a kick ass rendang and sambal.
As it happens, Mandy from Sambal Shiok knows the secret to them too. This probably explains why the place was already heaving at 630pm on a Wednesday night but we did manage to get a table for an hour or so before the next booking arrived. Before diving into the mains, I couldn’t resist the Hainan dumplings as I thought these might be like the chai kueh, a steamed vegetable filled dumpling with a soft, slightly chewy wrapper, my mum makes which I absolutely adore. I think my Malaysian dumpling knowledge is a little rusty as these weren’t quite the same; the carrot and radish filling had a great crunch and freshness but the thick wrapper let the side down, resulting in a lacklustre, doughy parcel.
But I wasn’t here for the dumplings, I was here for the nasi lemak… or the laksa… noodles or rendang… It was a tough decision, one which I, being as obsessive and indecisive as I am, mulled over all day. Yes, I was already thinking about this dilemma before lunch, such thoughts are normal in my life. Anyway, despite noodles being my comfort food, I ended up ordering the nasi lemak with beef rendang and left a certain someone to take on a laksa. I can assure you this was no hardship as he’s become quite enamoured with the combination of noodles, chicken, prawns, and tofu puffs in a spicy curry broth.
This laksa is very good; you know instantly from the richness that someone’s been tending to this broth for a while, letting the flavours such as lemongrass, chilli, turmeric, coriander and a whole heap of other spices really develop. It’s sweeter than the version I grew up with but that’s the nature and beauty of Malaysian food, while the fundamentals may be the same, the variations can be endless.
The beef rendang for the nasi lemak was also a bit different to what I’m used to; that sweetness was there again, and an underlying hint of coconut I expected was either very faint or not present at all. Not that it suffered from this omission because it still had an incredible warmth of spice and the tenderness of the meat was perfect.
However, the star of the nasi lemak was the sambal; everything about it brought back memories of my dad cooking up a giant batch in our small kitchen, suffocating us in the chilli fumes. Sambal Shiok’s version is honest and fiery. I like that they haven’t toned it down, it’s hot but not that burn your mouth and ruin your tastebuds hot: you can still taste the balance of sweet and saltiness of the sauce. Just a bowl of coconut rice with a side of sambal and fried anchovies and I would have been a very happy girl indeed. Might be time to order a few jars now…
A dose of a Malaysian dinner was just what the doctor ordered to banish the homesick blues… and now the countdown is on to the real thing… I am looking forward to seeing my somewhat overwhelming, sometimes crazy, but utterly loveable family in October when we’ll be rendezvousing in Malaysia!
Cue the endless bowls of laksa, plates of nasi lemak, all the rotis, and many rolls of popiah, another one of my favourites!
So tell me, do you live away from your family and get a little homesick?
Or do you love Malaysian food as much as I do?!