Scent - Hawker stalls at night

Scent - Hawker stalls at night

By
Chui Lee Luk
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702407
Photographer
Chris Chen

Certain smells evoked irrepressible food cravings in me as a child. From the moment when something triggered a reminder of what might be missing in my day, it felt like an itch that wouldn’t go away, a gnawing need that bothered me through play or school, even when I wasn’t hungry. It wasn’t beyond me to beg and cajole until I got what I wanted. The intensity of that craving remains a very immediate sensation for me to this day.

One of the strongest cravings I experienced as a child was for the Malaysian version of banana fritters, and these had to be the fritters from the Indian hawker stalls. I can remember when it was all a new experience for me. After dinner one day my father or one of my uncles must have thought it a good idea to take my cousins and me to the stalls that sold banana fritters. (These outings always seemed to happen only at twilight or night and so, of course, made me feel as if I were doing something forbidden or cheating my parents of the opportunity to put me to bed at the designated time.) Perhaps the adults were prey to the same cravings I would later suffer?

I can remember being driven in someone’s car, stopping in a so-called car park that was sticky with ochre mud, a mud which had an acrid stink about it, and wandering through a slippery, precipitous, circuitous path to a surprisingly crowded area. There were roughly set up stalls and all sorts of people hovering about. I admit to having no recollection of what the other stalls might have sold — it seemed our sole mission was to hone in on the banana fritter stall. All I can remember of the stall is a dirty blue and white awning in a ragged state, which had a persistent but rather pleasant smell of old cooking oil. I think it was because I was such a shy child at times that I shirked having any contact with strangers or even satisfying my curiosity about what went on in the stall, hence the vagueness of my visual memory of the place.

The greatest pleasure and most intense memory is the smell of the freshly fried fritters through the white paper in which they were wrapped. Believe me when I say that the smell of the paper formed just as important a part of this indelible scent memory as the very particular banana smell and the sweetness of the batter. We’d purchase a number of large packages to take home to the assorted family members. When the packages were unwrapped, the satisfaction of biting into the still hot and crispy fritters was immense, to say the least. I believe I always consumed more than was probably right for a child of my size.

Recipes in this Chapter

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