new love of my life

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Miss Fats is devastated.  She writes to you en flight to Taiwan, where she soars away from the new love of her life: peanut pancake.  Miss Fats has been having an affair abroad with this insanely tasty treat.  It’s crack: she looks for it everywhere: hawk eyes constantly in search of her next fix.  But she needs to take a step back and tell you about how they first met, for it came as a serious surprise that hit like lightening on a hot, sticky day in Melaka…

Miss Fats and T had been wandering the streets of this tiny historical town for two days.  They’d been lost more time than they could count and nearly killed trying to bike on the opposite side of the roads.  She’d like to stress the absurdity of their directional problems: 1. Miss Fats has an excellent sense of direction; 2. Melaka is tiny: no more than 3-2 km from one side to the other.  Yet for some reason this town was seriously screwing with any form of navigation.  Finally succumbing to the nonsense of the city’s twisting streets, alleys, and roundabouts, they adopted a slow and circuitous roll through the sleepy town.  Now this was relatively early on in Miss Fats vacation, so T was still seriously whining about the walking.  After baking in the hot sun and being “forced” to walk from one neighborhood to the other (literally 3 blocks), they stopped at a row of street vendors selling fresh fruit, noodles and drinks.  T immediately went for the cendol, a super sweet and creamy coconut jelly drink, while Miss Fats eyed the lone old man with an almost-bare cart sitting right beside them.  Peeling red letters on his hot window announced “Apam Balik, 2 RM.”  It was a standard roadside cart that housed two gas burners and a two-tired window unit with shelves that typically displayed the heaps of ingredients that went into the vendor’s freshly prepared meals.  Instead, Miss Fats spotted a single, folded cake: an unassuming, thick, semi circle that could have easily slipped right past her.  However Miss Fats looked more closely at the cake, the burners and quiet old man sprinkled bits over the two cast iron pans in front of him.  She zeroed in on that cake and it hit her what she’d stumbled upon: mother fucking peanut pancake.

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She’d heard of this peanut pancake before: it had come up in her research into Singapore’s hawker fair, and was flagged as a “must try” for breakfast.  They’d spent their last day in Singapore desperately trying to track down the treat before departing to Malaysia.  Not knowing too much about this morning treat, they were unsure if it would be accessible once leaving the city, moving it to the top of their list.  They’d spotted one stall at Tekka Market, a couple of days before, so they planned to return for one last treat before catching their bus out of town.  Unfortunately when they arrived to the hawkers center they found the stall closed and no other vendors offering the mysterious cake.  Miss Fats was beyond disappointed.  She was pretty damn defeated, feeling that she’d failed Singapore and herself (Miss Fats does not miss out on peanut desserts).

So, when she caught a glimpse of what looked like toasted, crushed peanuts peeking out from in between the golden brown fold of that thick cake in the old man’s cart window, she completely freaked out.  Gesturing for T to come and inspect the mysterious item, she shared her hypothesis. This was it: the illusive peanut pancake.  Miss Fats is pretty sure she literally shook with excitement as she marched up to the old man and ordered one up right away.  Eyeing the cake batter bubbling away at on the burner, she pointed, asking for “that one” instead.  “Fresh! You wait!” the old man responded with a laugh.  Miss Fats eagerly nodded and took a seat at a plastic table beneath a tarp tent on the roadside.  T left in search of cendol, and ended up making friends with the juice man (of course).  In a few minutes, peanut pancake man brought Miss Fats the bundle of goodness, wrapped in newspaper and steaming hot.  Once T returned she carefully opened the precious package, revealing the semi-circle cake cut into snack-size pieces, ready for consumption.  Even though it was a bit too hot to the touch, Miss Fats picked up the fresh cake and took a big bite.  Mouth orgasm.  It was thick, springy, and slightly chewy: somewhere between a damn good pancake and crumpet.  The cake was then perfectly moistened with a center of sweet and salty crunchy peanut goodness (at this point Miss Fats had no idea what form of crack this was).  Then she hit the corn.  So weird.  So good.  She found the cake to be dotted with hits of creamed sweet corn that were like bursts of starchy sweet that managed to bring out just the right amount of sweetness in the cake and provide a bright contrast to the richness of and salt from the peanuts.  Brain gobbledy gook.  She was smitten.  Life/brain explosion beyond repair.

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Nomming hard on this cake, Miss Fats announced about two minutes later that she must order another one.  There were no other options: she had to have the ability to consume this cake at all times.  She marched back up to the small quiet man behind the stall, who continued to work away over those hot pans, sprinkling peanut crack and magic all over bubbling batter goodness.  Miss Fats asked for another with a dopey huge grin on her face.  He seemed rather amused by her enthusiasm as he gestured toward the fresh one cooking up on the second burner.  Miss Fats then brought out her camera, asking to snap a couple of pictures of the treat as it sizzled away.  To her delight, he seemed just as enthusiastic about showing her the process.  With a big smile on his face, in broken English, he showed her each of the magical sprinkles that went down to create perfect pancake sandwich heaven.

Quickly wiping down the scorching hot pan with butter, a big spoon full of batter is thrown down which immediately forms bubbles, creating the fluffy, doughy texture of the cake.  He sprinkled a healthy dose of toasted, crushed peanuts, a little shredded coconut, sugar and honey.  This continued to cook as he added more layers of peanut and sugar, ending with a final flourish: the sweet corn.  Peanut pancake man pulled out a can of sweet creamed corn, and using a spoon he carefully dotted the cake with just a kernel here and there.  With each blot he made a little noise to emphasize the move: Miss Fats realized she was watching pure genius.  She was a goner at that point.  Her heart only belongs to one now: peanut pancake man.

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Miss Fats took her bag containing the treasure wrapped up for consumption in the (near) future.  A few hours later, planning their last day in Melaka, Miss Fats announced that she would need to return to peanut pancake man.  There was just no way around it.  She had to consume as much of his salty sweet goodness while she could.  It was like her damn life source at this point: life sans cake wasn’t really an option at this point.  The only problem was that due to their mindless wandering and complete lack of orientation skills in the town, getting back to that little street would prove problematic.  They had only stumbled upon it after countless turns and hours of walking, so retracing steps wasn’t exactly the best option.  However, the next day, assured by the spiritual bond that now held Miss Fats and Peanut Pancake man together, they set off in search of his nondescript cart.  As they hesitantly took turns and tried to find familiar streets, Miss Fats dreaded the reality that it was a Tuesday and there was a damn good chance he wouldn’t be working.  Stress trickled down her back as they walked through the sweaty streets of Melaka, and she tried to reassure herself that what she and Peanut Pancake man had was forever: she would get that cake.  And she was right: they were connected.

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There was Peanut Pancake man, quietly cooking away, creating those perfect, folded sweet salty treats of joy.  Miss Fats basically skipped up to his cart and ordered two.  She hoped he recognized her from the day before, but honestly she has no idea.  He muttered something and pointed to a fresh one he was in the process of making.  Their secret brain language indicated that he was making a special fresh one just for her.  Needless to say, Miss Fats hoarded that pancake like it was gold.  Let’s get real: it’s basically twenty-four carat crack.

Since that first magical afternoon with Peanut Pancake Man, Miss Fats kept her eye out for them everywhere she went, but found them to be harder to come by than expected.  This was a huge problem.  She craved peanut pancake all day, everyday, and her stash only lasted her about 48 hours.  Kuala Lumpur and Cameron Highlands proved fruitless in the peanut pancake department and it wasn’t until they arrived in Penang that she was able to get her hands on one of those perfectly toasty, peanutty folds of joy.

In an effort to explore the island of Penang, Miss Fats and T rented a couple of mopeds to get outside the city of Georgetown.  While driving along the coast, out to the northern-most tip of the island, aptly named “the end of the world,” Miss Fats spotted a lone stand selling her prized peanut pancake.  She blasted three short honks (their code to pull over) at T, who was in the lead.  However, failing to adhere to their driving language she carried on all the way out to the park about a mile further down the road.  It wasn’t until they’d reached their destination that Miss Fats caught up, yelling at T that she’d broken their code and caused her to miss out on the salty sweet snack.  Naturally she demanded they return to the vendor.

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Upon arriving Miss Fats was introduced to a new form of the pancake.  Instead of the fluffy, slightly chewy cake that had hooked her, she found a crispy fold stuffed with the same goodness.  This version was more taco-like, with a slightly chewy, wafer-like shell that provided a delightful vehicle for all the buttery, peanut corn action.  Not the same, but still totally satisfying.  This version was much less expensive and smaller version that seemed to be the “snack” form of the fluffy pancake to be devoured immediately while still piping hot and crispy.  She likes to think this was the crepe-like version of the original.  She was into it.  Standing on the roadside with her peanut taco, damp from sweat and the light drizzle, bits of filling falling onto her shirt was total sensorial overload: the stuff of magic dream time.

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Now Miss Fats will spare you a detailed account of every pancake consumed in the last month (thought if anyone would like to hear about the delicate differences, she’d be happy to oblige), and she’ll skip right to her last days in Malaysia.  Way north, on the insanely beautiful island of Langkawi, Miss Fats had gone a whole forty-eight hours without a peanut pancake fix.  Their time in Malaysia was ending and she was beginning to fear that she might never get her hands on one ever again.  This island, despite its amazing landscape, lacked in the food department and tended to favor flavors closer to Thai.  She was afraid that their trek north had taken them too far from the cakey goodness of those roadside pancakes and ushered in a new realm painted with yam ice cream (more to come on that).  They’d spent the day riding around the island (again on rented mopeds) and finally found their way to a small night market for dinner.  They were on a serious food mission: they had limited time before they needed to return their bikes for the evening and raging appetites from all that damn nature they’d taken in.  About five stalls in Miss Fats noticed a man perched over a hot grill serving up something remarkably close to her beloved pancake.  Only these little versions were small, oblong crepes that he quickly fried, flipped and finally scraped off the grill, causing them to fold perfectly in half.  He then stuffed them with a mixture of peanut or kaya (the greatest coconut crack jam of all time).  Miss Fats basically ran to him and ordered up.  The excess of emotion at that moment was probably too much for T to handle.  Miss Fats was so damn excited to get one last bite of pancake before she left this magical land.  She probably could have cried.

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They continued their stroll in search of dinner only to find about three stalls later another peanut pancake operation.  Only this time they had all three forms: fluffy, crispy, and bite size.  Despite just having consumed two pancakes Miss Fats ran up with just as much enthusiasm and ordered a big fluffy one.  Joy Joy Joy.  How does it get better?  They discovered they had basically found the peanut pancake market: there seemed to be a vendor offering up at least one form of the perfect treat every three to four stalls, sending Miss Fats into pure salt-sweet heaven overload.  Needless to say all forms were consumed and pancakes were taken to go.

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Now that Miss Fats departs the land of magical peanut she remains loyal to that original pancake.  Peanut Pancake Man and Miss Fats are bonded for life (whether he likes it or not): he changed her mouth-life that day and hooked her on a nut drug that she’ll probably spend the rest of her life trying to find and recreate.  In fact, she’ll probably just quit life, move into a hut and work on her perfect canned corn to peanut sprinkle ratio. If Miss Fats goes missing you know where to find her.  Kind of.

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