Thursday, September 24, 2009

Next time, I'm going to Penang

I may have had the worst meal of my life last weekend. We went to one of those pan-Asian places, the kind that serves sushi and pad thai and sometimes, in the spirit of inventiveness, sushi pad thai. Inventiveness is something chefs should keep to themselves, in the wee hours, when no one else is looking. It almost never ends well.

But I didn't go for inventiveness; I went for laksa. I don't know much about laksa, except that it's a Malaysian bowl of noodles and the subject of an entire chapter in The Sugar Club Cookbook, which is a toney London restaurant that serves multi-cultural exotica (spicy kangaroo salad with mint). The Sugar Club makes laksas that are thrillingly full of ingredients, some good (shrimp, coconut, vermicelli noodles, mint, ginger), some not so good (oyster, squid, quail egg, pumpkin). Regardless, give me a big bowl of broth with a bunch of stuff in it, and I'm happy.

My laksa arrived, a large, dry bowl full of noodles and vegetables. The iceberg lettuce was somewhat alarming, but I'm surprisingly open-minded at the beginning of a meal. A smaller bowl containing a chunky curry liquid was set down next. I dispensed the chunky liquid into the noodle bowl and stirred it around with my chopsticks. Then I began to eat.

Immediately I noticed the threads. Tiny, coarse, hair-like threads coated everything - the shrimp, the iceberg lettuce, soon enough my tongue and throat and likely my intestines. I identified them as ginger fibers (or was it the cilia from the cook's nose?), and tried to eat through it. When that didn't work, I tried to eat around it. When that didn't work, I picked up the large lettuce leaf used as garnish, and covered what was left, a funeral shroud on a dead body.

I'm not very assertive in restaurants. Barring a bloody thumb sitting in my kung pao chicken, I usually don't alert the staff to my disappointments. This likely came from dining with my grandmother one too many times. She felt the staff of every restaurant should know exactly how she felt about the food, the service, the light fixtures, and the waitress' cavernous and exposed cleavage. I have never recovered.

So I'm crossing laksa off my list, unless I find myself in Malaysia, and in that case, I will specify, no squid, no pumpkin, and no hair, ginger or otherwise, in my bowl of noodles.

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