Wednesday, 26 September 2007
It is a culture for everyone to have their own crisps to snack on and over here there are many types of traditional crisps, either of seafood origin or vegetable being the primary favourites. For the Malays, there are also crisps that is particular to certain areas like the famous keropok lekor that has become widely accepted to be considered as a national dish, although this was preceded by the dried version or keropok kering as it is usually called. Yet there are some crisps that was brought over from their hereditary homes that although not so widespread, still has a good enough market that it is common for even the roti man to stock them on their rounds. Thus you can find some of these hanging from their motorcycles.
The first crisps or what I shall continue calling it by the vernacular malay name keropok is the keropok palembang, the curly crips hanging beside the prominent prawn keropok on the bike. When I was young, these keropoks was only easily available near Tanjung Malim, so at the time when we journeyed between KL and Ipoh and made a stop at Tanjung Malim, in addition to the compulsory Yik Mun pau keropok palembang is another must buy. Originally coloured red, you can find it now in multi-coloured hues and the latest version is it comes in small conical swirl shells like those at the back of the bike, which actually brings out the flavour and makes it far tastier. The reason is that if the keropok is stale, it tastes terrible unlike normal keropoks as the oil gives it a very offish taste. You can test for staleness by trying to click a chip off the crisp, since if there is no clicking sound that is a sure sign that the keropok is not fresh. Over here the normal flavour is prawn, but when I googled I found that in Palembang itself the primary flavour is fish. I guess the taste was modified when it assimilated into local society.
Another keropok that was popularly sold in Tanjung Malim but still is uncommon elsewhere is called Opak. These are large round tapioca discs made of tapioca flour naturally, but spiced up with some chilli powder and spices but not so much that it becomes hot. Nonetheless there are some who has already modified the opak into smaller sambal coated discs, much like hot tapioca chips but this is not to my taste. The original taste of natural sweetness and saltiness from the inherent monosodium in the tapioca(not a food for those averse to MSG eh) combined with the crisp nature of the opak gives you a satisfactory feeling that is quite undescribable. I sometimes pour onto it or dip the pieces into condensed milk to give it extra edge. A peculiar taste not for verybody I guess. Oh yeah before I forget, this is one large crisp and you actually need to break off pieces from the opak in order to eat it, as amply shown by the photo. And yes the reason Tanjung Malim seems to be a source of these treats is because it has a concentration of Indonesian migrants who has kept their traditional food alive through backyard industries, though sadly since the opening of the highway such foods are getting scarcer.
And finally let's talk about emping meninjo or belinjo, the increasingly popular keropok that has been elevated into fine dining starters by such restaurants like Sundanese. The west may have their corn flakes but here it is the meninjo flakes that takes centre stage. There is not much to say about the piquant and salty crisps except to say that it was an acquired taste by me, made more tolerable again by sprinkling sweet condensed milk in my boyhood just like kellogg's frosties but now it tastes great as it is to me, dipped into a sambal. Made from flatten meninjo nuts, it serves as comfort food for me though its price has risen commensurate with its increasing status. With a wide variety of appearance, i prefer the smaller sized as it is easier to dip into the sambal though I do nibble it like plain keropok when the munchies attack hits me.