Anyone who's worked in the catering industry will be familiar with the phenomenon known as 'waiter's crack'. I have been suffering from this particular ailment for the past 24 hours. But my sweating/walking induced ailment pales into insignificance in comparison to the cuisine related pain i have suffered thus far in Kuala Lumpur...
I know that there is amazing food somewhere in this city, but as yet i am yet to find it. After our late night arrival in the city our first meal consisted of crisps and nuts - so far this has arguably been the highlight!
Malaysia is inhabited by three distinct groups: the Malays, Indians and Chinese. We have eaten food from all of these groups. We have eaten in places where it seems Westerners usually fear to tread. We've eaten at street markets. We've eaten in small family run restaurants. We've eaten in fancy food courts. But so far, nothing has ignited my palate. Dishes are memorable for the wrong reasons. Condiments are the most flavoursome component of our dinner. It surely shouldn't be like this? Where are we going wrong?
Freshness seems to be low on the list of priorities here. Many food outlets have massive trays of precooked food on display and your dinner largely consists of food culled from these bain-maries of overdone meat/soggy vegetables. Because of this flavours are indistinct, food is served at tepid temperatures and often is far greasier than you might expect. Fresh herbs and spices are conspicious by their absence.
Probably the best meal we've had was in a traditional Chinese restaurant. Having eschewed dishes such as marinated chicken claws we decided to settle on a pork dish which was very similar to the kind of 'ginger and spring onion' dish you might expect in an average UK takeaway. It was accompanied by a chicken claypot which consisted of a petit-poulet in a thin gravy: almost as thin as the chicken itself! An overcooked accompaniment of steamed greens swimming in soy added little but fibre to a disappointing mealtime.
We've also eaten indiscriminate seafood (i only know it once lived in the ocean cos i could see its tentacles) from a shopping centre foodcourt, dry nasi goreng from a restaurant which seemed puzzled to see Westerners at their table and dreadfully greasy noodle dishes from a street stall at the Indian Night Market.
I'd like to think that so far we've made some bad choices and been unlucky. But having spoken to other backpackers it seems that many of them have found something similar. The proliferation of Nandos, McDonalds, Burger Kings and KFCs whose very presence profoundly depressed me upon my arrival are beginning to look increasingly enticing. But the thought of flying halfway around the world only to buy a Double Rodeo Burger flies in the face of logic and seems to undermine the very reason i embarked on this trip.
Food was always likely to be a massive part of my travels and i'd been looking forward to getting stuck into some Malaysian cuisine for a long, long time. I remain hopeful that i'll find the flavours i'm searching for. Things can only get better after an inauspicious start...