Of anchovies and stinkbeans

The Malaysian abroad dreams of waking up to a nasi lemak breakfast - whether its brown paper pyramids of it or plates of it at the hawker centre, complete with piping hot fried chicken on the side. I take that back. Let's face it, the Malaysian abroad dreams of nasi lemak be it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea or supper. It's one of those things you grow up with and never grow out of.

That probably explains how Sapna and I found ourselves in the kitchen after midnight, roasting peanuts, frying anchovies and filling the air with the smell of sambal - the Malaysian dream. That, and the fact that we wanted to make sure that we stayed up all night so that we could make it to the fish market at the crack of dawn (yes, the things we do for food). Having gotten hold of some petai (stinkbeans) in Chinatown, we were most excited about the sambal petai, regardless of the aftermath of petai-eating.

I've always believed that it's the sambal that defines the nasi lemak and like with so many other local favourites, sambal is a matter of personal preference and that's the best part of making your own sambal - you get to call the shots. We went for a mix of sweet and savoury, with a tinge of lemongrass. The fusion of aromas was enough to transport me back home - the rice cooking slowly in coconut milk and the sambal gently bubbling over the fire.

A couple of friends, a large wok of squid sambal, some sambal petai, a healthy dose of roasted prawns and grilled squid, and those addictive condiments - it's not a roadside stall in the sticky Malaysian climate but it's close enough for now.

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