It’s hard remembering holidays on the road, especially when you aren’t immersed in the preparation, advertising, and all of the hullabaloo surrounding them. When traveling, American holidays become just another day. Sure, you’ll see a hint here or there, or share a knowing smile and wave with a fellow Yankee traveler, but other than that, it is business as usual.
On the 4th of July, we grabbed a couple of Whoppers in Seville. For Halloween in Jordan, Clark dressed up like a Bedouin. These holidays were after thoughts. Thanksgiving was a little different. All of our American friends on Facebook and Twitter were busy posting pumpkin pie recipes and swapping tips on how best to brine their turkeys. Even being 9,000 miles away, Thanksgiving couldn’t go unnoticed. We wished our FB friends an early Happy Thanksgiving and headed out for our own little feast.
Our celebration was definitely non-traditional. We could have tried to seek out fellow Americans and scrounge around Penang to find a quasi-traditional meal. Instead, we went the local route. We headed out for a traditional South Indian banana leaf meal that is very popular in Malaysia. We left with bellies just as full and even ordered some dishes that beared some resemblance to traditional Thanksgiving fare.
Steamed white rice and vegetarian side dishes were served on a big banana leaf. One was potato-based, another contained spiced green beans, the third was a sweet and spicy tofu, and the last was a small dahl (lentil) curry. The main dishes were a fish, chicken, and vegetarian curry. Papadum, a crispy cracker like appetizer, was also served on the side.
To add a little Thanksgivingness to our dinner, we ordered a spicy pumpkin masala and deep fried bitter squash. Both were quite good. The pumpkin especially added a festive element. We washed all of this down with a mango lasso and Tiger beer. Our South Indian Thanksgiving meal cost about $15. Not bad, and a lot cheaper than a 20 pound turkey.
We ventured into the food stalls for dessert and were lucky enough to find a place selling ais kacang. The literal translation for this dish is “ice beans”. This sounded too delicious to pass up. It consisted of shaved ice, red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly, gelatinous agar-agar, condensed milk, and some sort of red, fruity syrup. Luckily, this blob was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
We managed to overcome the appearance and take a few timid bites. It actually isn’t as bad as it sounds or looks, but I wouldn’t say it was good either. The red beans and corn were sweet and almost complimentary to the milk and ice cream. The gelatinous texture of the grass jelly and agar-agar left much to be desired. We ended up digging out the ice cream and leaving most of the beans and corn floating in the icy milk. Ben & Jerry’s definitely won’t be adding “King Kong Kacang” to their menu anytime soon.
We finished the evening relaxing at Starbucks (kind of lame) drinking cappuccinos and listening to Christmas music. The air conditioning was cold enough that I could almost believe I was back in Chicago after a day of Christmas shopping on State Street. That is until I stepped out into the 85 degree night and the wave of 90% humidity hit me.
For this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for one thing most of all– air conditioning.