A Friend from Malaysia

As most of you know…

…wait! 

stop malaysia

Never mind. Not many people know this about me, because I haven’t really talked about it on my blog.

Anyway, what you don’t know is that I have a fondness for learning about other cultures: food, travel, history, lifestyles, religion, etc. I’m an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. It’s like those two take me with them on their adventures (culinary) and I always walk away having learned something new about other cultures. And I’m not just talking about food either. They teach you about the people and history too! Nothing tickles my toes more than exploring things that I know absolutely nothing about.  In fact, I should have chosen to do a travel/culinary blog, but alas opted to do humor. Shame on me! Maybe I can figure out a way to do both, yes?

This past Saturday, I was contacted by a lovely young woman from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She read my post, Depression Sucks! and wrote me a heartfelt email, reaching out to help me, as a few of you also did. Her name is Shirley Maya Tan and you can find her blog over at Shirley Maya Tan’s Working Canvas.

By the way, thank you again to all of you who reached out. I can’t tell you how moved I was hearing from all of you. Bloggers are a special group of people. It was an amazing feeling how my outlook was changed after writing that post and reading all of your comments.

Anyway, all of us bloggers have heard it over and over again, that your blog needs to fit into a certain niche. For example, if you are a short fiction writer, blog about short fiction. Are you a tech geek? Well, then write about that. If you are a mommy blogger, then pop out a couple of kids and start typing. Sure, some of us get away with interweaving alternate subject matter in wherever we can. Sometimes it works, and other times, maybe not so much.

When I first explored Shirley’s blog, I tried to figure out what her niche was. I saw that she wrote about Culinary Delights, Family Matters, Life in Malaysia, Sex and Love, Short Fiction, Social Issues, Spirituality, Travels and Adventures, so I poked around for quite a while. I found myself getting lost in her posts. And you know what? IT WORKS! Her blog works! Of all those topics that she writes, I get a Malaysian perspective and learned something everywhere I perused.  It was an awesome experience and lesson.

What that taught me was that maybe blogs don’t really need a specific niche, because maybe — JUST MAYBE! — someone from another country is getting my “All American,” perspective. True, they might have found my blog looking for something specific, but maybe by perusing alternate topics, they too just might learn something new. I think it’s time I changed up my blog a little and by doing that, it doesn’t mean that I have to toss the humor out with the trash. Maybe pigeon-holing myself into a humor niche or my personal life stories or observations, I just might be limiting myself and not showing that I can do quite a few things.

Anyway, I’d like for you to take a look at a post from Shirley, originally written on February 17, 2013. I’m hosting it here with her permission. It’s light, fresh, and nostalgic, without being too wordy — a perfect mix, if you ask me. You didn’t ask me, but I’m telling you anyway. You’re welcome.
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The Morning Wet Market & The Breakfast of Champions

I am not usually a morning person.

However, this morning I decided to drag myself out of bed and venture to the morning wet markets. As a child, I used to accompany my mother to these wet markets to buy fresh produce. It was the only way to shop in those days — before the big supermarket chains changed the way we bought our groceries.

the morning wet market malaysia

At the break of dawn, these fresh produce and meat sellers would procure their products from the farms and suppliers. Then they will assemble their products in their own carts or stalls at a specified area. Yes, the area is zoned for a wet market with the condition that they will dismantle everything and leave the said area by 12 noon or the set time. It is usually a large parking spot that has been turned to a wet market like the one pictured above. After 12 noon, it will be returned to its original status as a parking lot. It is always busiest between 9:00am and 10:00am.

In Malaysia, these markets are called wet markets because the ground is literally wet:

ground level wet market

You can find all things “fresh” here — vegetables, fruits, seafood, meat, etc. I have not taken a picture of the hanging fresh cut meats. It has never been a pretty sight to behold in my books. What I do enjoy going through are the vegetables and fruits. Every stall owner would mind their own space, careful not to over-step the boundaries of another.

vegetables galore malaysia

fruits malaysia

fish mongers malaysia

A wet market is never complete without the usual “traditional” breakfast stall-sellers. There is the “nasi lemak” lady with her own small table set up. “Nasi Lemak” is a staple breakfast diet for most Malaysians. It is basically coconut milk-infused cooked rice served with a half of a hard boiled egg, some fried anchovies, roasted peanuts, slices of cucumber and accompanied by the famous spicy “sambal” sauce. Then it is all wrapped up nicely in banana leaf.

nasi lemak lady malaysia

nasi lemak unwrapped malaysia

These days, there are several variations to the original “nasi lemak.” There are even gourmet versions whereby you can add “chicken rendang” or “beef rendang,” fried chicken, etc. “Rendangs” are traditional Malay-styled curries but in a dry form, unlike the soupy curries that we usually see. These “rendangs” are always loaded with spices and exude a wonderful enticing aroma when done well.

Another local favourite breakfast diet is the “Chee Cheong Fan.” It is essentially made of rice flour and rolled into individual long cylinder pieces, similar to the rice flour “Cheong Fans” in Chinese Restaurants for “Dim Sum.” However, these are plain “Cheong Fans” — without any meat fillings.

chee cheong fan stall malaysia These are usually eaten with fish balls, fish cakes of different varieties and drenched in sauce. We have a choice of sauces – from curry, to spicy to sweet. I usually pack all three just because I do appreciate variety. Of course, we can pick anything that we like to go with the “Chee Cheong Fan”. The stall above sells all kinds of tofu and soy products to go along with the “Chee Cheong Fan.”

chee cheong sauces malaysia

chee cheong fan served at home malaysia

And this is usually how I eat mine – drenched in a mixture of the sweet and spicy sauce. Yes, in the end, the curry sauce was left aside :(

fav combi chee cheong malaysia

Lastly, another local delight which one may not find in Western countries – the “Putu Mayam.” It is another childhood fave of mine. It is a sweet rice-vermicelli-looking dish that is served with grated coconut and “gula melaka” (coconut palm sugar). Here, at the wet market, an Indian man sells it straight from a box off his motorcycle.

putu mayam malaysia

coconut for putu mayam malaysia

putu mayam packed to go malaysia

The “Putu Mayam” is the perfect ending to my entire breakfast. Yes, I started off with the “nasi lemak” which is traditionally Malay, then moved onto the “Chee Cheong Fan” which stems from a Chinese culture and ended with the Indian “Putu Mayam.”

Naturally, there are much more varieties in a Malaysian cuisine in terms of breakfasts. I am just highlighting one small part of my Sunday morning. The cities all around Malaysia are buzzing with all kinds of people waking up, and venturing out of their homes in search for their favourite Malaysian breakfasts by now.

This is the glorious privilege of living in Malaysia. Our breakfasts are created from our colourful and diverse communities. To me, IT IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS.

In fact, in most households, it is not surprising to find that the dining table would feature dishes from different races. In my family home, our meals are as colourful and diverse as our motherland, Malaysia. This is what “One Malaysia” tastes like :)

May we always enjoy the beauty and harmony of being Malaysians, living in Malaysia.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.
Peace to all :)
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________See? I love it. It’s the perfect mixture of text and photos. But there’s something else that Shirley is trying to accomplish. See…in Malaysia, “Freedom of Speech and Press,” is a little sticky. Not as free as it is in the USA, but not as strict as in say, China. It’s sort of in between the two. She told me that most Malaysia bloggers discuss food, lifestyle, and fashion, but she chose to include alternate topics, like love, sex, relationships, and being a single parent. She asked me to choose a post that spoke to me, and while this is about food, it did indeed speak to me. It’s also hones in on a little bit of nostalgia and definitely tradition, which is something I’m rather fond of.
You can also read one of her posts about being a single parent and dating in Malaysia. It’s quite different than it is here. I’m hoping that she’ll let me post it here as well, maybe next week.
Anyway, Shirley wants to build a community where everyone can bond by sharing their own voice and unique perspectives…to make a human connection.
I’ve asked her to do her own guest blog and since she came to school in the United States, I’d love to hear about her thoughts and experiences here, compared to her own culture. Maybe compare and contrast, yes? Sounds like fun to me!

Is there anything that you’d like to learn about?

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GK Adams

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  • Cyndi

    What a cool post, Gina. I agree: niche is overrated. I mean, how can you just talk about one thing all the time, day after day? A while ago, I decided not to even try. So I talk about photography and art and life and it’s kind of like an online art journal for me. Shirley’s blog sounds amazing and I have ta say yours is, too. :)

  • Cheryl Nicholl

    Good Morning Gina! What I love about this post is that your responding to last week’s ‘conversation’ ;) with that full-on Gina no-BS. Perfect. ANd… also sharing with us someone else. Perfect x2! I so agree with you about the niche conundrum. Who the heck can stick to one subject? and yet the blog posts should, somehow, blend. Shirley’s blog does this beautifully. I’m putting her on my daily roll!

  • http://www.facebook.com/francene.stanley Francene Stanley

    Great to learn about the food from other cultures. I’m glad you’ve looked at the way you blog from a different perspective. I use news stories to jog my memories.

  • Emelie Samuelson

    Thanks for sharing this! What an awesome read!! :)

  • Lissa

    I think you should incorporate those other subjects into your blog! I
    know the rule of thumb is to stick with one niche but if you think about
    it we are all made up of different niches. I write about whatever moves
    me at the time or about things I think others would like to hear about
    whether it’s psychology, politics, fun, mental stuff, etc. Sure, I love
    getting followers and visitors, readers and commenters, but I write my
    blog for me mostly. It’s sort of like coolant is to a car engine…if I
    didn’t have a place to ‘vent’ my crazy thoughts and overactive brain,
    I’d blow a gasket in my mind! Write what you want, Gina! I will read it
    all! : )

  • Phil Holtberg

    Sometimes not having a set niche is the best way. I think my blog falls into that category. Even though it’s a NYC based blog I am all over the place. This post was great as I love to check out other lands, food, and lifestyles. Yes, I am a big Bourdain fan too. He lives near me!

  • Deb Claxton

    I enjoyed reading this guest post. Farmer’s Markets and local fresh ingredients are becoming really popular here as we start to become more like other countries and their open air markets.