How to Cook in a Tiny Kitchen

My love for cooking did not waver when I went to Malaysia this summer. Living in the intern apartment, we had a very cute mini kitchen to work with.

Our tiny kitchen in Malaysia!
Our tiny kitchen in Malaysia!

It came equipped with all the basic necessities, including a fridge, a sink, counter space, cabinets, and this single burner camp stove.

Camp burner where we lovingly fried rice and noodles
Camp burner where we lovingly fried rice and noodles. Yes, we did need the lighter because the ignition was broken.

I accepted the challenge of cooking in Malaysia. At first, I was alone in my quest to prepare meals that included 3 or more food groups. Soon enough, a fellow intern and I decided to embark on the journey together, and so began the cooking adventures.

Once we joined forces, our meals got a lot more creative. I usually preferred cooking Chinese and Indian dishes while my friend suggested things like pasta and pizza. It was great to have another person’s input to increase the variety rather than having the same thing day after day (a good tip if you’re considering cooking with roommates!).

Pita pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, corn, and parsley
Pita pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, corn, and parsley, Photo credit: Dominika.

So this was probably one of my favourite dishes we created together. The idea was suggested by my friend. We opened up a pita into two halves, smeared on a base layer of homemade tomato sauce and topped it with canned corn, sliced mozzarella cheese, and Italian parsley. The most complicated step was getting all the ingredients prepared. First, we cooked some chopped onion with diced tomatoes, ketchup, and water to create the sauce (not the most authentic, but it tasted great!). After loading the other ingredients on the pizza, we carefully transferred it into a small frying pan and slowly heated it with a turned plate acting as the lid to trap the heat. This helped to melted the cheese and gently toasted the bottom.

Best part of this was definitely the combination of ingredients. I’ve never put corn on pizza before and the sweetness of it was perfect to balance the tartness of the tomato sauce. The cheese was the mellow “glue” that held the pizza together and the parsley gave a fresh finish to the pizza.

Stir-fried rice with tofu, scallions, and sweet potato.
Stir-fried rice with tofu, scallions, and sweet potato. Photo credit: Dominika.

Another dish that was more Asian inspired was this lovely stir-fry. It was actually 2 dishes that got mixed together. The first was tofu with oyster sauce, cubed tofu gets lightly fried with some oil before getting sprinkled with oyster sauce. For the fried rice, we sauteed the sweet potatoes first to thoroughly cook it before adding the already steamed rice.

The key to preparing meals in a small space and with a limited amount of time is to “prepare once, eat twice”. For example, leftover steamed rice gets turned into fried rice, another good idea is to cut extra veggies and store them to use another day. I cut extra sweet potatoes here and sauteed them with a little cumin for a Mexican-inspired dish.

Dominika (R) and I (L) in Malaysia
My partner in food Dominika (R) and I (L). Photo credit: Laura.

The food may be gone, but the memories remain!

Thank you previous intern for leaving us a rice cooker!
Thank you for leaving us a rice cooker!

The real secret weapon in Malaysia was our beloved rice cooker. It’s essentially an insulated, self-heating pot with two settings: cook and warm. To cook rice, just add rice and water, set the pot to “cook” and the pot will automatically turn to “warm” once it senses that the water’s evaporated / absorbed. In addition to cooking rice, we also used the “cook” setting to boil eggs, pasta, lentils, and vegetables. It came in handy when our beloved camp stove ran out of gas.

Sitting down to dinner!
Interns sitting down to dinner! Photo credit: Dominika. 

This was our family dinner! We all sat down and had homemade food together! One of my favourite memories with the interns in Malaysia.

Bowtie pasta with tomato sauce, vegetables, and parsley
Bowtie pasta with tomato sauce, vegetables, and parsley. Photo credit: Dominika

Benefits of cooking with a larger group of people: it’s social and fun, if everyone contributes, it’s less work for each person, I usually learn something new or help others learn something new.

Got a small kitchen? No time to cook? I hope this post gave you some ideas for how to overcome these issues! Let’s stop making up excuses and start making real food!

Durian, the (Stinky) King of Fruits

Memories fade over time, and that’s why I’m writing about durian while its scent still lingers on my fingertips.

Durian fruit in shell. Image from: https://i0.wp.com/www.thingsidigg.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Durian-Fruit-Thai.jpg
Durian fruit in husk. Image from: http://www.thingsidigg.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Durian-Fruit-Thai.jpg

Durian is a large fruit native to Southeast Asia. Unbeknownst to me before this trip to Malaysia, there are many different cultivars of durian, some commanding a higher price than others. All durian varieties have a hard husk that is covered by numerous short, hard, spikes. The colour of the shell ranges from green to brown. Inside, one finds yellow or red coloured segments with a distinct smell.

In my experience, most durian sellers will open the fruit and extract the edible segments for you. This makes eating durian a lot more accessible than trying to open the whole frozen durian sold in Asian supermarkets in Canada. The durian I tasted was was bought by my friend Reema. The segments came in a white styrofoam container. On the advice of a local, we refrigerated the durian before eating it.

Durian segment composed of 2 smaller pods
Durian segment composed of 2 smaller pods

Love it or hate it, durian has a very strong scent. Wikipedia has an excellent article describing the flavour and odour of durian. To me, it smells of sulphur, sweetness, and something rotting all rolled together.

The texture of a durian depends on its ripeness. The segment I had was ripe, hence soft. The edible portion was covered by a very thin membrane that held together the mushy flesh. The membrane was slightly rubbery in texture, but yielded easily to the tearing pressure of my teeth. The flesh was very soft and rich, the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. Next to the seed, there was another layer of thin membrane similar to the outer membrane surrounding the segment.

Durian seed (L) and pod (R)
Durian seed (L) and pod (R)

The taste is harder to describe, and many factors influence how it tastes, including the variety of fruit and its ripeness. When I first tasted a segment, its flavour was very mild. Because of both the texture and the taste, I was reminded of eating an avocado. The aftertaste that lingered was similar to the smell of a durian, which is not entirely unpleasant. A few hours later, when I tried a different segment, the taste was completely different! I wasn’t sure what caused this. Maybe the second segment came from a different durian fruit? This time, I tasted the pungent punch of onions, garlic, and garlic scapes. As I tasted different parts of the fruit, I noticed areas that were particularly bitter or stinky. Strangely, I did not notice any aftertaste of the smell.

Unlike many who have tried the fruit before me, I have neither fallen in love with the fruit nor sworn it to be my natural enemy. I probably will not seek it out, but I wouldn’t mind eating durian candy or ice cream. And who knows, maybe I will change my mind about durian, just as I have about avocado and olives. If you are ever in Southeast Asia, the fruit is definitely worth a try, but split a container with a friend or two just in case!

Batu Caves and Masala Dosa

Before I left for my trip to Malaysia, I found out that my friend Paige will also be backpacking across South East Asia around the same time. Hence, a verbal agreement that we would meet up somewhere in Kuala Lumpur was born. A few days before she was due to arrive in Malaysia, we got in touch through Facebook and arranged to meet up at Batu Caves.

As all travellers know, plans don’t always work out. On June 14, 2013, my group arrived first at the caves, with Paige and her friends an hour or so behind us. In my mind, I had a mini-panic: What if we don’t end up meeting up here? How am I supposed to find her amidst all these tourists? Then my rational side told me that we could always try to meet up another time. With that in mind, my group left the train station and began to explore.

The first thing that caught our attention was not the golden statue of the Hindu deity that is synonymous with Batu Caves. Instead, it was a giant green monkey who greeted us with his crossed arms and imposing stance.

Hanuman Statue
Hanuman statue was the first attraction we noticed.

After a few photos with Hanuman, we walked into a Hindu temple next to the statue. We saw many ornate statues brightly painted and decorated with fresh flowers. A few Hindus were maintaining the shrines as well.

Flowers surround this small statue inside the first temple.
Flowers surround this small statue inside the first temple.

A few more steps took us closer to the stairs leading to the caves.

Feeding the pigeons.
Feeding the pigeons.

The massive gold statue of Lord Murugan (the god of war and victory) was to the right of the stairs, inviting visitors to enter.

Lord Murugan statue outside the stairs to Batu Caves
Lord Murugan statue outside the stairs to Batu Caves

We began to climb the 272 steps the led to the top, but we took plenty of breaks to take photos of the journey and of the monkeys we met along the way.

Macaque monkeys to entertain us on the way.
Macaque monkeys to entertain us.

These monkeys were like a band of mischievous munchkins. While cute and adorable from afar, they are not at all afraid of people and can get aggressive towards tourists. On the way down, a friend was opening his bag of chips when a monkey grabbed on to the bag and won the tug-of-war for the fried snack. So hold on tight to your personal belongings and leave the snacks in your bag until you’re far away from the monkeys!

After meandering up the stairs, we came across our first cave: Bat Cave. This cave was very dark beyond the entrance, and tours (approx. RM 35-45) were offered for those who were interested in up-close encounters with the winged mammals.

Higher up than Bat Cave was the entrance to the caves. As I arrived at the entrance, I was greeted by a familiar face waving at me. I instinctively waved back while trying to figure out where I have met him before. Then I hear an excited “Cathy!” behind me. I turn around to find Paige facing me. We hugged excitedly and I remembered that the person I first saw is Kingsley, whom I’ve met a few times before. Soon, I was introduced to the last member of their group in KL, Kelvin.

Paige and I inside Batu Caves!
Paige and I inside Batu Caves!

It was a little bit of a surreal experience to meet up with people from Vancouver half way across the world. It was as if a bit of my past “real life” came into my present “surreal life” to say “Hey! This is real too.” It was great to catch up with Paige and hear some of their travel stories across S.E. Asia as well.

Inside the caves, large openings in the limestone formations allowed natural lighting to come in, illuminating the many shines and sculptures inside.

Extremely tall ceilings inside one of the caves. A very peaceful and serene experience.
Extremely tall ceilings inside one of the caves. A very peaceful and serene experience.
Small shrine inside Batu Caves.
Small shrine inside Batu Caves.
A religious scene? Sculptures inside Batu Caves.
A religious scene? Sculptures inside Batu Caves.

After coming down the steps, we walked into one of the Indian restaurants catering to the visiting tourists. I ordered a masala dosa, and a fresh coconut to wash it down with.

Thosai (Dosa) with accompaniments.
Masala Thosai (Dosa) with accompaniments.

The dosa is a crepe made from fermented rice and bean batter, and this one was stuffed with potatoes that’s been pan-fried in spices. It was served with a range of sides/sauces which came in buckets and we spooned onto our plate. The white coconut chutney(?) was rather bland, but the others (one was dhal and I was not sure about the other) gave some spiciness if nothing else to the dosa.

Coconut water!
My first fresh coconut!

The coconut water was very hydrating, I was really surprised by how much liquid was inside the coconut! Don’t expect a very intense coconut taste. The young coconut water is actually slightly sour, not sweet.

Batu caves was definitely a worthwhile experience, especially if you have an interest in Hindu religion or mischievous monkeys.

First HIV/AIDS Workshop in Malaysia

Our first HIV/ AIDS workshop was on June 13 at SMK Batu Lapan, a secondary school near Subang Jaya.

SMK Batu Lapan, High School  in Subang Jaya
SMK Batu Lapan, High School in Subang Jaya

In the two days prior to our workshop, we were furiously preparing the presentation, practicing our parts, and ensuring we had all the materials we needed.

Upon our arrival, I was surprised to learn that our workshop will take place in the cafeteria, which was quite exposed to the outside. We did have a microphone, a projector and a screen to help run the presentation.

Just before our presentation is about to start! Group shot with the school counsellor.
Just before our presentation is about to start! Group shot with the school counsellor.

Thankfully, our Prezi worked like a charm and we were able to go through the workshop without too many unexpected difficulties.

Our attentive audience!
Our attentive audience!

Our audience of 150 students sat on the benches and dutifully listened to us talk about various aspects of HIV and AIDS. We also included a small demonstration where students would get up on stage with us to “act out” how HIV affects the human immune system. Although they were a little reluctant to participate at first, we did manage to get a few students to pretend to be the white blood cells.

Ralph explains how HIV damages the white blood cells
Ralph explains how HIV damages the white blood cells (students with white balloons) and harms the body (as represented by Dominika)

As I’m writing this post a couple of weeks after our first workshop, I can definitely say that we have refined our presentation since then. We had more time to rehearse our parts and we are more familiar with the entire routine. Overall, I think it was a good start for holding workshops: we followed our schedule, spoke clearly, and got the attention of our audience.

After our workshop, the counsellor invited us to have brunch at the school. We enjoyed an excellent mee hoon goreng (fried rice vermicelli) with egg and vegetables.

Group brunch after the workshop
Group brunch after the workshop

With a final goodbye, we left the school and finished our first HIV/AIDS workshop in Malaysia!

Group Photo: with the school counsellor, Vivian, Krystal, and exchange participants.
Group Photo: with the school counsellor, Vivian, Krystal, and exchange participants.

Chinese Restaurant in Malaysia- V Garden Restoran

During our second week in Malaysia, a large group of AIESECers and Exchange Participants (EPs) went out for dinner at V Garden Restoran, a Chinese restaurant in Klang.

V Garden Restaurant
V Garden Restaurant

We took up 2 huge round tables. At my table, we tried to teach each other how to eat with chopsticks.

Chopstick lessons from Eslyn (exchange participant from Hong Kong).
Chopsticks lesson from Eslyn (exchange participant from Hong Kong).

It was also a great opportunity to get to know other AIESEC members. From one AIESECer, I learned that many Chinese people (including his family) immigrated to Malaysia from the south of China to escape the Japanese occupation during WWII. Unfortunately, this strategy did not work too well as Japan did eventually invade Malaya.

Back to the present day, we ordered several dishes and shared them with everyone at the table. This is when the lazy susan in the middle comes in handy!

One of the AIESECers ordered for both tables, so we ended up having the same food. The first dish that arrived was braised tofu with pork.

Braised tofu with pork
Braised tofu with pork

The tofu (probably) was deep-fried first. It had a thin, rough “skin” on the exterior which helped the sauce adhere to the tofu. The inside was very smooth and silky. The contrast between the inside and out was quite nice. The sauce had enough flavour to carry the otherwise bland tofu, and I enjoyed it very much.

Next up was green beans with salted duck egg sauce.

Green beans with salted duck egg sauce
Green beans with salted duck egg sauce

When I first took a bite, I noticed two things about the dish: it had a familiar saltiness that I could not quite identify, and the beans had an odd granular texture. After asking a local AIESECer, he told me it was salted duck egg. All of a sudden, it made sense! The duck egg was preserved with salt, so it is quite salty, and the egg yolk separates into small particles in the mouth. This was quite delicious and I’m tempted to attempt this dish at home!

Whole Chicken
Chicken

I did not try the chicken, but I’m sure it was tasty!

Stir-fry cabbage, okra, green beans and eggplant with spicy chili sauce.

Here’s a dish I did try: cabbage, okra, green beans, and eggplant with a spicy chili sauce. The stir-fried vegetables were a little greasy, but I enjoyed the chili sauce very much. Plus, I’m usually not one to complain about vegetables in a meal.

Fish with Ginger
Fish with Ginger

The grand finale arrived on a gold-coloured platter with lit burners underneath. It was a large whole fish covered with finely minced ginger lying in a light brown sauce. Its fins were spread out, making it seem even larger and very strange looking. I would guess the fish was steamed whole after it was seasoned. The meat was very tender, and the generous quantity of ginger gave the dish a warm and fresh fragrance.

In Asia, it’s not uncommon to eat the edible portions of the fish head. When I was younger, I always used to eat the eyes. This time, Vivian (our AIESEC project manager) and I each ate one of the fish eyes! If you’ve never tried them, it’s like eating little blobs of fish flavoured Jello. I know it probably doesn’t sound too appetizing, but for me, it’s a ritual that reminds me of my childhood.

Our table!
Our table!

By the end of the night, we were pleasantly full. A few group photos later, we were on our way out of the restaurant. The total cost of this meal came out to be ~20 RM per person (exchange rate is approx. 1 CND= 3 RM).

Exchange Participants! Left to right: Reema (US), Eslyn (HK), Soraya (Pakistan), Ralph (Lebanon), Mehak (Pakistan), Valentin (Germany), Dominika (Slovakia), Cathy (Canada), Laura (Germany).
Exchange Participants! Left to right: Reema (US), Eslyn (HK), Soraya (Pakistan), Ralph (Lebanon), Mehak (Pakistan), Valentin (Germany), Dominika (Slovakia), Cathy (Canada), Laura (Germany).

A big thank you to Winnie and Seto for driving us to and from the restaurant, and AIESEC Taylor’s University for organizing this dinner!

Speed Dating Kuala Lumpur

Thanks to the efforts of our local AIESEC chapter, including the Vice President of Project Management Elwin Chin, we participated in a variety of cultural activities organized by Taylor’s University with some Thai exchange students. These included Malay language classes, a cultural dance class, and a half day tour of Kuala Lumpur

Malay language teacher, dance teacher, Thai exchange students, and AIESEC EPs.
Malay language teacher, dance teacher, Thai exchange students, and AIESEC EPs.

This half day tour included stops at the King’s Palace, the National Monument, Independence Square, a chocolate outlet store, and Petronas Towers.

King's Palace
King’s Palace

If the flag is up, that means the King is in residence. The residence was inspired by Buckingham Palace (Malaysia was a British colony), complete with the stone-faced guards.

Guard outside the King's Palace
Guard outside the King’s Palace
National Monument
National Monument

This was probably my favourite sight of the entire tour. The statue was beautiful, but what really took my breath away was the pavillion and the water fountain.

Fountain at National Monument
Fountain at National Monument

The pavillion had Islamic/ middle eastern patterns on the floor and the deep blue tiles in the water fountain made me feel as though I was in an oasis.

Fountain and Pavillion at National Monument
Fountain and Pavillion at the National Monument
Beautiful Islamic pattern inside the pavillion at the National Monument
Beautiful Islamic pattern inside the pavillion at the National Monument

Next stop was the Independence Square.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Merdeka Square. Declaration of independence for Malaya happened here, and each year, New Year's countdown also takes place here.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Merdeka Square. Declaration of independence for Malaya was signed here, and each year, New Year’s countdown also takes place in Merdeka Square.

Apparently a lot of meetings leading up the Malaysia’s independence took place here. I really liked the contrast between the style of the different buildings on the street.

Check out the very different building behind Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
Check out the very different building behind Sultan Abdul Samad Building.

After this, we went to Harriston chocolate store. In addition to getting free samples, I learned that Malaysia also produced cocoa!

Chocolate shop
Chocolate shop

Our last stop was the world famous Petronas Towers. We first saw them at a popular viewpoint from afar.

Petronas Towers
Petronas Towers

Then we went closer to the towers themselves.

Petronas Towers, up close and personal.
Petronas Towers, up close and personal.

The day ended with a shopping trip at Suria, the mall located inside KLCC. Since I’m not such a huge fan of shopping, and it has been quite a long day, a few of the interns spend our time inside a large Japanese bookstore chain. Being me, I spend most of my time looking through various cookbooks.

Suria KLCC, shopping mall inside Petronas Towers
Suria KLCC, shopping mall inside Petronas Towers

Being part of a group tour, we did not have a lot of time to explore the sights. But rest assured, we will be back!

AIESEC Taylor’s University LLDS

For those of you who are unfamiliar, my exchange in Malaysia is facilitated through AIESEC , a student-run organization focused on youth leadership development. As part of my exchange, I am also invited to participate in various AIESEC activities in Malaysia. One such event was the Local Leadership Development Seminar (LLDS) from June 7-9 in Port Dickson, Malaysia.

NUBE Training Centre
NUBE Training Centre

We arrived in Port Dickson around 3 pm on Friday. Soon after, we were led into a heavily air-conditioned room for icebreakers and our first conference activities. There were about 50 of us in total, including the conference organizers (OC) and AIESEC executives (EB). We started the conference with one of many dances that we will participate in over the next 2 days.

We were broken into groups that functioned as our “home room” for the duration of the conference. Each group’s theme was based on an AIESEC value. My group was “Enjoy Participation”, and our nickname was “Group FUNtastic!”

Group FUNtastic
Group FUNtastic: Irene, Geoffery, Mayin, Cathy, Jia Hui, Gwen

There were sessions about AIESEC values, negotiation, giving constructive feedback, selling yourself, and many more. A crowd favourite was a series entitled “dreams”. In the first part of this two-part series, we gathered in our home groups with dimmed lights and lit candles in the centre of the group. Under the glow of the candle, we wrote down 10 of our identities on small pieces of paper. I struggled with what to include. Writing down how I viewed myself seemed to be a big step in confirming my role in this world.

Candles at LLDS "Dreams" Session
Candles at LLDS “Dreams” Part 1. Photo by Winnie.

We were asked to reflect on these identities, and rip up 4 of the least important ones. We were asked to do this again and rip up 3 of our identities. It was relatively easy to remove the first 4, but tearing up the next 3 made me feel like I’m parting with a little bit of myself. If that wasn’t difficult enough, we had to remove another 2. As we removed our labels of “sister”, “friend” or “student”, we were forced to reflect on what is most important in our lives. Next came something unexpected. The facilitators asked us to tear up the last identity if it said anything other than our own name. Ralph (intern with our project) was the only person who had his name as his last identity. The rest of us were left with nothing at all. I was confused. The facilitators explained that the identities that we give ourselves represented the values we placed on ourselves. We value ourselves as a “friend”, “brother” or “musician” but we should also keep in mind the bigger picture, which is ourselves as a person. We should also spend time taking care of ourselves in addition to the world around us. At the end, each group blew out their candle together to symbolize rebirth.

Dreams group
Dreams at LLDS. Photo by Winnie.

As I mentioned, this was “dreams” part 1. The second part of the session involved us drawing out 3 of the most important dreams in our lives right now. Since these are dreams, we were unbounded by money, time, and ability. I found it interesting that I kept on coming back to the dream of working with food. I wrote down that I would like to open my own restaurant, but what I drew was myself leading a cooking class. This was something that I haven’t actually thought about for a long time, perhaps since I’ve entered dietetics at UBC. I feel like I’ve been trying to live “realistically”, searching for career paths that would give me a comfortable and enjoyable existence. Maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling so restless and dissatisfied with dietetics lately. There’s also been a few other reasons as to why I’m feeling like I need to do something I really REALLY love. Then again, as I’m thinking and writing, I keep remembering that I do love dietetics as well. Oh the dilemma of choice!

Anyway, back to the conference. We also had case study and AIESEC stimulation competitions. These activities were clearly aimed to get new AIESEC members familiar with the organization and training them to be future ambassadors. I was surprised at how much time and effort the existing AIESEC execs spent to ensure new members understood what AIESEC did and can communicate different aspects of the organization to different audiences. The case study and stimulations were really engaging and well done, I think new members walked away from this weekend with a clearer idea of AIESEC and how to talk about it. Bottom line: innovative and fun training pays off for any organization.

On the last day of the conference, Mehak and I went to the beach in the morning.

Beach at Port Dickson
Beach at Port Dickson

Waves were crashing against a small seawall. There were a few people wading in the water. We spotted a coconut washed up on the beach and took some photos against the background of the Pacific.

Coconut on the Beach
Coconut on the Beach

Other favourite moments of LLDS:

  • Showing affection for a stranger
  • Murder mystery
  • Group winning case study / stimulation
  • Sugar cubes
  • Dance, dance dance!
Until Next Time!
Until Next Time!