We spent a week with friends from our overseas teaching days, the Mangelsdorfs – Max, Lisa, Lucas, Ethan and Ana. They were sort of our inspiration for this trip. Two years ago they took a year-long sabbatical from their work and school at International School of Kuala Lumpur to travel around the US. We are doing the same, but in the opposite direction. We loved re-connecting with their family and with the food of Malaysia! So many different cultures and cuisines.
When the Mangelsdorf five visited us two years ago in Bellingham, and Mia and Ana discovered they had many similar interests including reading, animals, people and couch time! So as soon as we arrived, the girls disappeared into Ana’s room to catch up on the latest good reads. Every time I tried to take Ana and Mia’s photo, Ana dove below my camera, so Mia/Ana photos are sparse, but here is one I caught.
After dinner that first night (home-cooked burritos, mmmm!), Ana and Mia discovered they both play flute in the band with the same style. They are both “fake flutists.” Apparently its a way for non-band kids to be in band. I can’t say I am a fan of the method, but we all cracked up when we discovered another shared interest.
The next morning, Mia and Ana went with Lisa to fetch the Mangelsdorf dogs, who were being dogsat by friends. There, the girls shared an equal squeeley love for animals. A few days later they went to play with rescue dogs and puppies at the SPCA together, and now every day Mia is figuring out a way for us to end our trip in KL so she can adopt “Cinnamon.” As if we would need a second dog to get Josie excited at the mailman!
The similarities finally started to break down when eating began. Our first adventure was “nasi candor,” Indian breads and naan dipped in delicious spicy sauce for breakfast. Ana and the rest of the kids feasted, while Mia left out the “e” from feast, finally nibbling some plain naan under duress.
The next night we were joined by more overseas friends, Rita and Lyle. We ubered downtown for some open air, street Chinese food. The weather was a little bit hot and rainy, and traffic snarled up within a couple blocks of the restaurant. So we all hopped out of the cars to walk the rest. At that exact moment, the rain increased to a proper northwest drencher. We zig-zagged from street umbrella to awning to food stall, but basically got soaked.
Upon arrival at the restaurant, the staff quickly set up overlapping umbrellas and extension cords for lights to buffer us against the growing torrent. It was as if the air had lifted the entire Indian Ocean and was dumped it directly onto Kuala Lumpur from one of those giant water park buckets. Then, the cracks of lightning and thunder started – great ambiance, really.
We ordered something called “chicken fish.” None of the wait staff really spoke English, so we still don’t know what it is. But it was delicious! We also tried calamari, stingray, greens, beers and staying dry. Everything was prepared to perfection, (except the staying dry part).
At this point, we re-visit Mia and Ana. They were sitting together, but having very different experiences. Mia was hungry, so she ate some fried calamari. Amy didn’t tell her that it was squid until later. Very funny reaction, “you made me eat a squid??!! But mom, you told me…” Mia couldn’t stomach the fish. She was nearly in tears at her lack of options, until sweet and sour chicken came to the rescue, and she chowed. Ana ate it all, that girl likes it spicy!
For dessert, we spied a cart selling “fried durian,” allegedly an Asian delicacy. To me, it is disgusting and smells of gym locker socks. Perfect for a food challenge. Max offered any kid 5 Ringgit (about $1) to eat the full piece of stinky fruit. Porter, Lucas, Ethan, and their friend Ruby all rose to the challenge. When we pushed Mia, she deflected our cajoling, “do you REMEMBER the last time I ate something for money? It did NOT go well.” She was referring to a holiday when uncle Adam convinced her to eat a huge black olive for $5. She tried, gagged and nearly puked. This time she was wiser, though she did take a nibble for the experience.
Our last two dinners were incredible – amazing Indian food, followed by a Fourth-of-July taste explosion: Chinese dumplings at Din Tai Fung. The highlight were little dumplings filled with shrimp and pork filling, called “Xiao long bao.” Eating them was a delightful kinesthetic and gastronomic experience. There were steps to the eating:
- Make the dipping sauce. Choose-your-own-amounts of soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili, and pickled ginger, as spicy as desired.
- Scoop a bit of sauce into your spoon.
- Plop a steaming hot dumpling into the sauce in spoon.
- Pierce the dumpling a couple times with a chopstick, and press down gently to allow the piping hot juices from the pork/shrimp mix to form a slurry of, my god, can you smell it yet?
- Wait to cool a bit.
- Suck that dollop of goodness into your mouth. Though I’ve said this before about other foods, it was one of the greatest taste sensations I’ve experienced. I think the restaurant is a global chain actually, and just opened a location in Seattle. Yum! Even Mia liked the dumplings, without sauce of course.
If you are counting, you might notice that Mia has now tried squid, Chinese dumplings, and last night she put a bit of Cambodian curry on her rice. She may not appear the adventuresome type as far as food goes, but she is doing it. Amy and I are very proud of her stepping out of her comfort zone on this trip.
We ended our Malaysia visit to a local children’s hospital. The hospital is specifically for kids with leukemia or other blood related cancers. Max and Lisa regularly bring their students and kids to the hospital to play with kids and give them a different experience. The hospital is very popular with families, as the beds and rooms are big enough for several people to stay, and the care is very good. In every room, on nearly every bed, collections of parents, siblings and grandparents gathered around their child in treatment. People slept, laughed, ate, and played games, anything to make a foreign, scary place seem loving and nurturing.
We had bought some coloring books and balloons, and just sat down to draw with kids, or played balloon catch. I was really impressed by Lucas and Ana’s comfort with kids and families. It took me a little longer to get comfortable, but once I joined with Ana and Mia at a 5-year old girl’s bed, she and mom just crawled their way into my heart. Mom was very open about her 5-year old’s illness, they found out she had leukemia only one month ago. Now they were in KL for several months of chemo treatments. The girl loved princesses, and seemed to enjoy coloring with Mia/Ana. Porter settled into a game of balloon catch with another ten-year-old, while Max walked about adding little bits of fun to many kids . It was a lovely ribbon to a marvelous gift of a week. Thanks for the great hospitality Mangelsdorfs!
Here is a gallery of a few more photos: