What to bring back from a SE-Asia/China trip?
My dad will be going home to Malaysia next week, and will also visit Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and Thailand (though none of them for that long) on his trip. He's asked me what I wanted him to bring back, and my mind went straight to trying to stock my kitchen. We live in Southwestern Ontario, not too far from Toronto, so there is a certain amount of stuff we can get already... just not always the good stuff (or much Malaysian stuff), you know?
What I'm thinking:
- sooooo much Malaysian coffee (especially white coffee)
- curry paste - we had a brand that we liked that my aunts sent over for a while
- dried shrimp (maybe dried anchovies too, for nasi lemak... which I still have to learn to make)
- maybe asam (tamarind?) paste/juice or something
- dried chillis
- gula melaka/rock sugar
- sambal paste to make nasi lemak with?
Any other suggestions? I looooove Malaysian food and always crave it lots, but I'm not too aware of what might be good to get from the other countries as well. My dad is going to be spending most of his time travelling more so than shopping, so anything that isn't available at a street market/supermarket/corner store is probably out. I kind of want a steamboat/hot-pot or juicer, but I think he'll balk at that.
If your father don't mind carrying back loads of foodstuff, I will recommend that he buys some of those Prima Food pre-mixes which are available in most supermarkets here in Singapore:- Cold Storage, Isetan, Takashimaya. Prima Food produces great Singapore chilli crab, Singapore laksa, Nyonya curry, Singapore Hokkien Mee mixes. You only add one of these to the dish you are preparing and you've got yourself a very authentic-tasting dish, no matter which corner of the world you are cooking at.
Also, if you are into Indian food and your father doesn't mind going down to Serangoon Road, try the supermarket section at Mustafa where you can find ready-to-eat, heat-and-serve Indian food which tastes absolutely heavenly. There are many brands to choose from, like Asoka, MTR, etc, and they have dhal curry, vegetable curry, ponggal rice, etc. The only limitation wouldbe your father's luggage weight limit.
I usually bring back Baba's curry powder (meat and fish ones), the Maggi brand spice pastes/powders for nasi goreng, ikan bilis (vaccuum sealed in several plastic bags!) and lots of Lipton Milk Tea (instant 3 in 1 tea). I live in So. CA and I can get the dried chillis, tamarind, rock sugar here.
Your list looks good. I would confirm on asking him to pick up the dried anchovies. Ikan bilis is key! So wonderful when fried and eaten with nasi lemak. You can also make really quick stock with just a few of them in water and then add vegetables, such as pumpkin. It's so handy.
Ask your father to pick up a pack of assam, the solid tamarind fruit. You can make the air asam (the tamarind water) from that. The juice is nice to drink but is not used for cooking.
If picking up gula melaka, you might also need some sago, the small little ones so that you can make sago gula melaka.
Don't forget to pick up belacan too so that you can make sambal belacan. The belancan in the small white box with the green and red design from Penang is good.
For the dried chilies, ask him to pick up the pointed ones from Southeast Asia and when he gets to China, to try to find the round Facing-Heaven chilies. They have different flavours and it's fun to experiment.
For dried seafood, pick up some dried shrimp. Look for the smaller pinker ones. Also small scallops are also very handy to make Cantonese-style stock with.
Finally, if you have a sweet tooth, don't forget to ask you father to pick up some kaya. Sooooo good with a slab of cold butter on hot toast!
Thanks so much everyone for your replies! It was very useful in helping me pin down what to ask for. I tried to keep things really simple and didn't add things I wouldn't know what do to with, but here was my food list in the end:
-Malaysian coffee, white and regular, 3 in 1
-pack of asam
-curry/sauce paste mixes (Baba's/Maggi/Prima)