Thursday, June 21, 2012
This is what I had for dinner, a chicken murtabak. The murtabak originates in the Middle East - in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and it's a pancake with a rich stuffing of chicken or mutton. Although it's full of calories and artery-clogging cholesterol, it's really something you won't mind dying for. You can tell when you're anywhere near a place that sells murtabak. The aroma just hits you right in the face and you know you have to eat it and everything you've ever read about what constitutes a healthy diet is quickly forgotten.
Arab traders brought the recipe to the East, beginning with India, in the region of Kerala and then to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Probably because of its origin, the best murtabak in Singapore is sold by Indian Muslims. Come to think of it, I don't know of any murtabak seller who is not an Indian Muslim.
There are variations of the murtabak in places outside Singapore and Malaysia. I understand that there is a sweet version in Indonesia. When I was a student travelling in Thailand on a shoestring budget, I had a sweet murtabak that had condensed milk in it and it tasted heavenly. It's hard for me to be certain now whether my delight for this milky murtabak was attributable to the unreliable tastebuds of a famished unguided youth as I was then or whether it was really delicious but I'm inclined to think that it must have been pretty good. That was the only time in my life I ever had murtabak with milk as a filling. I recall the bus that I was travelling in on a cheap ticket to Chiangmai made a pit stop in one of those little towns that had only one major road passing through it. It was past midnight and there was this street vendor selling the milky murtabak. It was more like a rolled up prata with condensed milk in it.
Whatever its variation, the murtabak is decidedly unhealthy. Here's where I can sneak in the second joy, now that I have talked about the joy of eating murtabak. That's the joy of cycling. I cycled to dinner and as I approached my favourite murtabak joint, I saw what I felt I had to take a pic of.
Yes, that's how you can enjoy a huge plate of murtabak and still not die of a heart attack. Plus you get to enjoy the fun of cycling, take lovely photos and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you're not burning up fossil fuel.