Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Tastebud Evangelists.

Does KL food Suck?

Yes says a local member of the parliament. Bernama reported that Mohamad Abdul Aziz, MP for Sri Gading saying that he was disappointed with the quality and price of food in the federal capital, besides the taste not being authentic.

"If we eat nasi biryani, asam pedas, mee mamak or tomyam, we know how it should really taste,” the report quoted him.

"But I'm sorry to say that KLites have no discerning taste. They'll eat anything...even iron and stones...that's why the eatery operators take advantage of their poor taste buds," he said.

Haha! Before you guys rush over to the parliament and protest, let me assure you of something: He could have been the victim of The Tastebud Evangelists (TTE).

What or who are TTE, you may ask?

I have the right answer for you, pal (and gals). Its YOU! Yes, all of you, and me, and that cat that came to my dream (I cannot name it). We are all TTEs, and we have one time or another become the victim of TTEs.

This is how it normally begins. You having a casual conversation, and after discussing your favourite stars, your favourite gossip and your favourite insect (rhino beetle is cool), the conversation would then directly centre on favourite food.

And you’d say, “I am crazy about Asam Laksa. I always think about it. I dream about it. I lust for Assam Laksa all the time. I make my boyfriend go cuckoo and once almost killed him because he bought for me Laksa Johore which gives me depression”.

Despite the fact that you are a murderous person and the fact that you pals should avoid you like a plague, one of them would say, “You know what? I know the best one. One day I bring you to Kepong. It has the best Laksa in the country”.

Never mind the fact that that helpful pal probably only been to three states in the country, not counting Perlis which is basically a patch of padi field, some hills and a school with a squash court. He has become a TTE.

So, what would you do? You will heed to the suggestion and venture into the wilderness of Kepong and try the Laksa. Honestly, it would taste just like any other Laksa, and not any better than one from your own favourite Laksa joint and worst, it might even taste like sample taken from Klang River.

And your pal will look at you expectantly, and ask “So, what do you think?”

If you say, “well, its normal”, your pal may avoid you the rest of your life. If you say, “no it’s terrible”, chances of finding your body the next day may be remote. So, you will say, “Yes, I love it. Give me more. Give me, give me, give me…”

I used Kepong as an example due to tragedy that befallen me of late. I am going to marry a girl from there (no, that is not the tragedy); though she claims she is from Segambut. Also, it should be noted that area also borders Jinjang*.

One day, we went to her favourite hawker centre there, and I noticed a long queue stretching to the road in one of the makeshift stalls.

“That’s the famous Nasi Lemak. They say it’s very nice, just look at the queue,” Linda, my fiancée, said. I was tempted. But I should also have remembered that Linda does not eat Nasi Lemak. Come on, its evangelism from someone who does not even believe in it.

Like a moron, I ta-pau-ed (takeaway-ed) a pack of simple Nasi Lemak. (This as opposed to complex Nasi Lemak, which is served with Rendang, Sambal Sotong, fried chicken, caviar, pâté de foie gras or anything you fancy).

Back at home, I tried it. Needless to say, it tastes like many other Nasi Lemak I have tried in KL that has made me strike off Nasi Lemak temporarily from my favourite food list. I said temporarily because there is one place in Kampung Attap that could restore my confidence in Nasi Lemak and world peace.

To her credit, though, I actually stumbled into an excellent Assam Laksa in Kepung. She brought me there for different reason, but I saw this old lady in a small shabby store and somehow there seems something authentic about the prepared stuff for the dish. I tried it and it was great!

I will not divulge where this place is. Because, if I do, I’d become TTE and one of the worst thing happens when TTE-ism takes place is making the place popular. What’s wrong with that you may ask. When it gets popular, the owners will have to mass-produce their dish. And when they mass produce their dish, the original taste goes down the drain.

So, I implore you. Stop evangelising on places to get good food. Keep it to yourself. It should be a secret. Bring your pals there, if they compliment it, keep that pride to yourself. If they complain, call the gangsters from Jinjang.

Having said that, I urge you to try the Char Kuey Tiaw in SS2. Awesome!


*Remember Jinjang Joes? That makes her Jinjang Joey, I suppose.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reduction Seduction

The news that the Indian Muslim (commonly known as Mamak restaurant here) restaurants are reducing the price of nasi kandar, the tari and roti canai came as a shock to me.

Because I was saying, “Naaaaahhhhh…..”

Why? Because way before the hike of petrol price, way before people started bitching about the rice of the food price, heck way before the comet wiped out dinosaurs and thousands of species excluding coackroch and Samy Velu, saying “cut throat” to describe food price in Indian Muslim restaurants would be too kind*.

But the report I read this morning made me smile. Not the, “ah…finally” smile, but “yeah, right smile”.

Written by journalist Lisa Goh, here’s the opening para (lead, as journos call it): Consumers in the Klang Valley have reason to smile - the prices of nasi kandar, teh tarik and roti canai are being reduced immediately.

Great….this was written under the impression that all the consumers in Klang Valley live on Nasi Kandar, the tarik and roti canai. We won’t smile if they reduce the prices of chapatti, thosai, fried kuey tiaw, claypot rice, laksa, and even Nasi Ayam. No, we won’t smile.

Next the report goes:
Nasi kandar will see a reduction of 20 sen a plate, while roti canai (and other roti items such as roti telur, roti pisang, etc) and teh tarik will see a reduction of 10 sen each.

Wow! Amazing, ain’t it. I can save 20 sen from my nasi kandar and 10 sen from teh tarik. Thirty sen saved in a day. I am so grateful. With thirty sen I can buy….I can buy…hang on…I am sure I can buy something with thirty sen that I saved by eating Nasi Kandar and drinking Teh tarik?

And these two food item and the drink are what has enough calorie, sugar and cholesterol to kill a dinosaur**

Let’s look at the following para in the report:

This is because the Muslim Restaurant Operators Association (Presma) and the Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners’ Association (Primas) have decided to support the Government’s move on price reduction.

The fuel price went down three times…only now they are reducing the price? Are they joking.

Following that para is this:
However, the price reduction will be on a voluntary basis, and there is no fixed maximum price for these three food items.

Haha, they were joking after all. I was listening to the Bernama radio this morning, and someone was online with the radio presenters, saying that the restaurant he is in now has not reduced the price. Well, it was supposed to be voluntary, right? That’s only one restaurant, you say.

Nooooo…the news radio station then got in touch with Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca) President Datuk Marimuthu who was also in a mamak restaurant.

Needless to say (Fomca must be really a very depressing place to work. I bet everyone is unhappy on daily basis just not to break that continuity), Marimuthu started ranting, saying the government shouldn’t be politicking. “Rakyat cannot take it anymore. Suddenly you announce this and that”.

Whoa! Take it easy, old man. It was not the government that made that announcement. That was from the restaurant organisations. Well, he probably had different issues in his mind…but the point is, he admitted that the restaurant he is in too has not reduced the price.

But Marimuthu had a point. Basically he is saying, we are moving on…it’s a reality food prices has gone up, but don’t keep feeding us all this tiny goodies..or what he refers to as “gimmicks”.

There is a bigger problem out there. There is a financial tsunami coming and the government tells us that “hey, the tide is calm…take it easy…we are resilient”. I am beginning to hate that word “resilient”. It used to be a great word, a strong word, a confident building word that self-help gurus drink everyday for their own eg. But now “resilient” sound repugnant, redundant, repulsive and revolting!

Sorry for the rant. Coming back to the issue, actually I shouldn’t be excited about the whole thing. The price reduction only applies to the members of the organisation. As one of its presiden said, it will start with 200 members in Klang Valley and soon will be adopted by all 4500 members nationwide.

The report goes on:
Asked if such a move would incur losses for the restaurant operators, he replied: “No, it will only lower our profit margin.”

Asked if there were plans to include more items for price reduction, he said: “Slowly.”

Finally, talk about honesty. Here is what I think will happen, after we get whacked left, right and centre by global economic turmoil, when we are taking a little breather, they will probably come up with an announcement saying that price of Sup Kambing will be reduced 15 sen. And we are supposed to be eternally grateful for that.


*I know you amateur historians want to strangle me for wrongly suggesting that Indian Muslim restaurants existed during the dinosaur era. But you will remember me one day when anthropologists discover that dinosaurs got extinct because of eating recycled fish curry! **Another plausible theory linking T-Rex, Mamak restaurant and extinction.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Quantum of Solace: Review

Review of the latest Bond movie. Those who had not seen it, better don't read it now. It may have spoilers.

If CR is a legitimate standalone film, would QOS be Godfather II, or Star Wars: TESB? Well, sadly it would be Superman II…which is not bad, but not as good as the first.

Where do I start? Allow me to break it into elements that we normally would like to look out for in the Bond films.

Script.
Convoluted? Nope, pretty straight forward…a slight rehash of LTK, its padded with more action sequences that actually slows down the progress of the story…which is not that great either. Problem is, in CR they had great source material to work it and in QOS, they had to go back to cooking their own little dish. And this time, its revenge dish…not necessarily the first time in the films history. Not entirely original, since Fleming dealt with it in YOLT, and the filmmakers had earlier dealt with it in LTK (I am pretending that Brosnan Bond never happened, so to hell with TWINE etc).

Speaking of LTK, in QOS, M asks Bond to hand over the weapon, then Bond escapes by kicking the MI6 dudes, and jump over the balcony. Is that Déjà vu or the scriptwriters were just plain lazy.

So, you have a pretty so and so script to work with, and the problem is tossed to…

Direction
Forster did a good job, when the scenes are quiet, introspective, exploring a bit of Bond’s psyche. Marred by overlong and too frequent action scenes, this could have made a more intelligent film if there were more brainwork, instead of gunwork, involved in what could have been a wonderful sequel to CR. I hear Forster might return to Bond 23, so I hope he would pay more attention to the criticism on the action scenes, and help to come up with stronger, more intelligent film.

Action
Bourne? Before Greengrass there was Bruckheimer, Bay and West. At that time (90s seems far away now), the style was referred to as “MTV style of quick cutting and shooting”. Shaky cam included. And for you kids out there, go and watch The Rock, and you know what I mean.

And it’s the same feeling I get watching this film. Slam, bang, crashes, breaking of glasses (like one reviewer here said, too many glasses were broken during the making of this film), running, shooting, jumping, thumping, spinning (on the rope), explosions, fire, its all there. My fiancé was gripping my hand during those scenes. Alas, it was the grip that kept me on focus. I was not interested most of the time. I just wanted the quieter scene.

I never say this to anyone, but I want to say this to the editor: “You are wrong”. We care about what happens to Bond during this scene. We want to see him to know if he is in pain, if he is suffering, if he likes the killing or not, if he has moments of doubt, if he cares for his life or not…none of this can be seen during these action sequences. In between milliseconds you see grim, cold face of Bond’s doing his thang.

Music.
Contrary to popular belief, there is Bond theme interspersed throughout the film. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is Arnold is still one board. He has to go. His sound evokes irrepressible awful memories of the four Brosnan/Bonds (it happened…not it didn’t…it did…). This is a rebooted Bond. This is a different world. It’s like listening to Dmitri Tiomkin in a Clint Eastwood movie.

Take a bow Arnold. Maybe the producers are nice. Please don’t take advantage of other’s generosity. Move on.

And I don’t even want to talk about the turd that is the theme song. But then, there has been many animal faeces disguised as theme songs in the history of Bond films.


Characters.

Supporting.

Leiter and Mathis are a joy. It’s good to have them back…and yes, they could have longer screentime. I want to see Bond palling around with them a lot more. There are more fun with scenes of Bond with these two then all the action scenes of both CR and QOS combined. Almaric’s Greene is boring. When he stands on top of the balcony and gives that speech, you see Carver, you see Graves (Brosnan Bond did not happen…did not happen). The others were there, I don’t know. I don’t care. Gemma Atherton is total waste. Why was she there? Why was her character sent to bring Bond back? Why not some tough agents…like they did in LTK. Oh, the scriptwriters were probably scared that they are accused of stealing ideas from past. Too late, dudes….

Main characters.
Camille.
Boring. My fiancé said, for a Bond girl, she is pretty plain looking. Well, it didn’t bother me none. But she did not add to the movie. No glamour, no danger. Nothing.

M.
Dench’s M should go. She is incompetent, emotional, insecure, insipid, and basically an idiot (betrayed by agent working 8 years with her). One scene she asks Bond, “How come we didn’t know about this organisation”? I wanted Bond to say, “It’s because you are incredibly stupid, you old hag!”

Why does she have to tag around Bond, travelling all those places? Is she in charge of Bond only? Doesn’t she have other important task to do back in the office? Also, looking at her facial expression most of the time, is she suffering from internal haemorrhage? Also, instead of the pleasure of having a Bond girl in her bathroom, we have M in her bathroom this time. What is happening, dudes?

I understand Dench is known to be an excellent actress (I prefer others, I find Dench to be dull…but then incredible dullness have been mistaken for great performance, so its just a matter of opinion). So, dear producers give her a rest. Let M go and look after an orphanage or something. Get someone more professional. I don’t care if it’s a woman, man, transvestite or a fat orange Tabby.

Bond.

Ah…the glue. The one element that holds the whole movie together. Daniel Craig is James Bond. He owns the role now. Anyone out there claiming to be Bond should be arrested and made to watch all Brosnan Bond films over and over again (no, it did not happen).

HE brings dignity to the role. He brings nobility to the role. He is not exactly Fleming’s Bond. He need not be Fleming’s Bond. Dalton was Fleming’s Bond. Connery was the ultimate movie Bond. Craig now has the advantage of being both.

Forster and the scriptwriters committed a terrible crime by not allowing Bond to have more moments for himself. More moments to reveal himself to the audience. Why a crime? Because they are using a wonderful actor. But Craig made best use of what material he has…and he added to it. I don’t mind seeing him doing even mundane things like making coffee or explaining to his maid that his eggs must be boiled three and a half minutes. That would be more exciting than the badly cut car chase in the beginning.

I beg the producers to keep Craig for more movies. If he asks more money, pay him. If he asks for a small Latin America country, negotiate with the dictator and get it for him (the scriptwriters can help, they are pretty good with the dictator thingy). I am watching this film for Craig again.

And thanks to Craig, I am giving this film 6/10 rating.
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