Living in Vancouver can really spoil a girl.
Menu items are often marked with friendly ‘GF’ and ‘V’ logos, and (almost) everyone has some idea of what gluten is, or what it’s in. I can walk into most restaurants and score a delicious meal without too much fuss, forgetting just how hard I am to feed. In Malaysia, where this kind of restricted diet is less common (and where I was heading next), it’s another story. I packed a dozen Lara bars, just in case.
Instead of driving myself, my mom and the waiter crazy trying to identify ingredients and convincing them to use alternatives, I reached out for the foods that were already gluten-free. My best friends in Kuala Lumpur were a tasty duo: the area of Brickfields and lei cha, a.k.a ‘thunder tea’.
Brickfields is Kuala Lumpur’s Little India. There are myriad Indian shops and restaurants to explore, and the city’s haze-thickened air takes on a layer of fragrant incense. Not all Indian food is necessarily gluten-free, of course (butter naan!) but it’s a culinary tradition that gives a lot of options for restricted diets. There are always vegetarian options, and of course, dosai.
A dosai is made from rice flour and lentils, and has a deliciously tangy taste, like a sourdough bread. Its accompaniments vary from place to place: we got coconut chutney, some sort of roasted tomato and a half-mashed potato and onion mixture.
I love plain dosai, because I’m hooked on the crunch, but you can also get them with fillings. To eat the dosai, you can use a fork and spoon (ask for a cup of boiling hot water to sanitize them in first) or just get in there with your hands, remembering to use only your right hand for eating. (Hint: Hands are more fun.)
There was also a buffet option. At a restaurant called Seetharam, where we ate almost every day, they had over 40 vegetarian dishes to choose from. I piled my plate with as much as I thought I could eat. The waiter came over, eyeballed at my plate and decided how much I owed. It was never more than 12 ringgit, including my fresh coconut. That’s about $4.
After four days, we were a ready for a change. It was time for lei cha.
KL international airport is home to an incredibly delicious lei cha restaurant, which was perfect since I was flying out that night. To say that this dish is unique is an understatement: also known as thunder tea, it’s made by grinding green tea (usually with mortar and pestle) with roasted nuts and seeds.
You can use peanuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds – just about anything you like. There is no single recipe for lei cha, which allows for a huge variety of flavours. Once ground, the paste is mixed with hot water. It can be served as a heavy, nutrient-dense savoury beverage, or over rice and vegetables. Tipping a teapot over my food to let the bright green liquid flood my bowl was one of the most satisfying experiences I had on this trip.
Looks like my Lara bars are just going to have to sit in my suitcase until France.