As long-time travelers, we already know that the food is one of the most cultural essentials in each country. It defines traditions, habits, mentality of each area and is inseparable part of everyday life of every human for survival. For us when visiting a new country, it is a matter of course that we try local specialty as well as visit historic monument, gallery or local attraction. During traveling is often food one of the phenomenon, which reveals various cultural differences and sometimes they are enormous.
If we review all our travel experiences, Malaysia and Samoa were so far the most exotic destinations when it comes to trying new tastes. That’s why we decided to tell you our culinary experience right from these countries.
By visiting Samoa islands in the remote heart of Pacific Ocean we have been allowed to have a truly authentic life of the islander. On the Samoa where the original inhabitants were cannibals, was everything influenced by the local sources. It was particularly the ocean and the small island full of a jungle. The key ingredients of the local meals are therefore fishes, seafood, coconut and sweet fruit. These ingredients in combination with their culture and traditions present a special cuisine full of meals easy to prepare.
Great culinary experience can one have everywhere in the world, but in multicultural Malaysia with a rich history, it was literally a rush of tastes. Countless quantities of meals to choose from will overwhelm you. You suddenly don’t know what to try first. We have been lucky enough to have wonderful guides, our Malaysian friends Fiona and Lee, thanks to whom we visited and tried the right places.
Samoa – the society of paradoxes
When we arrived in Samoa, we have been invited to the local family to dine with them. It was a huge cultural shock for us. Even though we are in 21. century, we sat as the guests at the table first with the father and adult sons in the family. We have first slightly rinsed our hands in the pot of water and then started to eat with hands. When men finished eating, the rest of the food was divided between children and finally women. Women were the one which prepared the food but were allowed to eat only some cold remains.
To us, it seemed that Samoa is extremely patriarchal society. It belongs to one of the Polynesian countries which unique and authentic culture and traditions were strongly influenced by the strict Catholicism spread by missionaries in the 19. century. Nowadays is Samoa also threatened by the influence of the consumer “western” culture. In result, it may appear as a very conservative country. But in fact is full of extreme contrasts.
For example, yet from the beginning, we have noticed that there are a lot of transvestites. It was really obvious because Samoans love sweets and have often a problem with overweight. In combination with heavy make-up, it certainly catches one’s eye. We couldn’t find out how is it possible in such conservative country where people pray every day and the visit of the church is very important part of their lives. Locals pretended they don’t see our interest in this matter and when we asked our Samoan friends about it, they quickly changed the subject.
Only later we have found out that traditionally in many Samoan families too many sons were born and only a few daughters. Women were traditionally the one who worked all day around the house while men were resting. If the family didn’t have any daughter, there was nobody who would help mother to serve the sons and fathers. That’s why they used to bring up the youngest son as the girl, or the “third” gender, to teach him all “female household duties”. After reaching 18 years can son became a man again, but most of them identify with the female role so much, that they keep it in the adulthood as well.
Overall was Samoa very exotic and authentic destination for us. We tried to explore mainly the remains of their original culture, before the arrival of Catholic missionaries, which we call “primitive” in Europe. Instead, we discovered a country of paradoxes, where scruffy children are playing with the Chinese fakes of iPhones and watch the American Idol in TV.
Their authentic culture was thankfully visible on the craft souvenirs, local cuisine and traditional architecture – open abodes called “fale” in which you sleep right on the beach.
Samoan cuisine, like other Polynesian countries, consists mainly of the ingredients which can be sourced locally. It´s full of sweet exotic fruits, fishes, seafood, and coconut. Fishes are tropical and have various colors, it was interesting to visit a fish market in capital Apia, where you can buy fishes of any color – red, blue or even yellow.
The most interesting meal we tried in Samoa was Oka – cold soup (or salad) prepared from the raw tuna chunks with tomatoes, onion, and other vegetables and all this was mixed with the coconut milk. The tuna was raw, only “cooked” in the lime juice before. It was very delicious, we loved it.
The big part of Samoan cuisine belongs to green bananas and the vegetable called taro which is used mainly as a side dish to chicken, pork or fish. And as we’ve mentioned before, Samoans love the sweets. One of their delicacies in a breakfast menu are little balls made from smashed sweet bananas, eggs and flour, which are roasted in palm oil. Before eating they’re dipped in a liquid cane sugar. It is so delicious, but there’s no doubt why Samoans have problems with their weight when they eat such a caloric bomb already on breakfast.
Samoa definitely belongs to one of the most intensive travel experiences, not only when it comes to food, but also because of its authenticity.
Malaysia – country where the life turns around the food
Another very interesting culinary and travel destination is undoubtedly Malaysia. It´s a multicultural country full of people of many religions and colors. It was amazing to see Chinese, Hindu, Arabs and many other cultures and ethnics living in peace. And this was also visible in the Malaysian cuisine.
Our friends, Chinese Malaysian, were exceptionally hospitable, they guided us throughout their country and showed us many attractions. But the center of the universe was always food. We realized that to them, food is more important than to us in Europe.
Any trip could not proceed without visiting some restaurant, buffet or canteen. For our friends, it was mostly food what they consider to be the most important to show us as a part of their country and culture.
They explained that as we greet each other “Hi, how are you?”, they greet each other in Chinese “Hi, have you already eaten?”, which really speaks for itself when it comes to the importance of the food in their world.
In Malaysia, we had various culinary experiences. Some of them were impressive, other quite opposite. Their cuisine is a mixture and combinations of traditional Chinese recipes with meals from South East Asia, but also Hindu and Muslim Halal cuisine.
Our journey across Malaysia started in Johor Bahru to which we arrive from Singapore. In Malaysia, we have been hosted by our friend Fiona. The more we approached the capital Kuala Lumpur, the more we like the food.
In the popular historic town Melaka, which belongs to the UNESCO heritage site, we have been amused by the small and colorful rickshaws which guided tourists across the city. It looked comical because their owners compete between each other to have the most colorful, kitsch and loudest rikshaw to attract most tourists. Right here in Melaka, our friends invited us to the famous Chinese restaurant on Jonker Street where we had truly gastronomic experience. The dinner consisted of various meals from which the fish pate grilled in the banana leaves called “Otah Otah” was the most delicate one for us, it was delicious!
During the night discovery of the city of Melaka, we found the very stylish restaurant Geographer Cafe, where we tried unforgettable curry laksa soup. It is a chili noodle soup with the coconut milk which ads beautiful sweet taste to it. The thick soup is topped with seafood, chicken, slices of tofu and bean sprouts. This popular dish is the mixture of traditional Chinese noodles with the curry from South East Asia, and people refer to it as the “heavenly conjunction of tastes”.
One of the favorite delicacies in Malaysia is the juice from the cane sugar, which is sold by any street market. You can also refresh yourself with the healthy and nutritional coconut milk which is available almost everywhere.
The fruit marked with superstitions
Nothing exceeded the controversial tasting of the Malaysian favorite fruit – durian. Durian is the Malaysian delicacy from which locals make sweets and even desserts. This fruit is marked by several superstitions. One of them speaks about the fact that even though this fruit is heavy, covered with prickles, it never killed anyone by falling from the tree like coconuts. The other superstition speaks that you can not combine coke or beer with durian because you’ll die. These superstitions, however, have been disproved, but still, durian kills several people per year. The cause of death is usually by unfortunate accident or excessive consumption of sweet fruit by diabetics for example.
The locals can’t wait to see reactions of tourists trying their first durian. It was said to us that we either will love it or hate it. It has a very specific taste and everyone has a different reaction to it. Already on the first sight, this fruit looks ominously – huge thorn-covered ball. Local farmer carefully picks one for us then he grabs the ax and cut it in half. He passes us this mysterious fruit and for the first seconds, we hesitate to try it. Ok, let’s do it!
Radito quite likes it, me not. It has slightly sweet, creamy taste with the bitter accent. The taste is incomparable with nothing we know so we cant really compare it to any other food. It certainly wasn’t any horror for us as locals expected to see.
The big disadvantage of durian is that it stinks. This unpleasant smell can´t be rinsed out of the hands for several days that’s why it earned its controversy in the world. Some people compare this smell to the rotten onions or even sewage, but we didn’t feel anything so exaggerated. Maybe we just had luck with the right piece.
Malaysia is admirable because of its multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual environment. Even though it still belongs to the developing countries and has its own problems, many countries in the world should learn from Malaysia to tolerance, humanity and mutual respect.
The same applies to food. If you are a food lover and like to discover new tastes, Malaysia will give you a blast of new tastes and aromas. If you’d like to know all of them, one life wouldn’t be enough.
Samoa vs Malaysia – Interesting Contrast
Samoa forms an interesting contrast in comparison with Malaysia. Little remote islands in the heart of Pacific are inhabited only by locals where tourists sometimes feel like on the exposition. Samoan meals are not so varied because they aren’t influenced by so many other cultures and countries. But it is literally admirable that locals could survive in this remote wilderness. They have conquered the jungle for growing crops suitable for local climate and mastered the fishing. The result is exotic recipes and traditional food which taste we really enjoyed.
These were one of the most shocking gourmet and cultural experiences on the road but they were not last. We will bring you other stories in future posts.
What are your most intense gourmet experiences from your travels? Did you experience some cultural shock while visiting other countries?
© Independent Couple
All pictures in this post were taken by Radoslav Cajkovic www.radocation.com and are subject to copyright.
This article was also published in the Slovak language in Menučka Magazín here.