You know that you have been accepted by Malaysians when you start getting invitations for weekend food safaris.
This is an indication that locals are happy to go on a food walkabout with you and that they think that you are good company, not another ‘difficult’ foreigner who keeps saying that the food is too spicy and asks tedious questions about whether the food is organic or free range. While many Malaysians themselves prefer ethical and healthy food practices, most are not obsessed with its provenance as long as it tastes good. And if you have a partner who has dietary restrictions, it is best that they have their own social interests to occupy them, freeing you to accept the invitations.
Eating in company is a big part of social acceptance and if you wish to have a wide social network, it is highly advisable that you join in these weekend ventures. For those who want to cultivate business networks, it is probably even more important than after work drinks at a pub; one bonds best over a good meal. Remember all those wedding invitations and festive occasion open houses that you attended? Well, this is stage two.
A typical weekend food quest can be a day trip or even an overnighter, and clock up quite a few kilometres of driving. Some Malaysians drive all the way to Ipoh for bean sprout chicken for lunch, swing by Kuala Selangor for a seafood dinner on a jetty over the river looking out to the Malacca Straits, then drive home to KL. Another popular itinerary, especially with expats, is a drive to Fraser’s Hill for some colonial atmosphere and cool air, then after lunch crossing the Main Range to Pahang and stopping off at Bukit Tinggi for great (and cheap) Chinese food. This is a good foodie trip to do with visiting friends from your home country and really makes you appear like a member of the seasoned cognoscenti expatriate crowd.
Impressing visitors is easy, but locals expect something more. Here is an example of a food safari guaranteed to impress the more knowledgeable of your local friends. You meet your friends at a pre-arranged pick up or, if you are lucky, he collects you from your condominium. You join other friends at a roti canai shop down a side street near Bangsar or a food stall somewhere in Gombak or Kampung Baru. You then drive in convoy up to Ulu Yam Lama, north of Batu Caves on the way to Batang Kali, to have the lor mee in black sauce. After this, you head to Raub for Ratha’s curry fish head, stopping off on the way to buy durians for later.
With lunch out of the way, a trip to a hot spring or the impressive Chamang Falls near Bentong is a good way to aid the digestion. Then a visit to the famous Bentong Ice Cream at Kow Po next to the Hong Leong Bank on the main thoroughfare which, I’m told by vegans, passes their assessment. There are many unusual flavours and one can even have a banana split and ais kacang.
Moving on, you return to KL via the Karak Highway (possibly stopping off to eat at Bukit Tinggi) or head straight for the laksa in Ampang next to a service station.
Finally replete with a day of indulgence, you return home now a fully-fledged expatriate foodie. You have arrived at last.