The past six or seven weeks have comprised both of these extremes. My life has seemed like a baseball game... long stretches of routine and boredom punctuated by moments of high drama, tension, and excitement. While this formula works really well for baseball (and it's not too bad for life in general, either, I suppose), it really doesn't lend itself very favorably to consistent blog writing! But now I can take a breath and get everyone caught up on the last month or so...
First of all, let's talk about food. Somehow, this very popular street food here managed to fly under my radar for the better part of fifteen months, and I just don't know how that happened. It's so popular, in fact, that the primary ingredient is routinely smuggled into Singapore from Malaysia to surreptitiously serve the hungry people there. It's called the Ramly burger, and my research suggests that it's been around since about 1979, created here in KL by a man named Ramly Moknin. Someone gave me a year-old copy of Expatriate Lifestyle magazine and there was an article in there about these burgers, and all I could think is, "How disgusting... I've GOT to get one of these!" They're widely available here, and very popular, but somehow I missed them. All Malaysian beef products are banned in Singapore, so vendors smuggle the frozen beef patties across the causeway and sell them secretly there, risking their food-stall license to do so.
And what makes a mere burger worth risking one's livelihood? Well, I can tell you that, by pretty much any measure, this thing is a culinary abomination. It makes McDonald's look like health food. So, as you can imagine, it tastes fantastic. Anything this bad for you surely would.
The burger starts out with essentially the cheapest, crappiest, sad little frozen beef patties that (not a lot of) money can buy. You can get a 10-pack from the freezer at Tesco for about RM5 or so, less than US$2, and the question of whether or not any cows were actually involved in the creation of this product might even be debatable. (Note the unintentionally humorous "90% pure meat"—not beef, but meat—sign.) Anyway, Ramly burger carts are, for reasons unknown, almost always found next to 7-11 convenience stores. Everyone apparently knows this except me, so when I asked a friend of mine about this mysterious burger, he said, "Oh sure, there's a stall near my place that has the best Ramly burgers in town." (Indeed, the cart had a little certificate pinned to it from a local newspaper declaring the fat-and-calorie bomb burgers there to be the best in Klang Valley for 2009.) So I was eager to try this thing and then hate myself in the morning for it. First, the vendor cooks a patty on a hot griddle. Mine was cooked in a puddle of dirty grease. Yum. The bun was then split and buttered (likely with some palm oil derivative) and placed face-down on the griddle. Next, he cracked an egg, muddled the yolk around and spread it out very thinly on the hot surface (about 10 inches/25 cm across...wow), then placed the burger patty of doom into the center of the fried egg, then folded up the sides of the egg around the meat, like a little parcel. Some cooks will butterfly the beef patty, slicing it horizontally. This guy didn't, though. He simply seasoned the patty with something called Maggi seasoning, added liberal squirts of mayonnaise and sweet chili sauce, and a dash of thick Worcestershire sauce. His wife was on veggie patrol next to him, so she added a few bits of slivered onions to the burger. The toasted bun was set open to receive the egg-wrapped burger, onto which she added a handful of shredded cabbage or some sort of local lettuce (not like iceberg or romaine lettuce -- it looked very cabbage-y). Then the cook added more mayo, more chili sauce, a bit of mustard, and something that looked like BBQ sauce, mashed the top bun onto it and wrapped it up. There may have been a slice of cheese added at some point, but who would have ever seen it under all that muck and despair? So to recap, we have some beef-like product, fried in a lake of fat, a fried egg, the equivalent of a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise, the same amount of sweet chili sauce, and a few scraps of cabbage and onion to make it a balanced, nutritious meal. I felt my arteries hardening and my cholesterol rising just watching it be made.
My friend had his burger made, too (it's a fast process) and we walked over to the open-air area of food stalls and tables and prepared to eat this thing. A girl came over for drink orders and I ordered an apple juice, kind of in the same logic as people who order a triple-scoop ice cream sundae with extra chocolate sauce and nuts, and a diet Coke. I will say this: ordering fruit juices at a food stall in KL is a different experience than getting fruit juice at a restaurant in America. It took over ten minutes to get the juice back to me because it's fresh -- they actually pulverize and juice the apples. I should have taken a picture because I foolishly ordered a large ("Small or big?" she asked) and it was huge. HUGE. Probably a full liter of juice. They ask if you want sugar added, but I didn't. It was great, but wow... next time I'll get the small version. The one I had was like an apple orchard in a glass.
As for the Ramly burger...? YUM. Look at this picture. Disgusting, isn't it? What a mess. This was a four-napkin burger and I still felt like I needed a shower afterwards. But ohhhh what flavor. From a calorie and saturated fat perspective, I'm pretty sure this thing would outpace a Big Mac, but wow, it sure tasted good. I'm determined never to get addicted though. Perhaps once a month as a treat. Truly a guilty pleasure.
There's much more news to share -- I'm currently back home in Colorado for the holidays, but will return to KL in early January. I'll be sure to update again soon!