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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serious biryani business

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Miss Fats apologizes for the radio silence in the last week or so.  She feels like she left you all hungry and hanging with that last post.  The good news is that she is alive, well, and most importantly, full in Malaysia.  She’d like to say more about her time in Seattle, but figures you all deserve a little taste of what’s been happening in Asia. She promises a proper instagram round up of her second week in the PNW in the coming week (there were many new tasty adventures had).

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But first Miss Fats needs to introduce you to the biryani pot.  The first four days of her trip were spent running around Singapore like a crazy person.  T and Miss Fats have never been more sweaty and disgusting in their lives as they ate their way across the city’s mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malaysian cuisines.  All long food stand lines were joined, all types of animal consumed, almost always with their hands (much more to come on this).  However on their last day, dripping in sweat from carrying their bags a whole eight blocks from the hotel to the MRT, they stopped for a breakfast at a banana curry shop just outside the Kallang rail station.  This wasn’t the first time T and Miss Fats had found themselves in this particular spot.  Just two days prior, T, always peering onto plates of unsuspecting restaurant patrons, had insisted they stop for a particularly tasty looking steaming flat bread with mysterious small bowl of sauce.  The bread resembled naan, but appeared flatter and bit chewier, as patrons pulled stretchy hunks apart using a spoon and fork (what they’ve deduced as the utensils of choice in this part of Asia). T immediately triggered her food alarm, piping up: “mmmm (two chop-licking hunger noises) I want that.”  Miss Fats was down with mysterious bread-sauce, naturally, so the two quickly sat themselves down on some weathered plastic chairs at the edge of a long communal table.  Banana Leaf curry (they actually have no idea what real name of this place is: only that it has “banana leaf” in it) resembles many of the cheap eateries that line the streets of Singapore.  Long, narrow, open air shops that house rows of plastic tables and chairs where ancient ceiling fans swish hot air around diners who mysteriously sip on hot milky tea and coffee.  Pictures of menu options line the walls with posted prices.  T eagerly pointed to another diner and went right ahead and ordered, “what they’re eating.”  It was mid-morning and the restaurant was fairly full of people: all had the same plate of bread and sauce with a coffee.  They learned that this unleavened Indian bread was called prata (also spelled pratha) and was served with a thick “gravy” which appeared to be a spicy meat-based curry-like sauce.  For S$ 1.80, you could get a fresh serving of this steaming bread business and a hot, sweet, milky coffee from the friendliest old Indian man ever (obviously he and T are now friends for life).  Miss Fats will take this over toast any day. 

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Ok, but enough on the bread.  Though she could honestly talk about that crispy, chewy taste good till the ends of time.  But she’s here to talk about the biryani pot.  Anyway, T, absolutely obsessed with both coffee man and prata from the moment she steps into this place, requested that their final breakfast in Singapore MUST be there.  Which landed the two of them soaked in sweat with all their belongings in those sticky plastic chairs.  However the two of them had a serious stretch of time without food access ahead of them (a whole three hours), so they needed a big meal to prepare them for the day.  Banana leaf also offered a wide array of curries, all displayed in a glass hot case, where one simply points at whatever steaming red, brown or yellow dish of their liking as its spooned onto a huge leaf-plate.  T told Miss Fats that she “trusted her” instructed her to order whatever. With prata, of course.  Miss Fats walked up to the window and happily perused the mysterious vats of bubbling spicy goodness and a waiter quickly walked up to take her order.  She makes some lame inquiries about what specific dishes are, not completely caring because she’d rather just eat away.  Probably sensing her indecision, he asks her: “you want biryani?” gesturing toward a giant pot perched on a rickety cart next to the case.  Miss Fats, eyes popping out of her head, peering over the side of the massive metal pot saw one of the most beautiful sights of her life: a steaming heap of fragrant, rice, dotted with patches of brown and yellow from the array of colorful spices, soaking up the juices of huge chunks of bone-in mutton.  The sheer quantity and realization that a whole lamb just might be in that pot, was enough to make Miss Fats giddy.  She got real excited and ordered 2 serving of biryani and prata for them both.

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This might be her favorite part.  In order to serve up with dish, the cook simply whips out a small bowl and scoops a huge pile of the spicy rice onto a banana leaf.  He makes a second dip for a huge chunk of mutton that is nestled down into greatest rice bed of all time.  This is then topped off with a big ‘ol spoon full of mutton curry to sauce it up real good. When these meat piles arrived along side their prata and crispy papadums, T and Miss Fats’ eyes basically just fell out of their faces.  T skeptically eyed the size of her platter and chastised Miss Fats for ordering too much.  Miss Fats simply shook with excitement, basically jumping up and down in her seat like a small child.  They formulated an attack on this meat/carb excess by carefully sorting through the ingredients in front of them: rich rice, soaked in meat sauce and slightly caramelized by the ancient metal pot and still somehow perfectly cooked.  Mutton curry provided a glorious layer of meaty, dark, spicy sauce that melded with the anis and cardamom flavors of the rice, creating endless layers of savory goodness.  The hunk of bone-in mutton lay on top like the greatest “cherry-on-top” you’ll ever see: a glorious piece of slow cooked meat just barely holding on to its skeletal support.

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T and Miss Fats went right for it, ripping off pieces of fresh prata to pinch up as much curry/rice/meat action as they could.  T ended up being less of a fan of the biryani rice flavors: for some cray reason she doesn’t seem to be into cardamom.  Whatever. Miss Fats doesn’t even know how she can be friends with this person sometimes.  However, T managed to prove herself by making some serious headway through that meat party pile (this is likely do to her new obsession with all things mutton).  As the two of them took their time to nom on their banana leaf laden with all good things, they watched as person after person came in to take part in the communal biryani pot.  The small restaurant was a busy cycle of customers all ordering the same thing: the best damn plate scoop/meat heap anyone could ever ask for.  And you know that shit had been cooking for hours: just one giant pot where all the meat magic anyone could ever wish for transformed a heap of ingredients into a spicy, sacred, communal “well.”

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The pot’s status as a holy object demanded that pictures be taken in front of it.  For scale purposes: duh.  The employees at Banana Leaf mystery name curry place thought she was pretty strange but gladly humored her.  IMG_5491

Stuffed to the brim and ready for their day ahead, Miss Fats and T moved on to a hawker center in Little India for one last attempt at a sweet peanut pancake (more to come. Holy god so much more to come).  They found that in fact everyone in the whole city of Singapore (slight exaggeration), was in fact partaking in the communal pot of biryani goodness.  Huge lines of people patiently waited in winding, hot, sticky crowded lines for a big scoop of the day’s batch of biryani.  All the Indian and Muslim stands posted a single-item menu, offering up massive portions of their day’s rice/meat blend for around S$5.  The most flavorful boasted long lines that would easily have you waiting the better part of an hour: serious business.  Apparently Sunday be biryani day.  Who knew?  Well… everyone.  Regardless, Miss Fats learned a real important custom that day: every Sunday should probably involve a giant communal pot of carbs and meat.  She may finally understand why the hell Sunday is the “holy day.”  Any day that honors a vat-like cooking container dedicated to the slow development of spiced meat flavor is sacred in her book.

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