Saturday, March 04, 2006

Murtabak Mutterings

You might have noticed that I do not seem to eat a lot of carbs (i.e. bread and pasta) or desserts. No, I’ve not been a closet carbs and sweets junkie hiding my shameful vice from you.

Pssst, come closer … I have a secret confession. I adore breads, potatoes and pasta and sweets and all manner of desserts. Possessing a supreme lack of will-power, I literally have to abstain from these for the sake of my health. OK, OK … my vanity too!

I could very happily eat bread with a hearty bowl of soup every single day. And a lot of it too! In Germany, I ate potatoes almost every alternate day. I love potatoes in any form. It’s truly tragic that one of my childhood playmates used to tease me by calling me a potato head and had no idea how close to the truth he was.

And sweets … don’t get me started on them. If someone feeds me premium dark chocolate in copious amounts every single day, they would have a slave for life.

My problem is that once I start, I find it hard to control my intake and more often than not, I eat myself ill. With my small appetite, that actually does not take a lot but the effects of my over-indulgence lasts for days and sometimes weeks! So, the easiest way to control my appetite is abstinence and occasional indulgences.

Like a junkie going through cold turkey treatment, I sometimes find myself shaking and averting my eyes in nervous guilt when faced with my nemesis. Walking past chocolates requires tremendous will and semi-masochistic flagellation. Eating pasta in starter portions induces a preening self-satisfaction that is quickly beaten down by an avaricious fixation on my dinner companions’ main course-sized platters of temptation. It’s hell walking in my shoes … especially if they are my 4-inch high black slingbacks.

The trouble started when I had pizza with 3A Gurl and 3A Hubby. That started my carbo craving. I tried to shake it but have you ever tried to tangle with shaken carb-cravings? Shaken carb cravings leads to much stirring. In the direction of the nearest prata store!

One of the best things invented by the Malaysian and Singaporean Indians is the prata. And by that virtue, murtabak. These thin, crispy, toasted and wonderfully greasy crepes come plain, with eggs, onions or both. Slick a generous dribble of golden curry over these fragrant pratas and heaven is glimpse through half-closed lids indolently heavy with ecstasy.

Murtabak is the over-achiever of pratas. Sneering at its plain brethren, murtabak is the Guv’nor of California version of prata. Over-the-top, thick yet wonderfully delicious, super-rich, full of itself, meaty, greasy and packing a huge punch, murtabak is always a guilty indulgence.

The best prata and murtabak are found at the 24-hour coffee shop in Bencoolen Street. I honestly have not had better. However, I had to satisfy myself with the nearest shop today as I was experiencing a level of craving that only possesses me every six months. Trotting purposefully to the nearest food court which had an Indian food stall, I ordered some mutton murtabak.

Now, I’m a fairly old-fashioned girl. I like my prata and murtabak traditional. Prata with egg served with curry. Murtabak chicken or mutton. None of the new fangled cheese pratas and banana-filled murtabak for me. Not that I am unadventurous. I’ve tried peanut butter pratas and banana murtabak with a friend. The peanut butter prata was nice but just too gooey and rich for me. The bananas were too unripe and tart and lacked something – probably caramel. So I squished the peanut prata and the banana murtabak together and came up with something that Elvis would have been proud of. Voila! A peanut butter & banana prata. The stall keeper smiled beatifically at me and I am betting that that combination will be appearing at the store soon. Singaporeans are nothing if not opportunistic.

But it’s the old classics for me. While I like playing with the idea of a Milo sauce and banana prata or a cheese and pear prata, when I have a serious craving, I want satisfaction, not experimentation. So I asked for a medium portion of mutton murtabak and was very pleased to note that the cook was making everything from scratch, ensuring an über-fresh and crispy murtabak.

However, when they packed up the curry, his wife displayed a parsimony that gives women a bad name. Now, it’s regularly heard that female food stall helpers are the stingiest. They ration everything and typically give you such measley portions that even rats would turn their noses up at it. I hate that kind of generalisation, feeling the burn for my own sex, but this woman was proving all the nay sayers right. She gave me so little curry that I could have closed my fist around the entire bag and it would have disappeared from sight.

Politely asking for more and feeling like Oliver Twist, I was slightly insulted when she gave a sly glance at my middle and a thorough once-over of my features. I could just read her thoughts.

But non-Indians don’t eat spicy food and girlfriend, you sure your stomach can take it?

I started projecting my own thought bubble at her. Bring it on, girlfriend! What. Eh.Ver! *Complete with the snap of fingers and shoulder swagger*

At home, I unpacked my aromatic, golden package of happiness. Pushing my nose right up against the lovely murtabak, I took massive whiffs and started dancing around the kitchen in glee. Luckily no one was home.

So, did I satisfy my craving? Yes. Was it good? Well … kind of. The murtabak was not as crispy as it should have been as the cook did not cook it long enough. There was insufficient onions to lend the dish its signature succulence and sweetness. But the worst transgression was the curry. I could taste that it was overcooked and it was a little too heavy on the cumin. The balance just wasn't right. Sigh. I give the murtabak a 6.75/10.

So while I am happy I got that craving out of the way, I wished I had had the wonderful prata from Bencoolen Street instead. Oh well. Till the next craving.

Categories - Rambling Prose


Anonymous ces said...

hi mm,
oh this is exactly what i had after bouncing back from the nasty flu, carbs and sweets craving!
you have such an eloquent and detailed way and of describing food!i think i'll be running to the indian resto now! :)

9:35 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Isn't it strange how that works? You're sick as a dog and once you get better you eat the most ridiculous stuff. Glad you're all better and cooking some really fab food again.

10:07 pm  

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