malaysia: 3 posts

Pandan: the Perfume of Penang

Let me start the new year with a journey and take you to George Town. Located on the Malaysian island of Penang, the city was established in the 18th century by the British East India Company. The population of George Town is diverse, a mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian communities, each contributing its own traditions to Penang’s cosmopolitan blend. One of the most distinctive layers is formed by the Peranakans. The descendants of the Chinese who arrived starting from the 15th century and intermarried with the locals, the Peranakans blend Chinese, Malay and European customs. Their clothing, art and music are distinctive, but even more striking is their cuisine: Peranakan, or Nyonya, food is one of George Town’s main attractions.

I traveled around Malaysia, exploring its scented and culinary traditions, but I kept returning to Penang. It drew me with its diversity, its history, and above all, its food. Penang’s food and scents are the topics of my recent FT column, Pandan: the Perfume of Penang. I explore the most characteristic of all scents in Peranakan cuisine, pandan.

Although the foods I tried in Penang were varied – I’ve written previously about the sheer variety of specialities on offer across its different neighbourhoods – one leitmotif during my explorations was the scent of pandan leaves. The Peranakans mix shredded pandan with rose petals, jasmine and perfume oil to create a home fragrance, but most often, the leaves of this tropical plant are used in their cuisine. Although pandan tends to be described as the vanilla of Asia for its ubiquity in desserts, its fragrance isn’t sweet. When raw, pandan smells green and nutty, but when cooked, it acquires the voluptuous, toasted perfume of basmati rice. To continue reading, please click here.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Blue Butterfly Pea Flower Tea

Imagine tea the color of lapis lazuli and sapphires. The intense hue of butterfly-pea blossoms is the subject of my recent FT column, The Allure of Blue Flower Tea. I describe a traditional potion popular throughout South East Asia and give several suggestions on sampling these flowers.

“Would you like to try butterfly pea flower tea?” asked a friend, as we were getting ready to order drinks at a small restaurant in George Town. After several days eating and drinking my way through this charming town on the Malaysian island of Penang, I knew that I had to say yes. George Town’s legacy as a trading entrepôt is its blend of cultures — Malay, Chinese, Indian —that results in a diverse and vibrant cuisine. A standard hotel map will organise the town’s sightseeing locations by the different delicacies one can taste around its neighbourhoods, from noodle soups and seafood curries to coconut-scented cakes and dim sum. Of course, I had to try the butterfly pea flower tea. To continue reading, please click here.

Previously I also wrote about another blue-tinted tisane, this time from Estonia: Blue Mallow Tea.

The tea in my photo is brewed from Thai butterfly pea flowers. The image is in no way retouched–that’s really how vibrant the color is!

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Malaysian Incense : Scents Around the World

Aromas play an important role in cultural practices around the world. In Malaysia, for instance, insense is part of the Chinese temples rituals. There is usually a large cauldron full of smoking joss sticks. The most popular blends are based on sandalwood, with anise, cinnamon, and a touch of camphor and rose.

I wonder what incense fragrance would match this combination.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

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