Adventure in Malaysia!
We’re in Malaysia for a while! This is to keep friends and family up to date with pictures of the cool things we find and experience (and eat).
Note that if you go to other/archive pages beyond the main one, you have to click on individual post headings to see the pictures.
Durian probably is (or should be) on any list of “extremely strange fruits” out there. Durian literally means “thorny” because of the hard thorny outside shell. They grow on trees, and can actually be dangerous if they fall on you (they vary in size, but are about the size of a human head). Inside the durian, there are segments of yellow flesh surrounding large seeds. The flesh is soft and creamy/sticky, almost like a custard or mashed banana.
The smell and taste, however, is what really makes durian unique. The smell is extremely strong, pervasive, and lingering – durians are banned in a lot of hotels and from most public transportation. Its smell is also very distinctive, and not immediately appetizing (actually pretty unappetizing) unless you’re a fan of durian and have associated it with actually eating durian – it smells a bit like a rotting sweet onion, and comparisons to the smells of sweaty feet, body odor, sewage, and certain petroleum products like gasoline are not uncommon (nor really inaccurate). The exact flavor of durian varies depending on what kind you get (there are a number of different cultivars, each seems to have a somewhat different flavor and price). The general “durian” flavor though is like a sweet pudding, with onion and garlic (sulfur) and toasted almond. The aftertaste leans much more heavily toward the sulfur/onion/garlic taste, with more than a hint of some quality that would be associated with something putrid or fermented. The taste and smell lingers in the mouth and on the hands for quite some time after eating (and burping after eating durian rather seems like you ate a few cloves of raw, possibly rotten garlic). We both like durian quite a bit – like many things though, it’s an acquired taste (and people are always surprised that we have eaten it before AND like it). All kinds of durian products are available – durian cake, durian candy, durian puffs (puff pastry with durian filling), durian ice cream, durian chocolate, durian cendol… We’re probably going to miss durian when we return home.
We went back to Tioman for more SCUBA diving. The island itself is quite beautiful, and we had a room right on the beach.
And I finally got some diving video! I made two versions of the video, the first one is the “short” version which is about 5 minutes long, the second is the extended version and is about 20 minutes long. Both of these videos are available in 1080p quality, but you will probably have to change the video quality setting (it’s the little gear in the bottom menu of the player).
The longer version (it has a lot of cool stuff that had to be cut out of the first version):
Salak, or “snake fruit” gets its name not from actual snakes, but from the scaly brown skin. It actually grows on palm trees. The dry outside peels easily away from the tender inner flesh segments, which have seeds in them (kind of like a mango, the seed is quite attached to the flesh). The edible flesh is silky-soft, like a firm peach (though different variations have different levels of firmness). It smells like a palm tree (which means it smells kind of like pine) with musky undertones. The flavor is intense. It’s sweet, and sour, with an astringent edge like you get from a pineapple or not-quite-ripe kiwi. It tastes kind of like an intense, acidic strawberry-orange-pineapple mix.
The wikipedia article on snake fruit is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salak
Rambutan means “hairy” (why be creative with a fruit name when you can just be descriptive, right?). This fruit is a relative of the lychee, and shares quite a few of the same characteristics. The spines on the skin are actually quite soft, not pokey. Keep an eye out in any sci-fi TV show or movie that has “alien fruits” and you’re likely to spot these funny looking things (and also dragon fruits). The outside is peeled away (or cut, it can be a little thick to peel by hand sometimes) and discarded, and in the center of the white edible flesh is a single large seed (also not eaten, though some times you end up eating a little of it anyway, since it can be really hard to separate the outside of the pit from the flesh). The flesh is like a lychee or grape – slightly springy, soft and wet. It has a sweet and floral flavor (it really tastes almost like a lychee, so if you know what those taste like, you know about what a rambutan tastes like).
There’s a wikipedia article on rambutan here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rambutan
The fruit in Malaysia is interesting, and though a lot of it can be obtained in the USA, it’s usually not as good as it should be or costs quite a bit. This is the first in probably a good number of posts describing some of the fruits (and possibly vegetables) we’ve tried.
A number of fruits here are relatives of or most easily compared to lychee, so it seems prudent to start with a description of lychee fruits.
Lychee fruits have a bumpy exterior skin which is removed to get to the tender white flesh. Inside the white flesh is a single large seed (not generally eaten). The lychee pulp is soft and wet with just a bit of springiness, quite similar to a medium-firm peeled grape. It smells flowery, and the taste is kind of like a flowery sweet grape. You can get these fresh (the best way) or canned (the canning process removes quite a bit of the smell and flavor but they’re still pretty good), and they’re served in many desserts and drinks.
There’s a wikipedia article if you want more information on lychee at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lychee
More fun food stuff.
First, some very iconic must-try dishes from Malaysia and Singapore:
Chili crab. Crab(s) cooked in a sweet chili sauce (generally anywhere from no spiciness up to maybe a medium spicy, depending on who is making it). There aren’t really words to describe how delicious this is, but it is often served with fried buns to help soak up some of the amazing sauce (and let’s be honest, when the buns ran out, we resorted to spoons). This dish is messy, but incredibly worth it.
Black pepper crab. Every bit as delicious as the chili crab (I did not think this was possible), but in a different way. The black pepper sauce isn’t extremely hot, and just balances so incredibly well with the naturally sweet crab meat. Not QUITE as messy as the chili crab, but almost.
Fish head curry. In particular, this one is made with red snapper. We both liked it quite a bit, though I doubt we’ll be trying to replicate the recipe at home (finding fish heads there may be more involved than just stopping at the grocery store).
Some Thai food:
Some assorted Chinese foods:
Wild boar curry
We like going to Desaru beach, it’s not too long of a drive and the beach isn’t very crowded. Here’s a time-lapse video of the drive out there.
While we were there, though, we did get a look at Mount Kinabalu in the distance. It was especially impressive on the boat ride out to the Gaya island when we could see it behind Kota Kinabalu city.
It’s a pretty sneaky mountain though. It can be hard to spot, because the mountains in front of it draw your attention, and it’s far enough away that some clouds are likely to be in front of it.
After a great day of diving, the next morning we checked out the Gaya Street Sunday Market. Imagine everything you’d think would be available for sale at a street market in Asia (all kinds of craft items, food items, fruits and vegetables, spices, meats, oils, skin products, health food and supplements of all levels of credibility, novelty items for tourists), then add: puppies and kittens, live birds (for pets AND for eating later), live reptiles, live fish (again, pets AND food), fruit trees including citrus and multiple varieties of durian, coin purses made out of frogs, and breast milk soap. There are no pictures of any of that, because even if I had tried to take one it would just be a photo of shoulder-to-shoulder people.
And then we went to the Sabah Museum and enjoyed learning more about the history of the region (and checking out their huge whale skeleton). Again, no photos, but this time because the museum requests no photos be taken inside, which is a shame, because the whale skeleton was awesome.
Josh plays ultimate frisbee some weekends with a great group of people. Here’s a video!
In most public restrooms, there are two different types of toilet. First is the standard sit-down stool model that you’d find in the USA. The other kind is the “squatty potty”
Unfortunately in crowded public restrooms, people tend to… camp out… in the stalls with the sit-down toilets. You’ll have to use your imagination and figure out how to best align things when using the squat toilets, because nobody explained it to us either.
One interesting feature of pretty much every bathroom here (public or private) is the “bidet shower”
Some of them are fancy and have a sprayer on the end like this one, but sometimes it’s just a rubber hose attached to a small faucet.
Because of these things, public restroom floors are always wet. Oh, and the toilet paper is located OUTSIDE of the bathroom stalls (because it would just get wet if placed inside) – so if you didn’t remember to grab some before you go in, be prepared to guess how you’re supposed to use a bidet hose to clean off (bonus points for figuring out how to do that while using the squat toilet AND managing not to come out with soaked pants). That, or keep some spare toilet tissue in your wallet, just in case (no joke, that’s a common recommendation here).
And finally, our house does not have a hot water heater and tank. Instead, there are in-line heaters for all of the showers. That does mean there there is no hot water in any of the sinks, but tap water here never gets very far below lukewarm.
They work pretty well, and you never run out of hot water.
As a side note, all of the bathrooms in our house are fully tiled/sealed (including the walls) – so they can be cleaned by removing all of the “stuff” and spraying everything down. This is every bit as awesome as it sounds, and if we ever have to build or remodel a bathroom, this is going to be a major feature!