For many British expats, settled in these lush verdant shores, there comes a point at which romantic visions of ‘home’ start to plague working life, dogging nights and holding sway over more rational thoughts and inclinations.
This ultimate self-delusory construct, more commonly known as ‘homesickness,’ tends to come unbidden and completely without warning. One fair and happy day you might be revelling in the exquisite culinary delights of Fish Head Curry, or up to your proverbial neck having consumed practically your entire weight in Dosa and Uppam Manis, then, without a warning, comes this sudden, almost uncontrollable craving for Cod & Chips, Yorkshire Pudding, or, in my case – Shepherd’s Pie.
No succulent Malay Gulai in the world could put off this absurd longing for Shepherd’s Pie, and, of course, gravy. Real gravy that is, just like mom used to make, with real Oxo cubes and real Bisto powder, not just brown coloured cornstarch water.
When the desperate longing is upon you, it is worse than any other addict’s cravings. Only that object of desire, that Shepherd ’s Pie, and no other, will satisfy the hunger for the familiar – that comfort food from your home country. It could, of course be anything from anywhere. I am not suggesting that expats from China, Australia or even Japan would suddenly have a deep desire for Shepherd’s Pie, ‘cause that would be silly.
A friend, who once taught English in Malaysia for a few years, returned to England craving Marmite. It was, he said, the only thing to console him. It was the one item seemingly unavailable to him, at that time, in Malaysia. He said that Malaysian food was out of this world. He positively doted on the delectable Dosa and went nostalgically nutty over noodles, but, despite having some of the best food in the world – in Malaysia, the one thing he really wanted, the only thing to salve his craving for ‘home’, was Marmite.
To each their own, and I have not had that particular problem. To me Marmite was always a take it, or leave it, item. These days Marmite is found quite easily in places like the Cold Storage, along with Vegemite, Bovril and similar sticky salty items which tease my palate not one iota.
As the sunny, sultry year progresses to October, then November, autumn, in all its yellow leaf dropping finery, seems to be missing. There is no mass fall of multicoloured leaves, no sharp, crispy crunchy frost underfoot as Guy Fawkes Night/Bonfire Night (November 5th) comes fleeing past. No foil wrapped, soon to be buttery, potatoes roasting in glowing ashes – no blackening chestnuts wafting their welcoming mouth watering scent, either.
Sometimes, the delightful Malaysian semi-permanent tropical sun, perpetual heat and rapid rainstorms are unable to console the secret, yet rampant longing for exactly the opposite. That yearning, feeling of longing for home, ebbs and flows, like some reluctant emotional tide on a gigantic ocean of thought and feeling. Every now and then, that, which you so desperately sought to distance yourself from becomes the very thing that will quench your dearest desire – cold, damp, grey winter skies; having to wear 3 or 4 items of upper clothing; being chilled to the very bone with Jack Frost nipping at your ears, and a run of mucus dripping from your ever bluing nose.
It is, without the shadow of any kind of doubt, the fault of the ever-present calendar. A quick glance to one side of my computer revealed a Halloween, which had been creeping eerily forward, then gone. A Bonfire Night, its incumbent Autumnal festivities burning rapidly on, bringing forth remembrances, and irrevocably skipping to times long since past; to other incidents, almost lost in memory which may, or may not, have actually happened, but seem lodged in this wistful, romantically dreaming mind.
Of course, the reverse is true too.
On cold, damp, grey Autumn days in England, as you pull your top-coat around you for just a little warmth, and finding all there is eat (that’s halal) is a limp, drab Döner kebab, bearing only the slightest resemblance to the original Turkish dish, with meat obviously made from Bata’s cast outs – your thoughts fly to the far away equatorial sun. Never mind that the actual sun is a few thousand miles away, and your feet are currently wet and in danger of becoming frozen, it is then, in that moment and in your most nightmare of scenarios, that you crave the satisfying food of home, and mom.
Cowering from the English weather, wondering if the sun will ever shine, it is then that even the most pathetic watery Primrose Hill Penang Laksa, or near nauseating Northern London Nasi Lemak would be enough to satisfy your irrational craving for home sweet Malaysian home. But not Marmite.
For all you expatriates out there, who were weaned on Mom’s Shepherd’s Pie and occasionally find yourself drooling for a taste of good ole England, you can savour it at the following restaurants:
Citrus Wine & Dine
38-46, Laluan Ipoh Perdana, Ipoh
Tel: 05-545 1010
Maria’s Restaurant Cafe
No. 60, Persiaran Greentown 1, Greentown Business Centre, Ipoh
Kinta City, Syuen Hotel, Jalan Lau Pak Khuan