If you are an unfortunate white man that never had a frivolous reason to visit Malaysia, you will most probably have missed out on one of the greatest instant snacks ever created by the human race, until of course you were fortunate to read this article. If you're Malaysian, you know what I'm talking about. And if you don't, please email me your home address because you've just won 5 free vouchers of the Backdoor Madras Special (for definition, see posting here).
Yes, you have your Twisties (Chicken, Cheese, Curry and some of the new funky stuff, Salmon Terikyaki and Tandoori Flavoured), Mamee (the standard and the extra spice), Double Decker Range (the Prawn Fries and the Chicken Flavoured Chips), Jack and Jill Chips (which are actual potato chips flavoured with Tomato and Spicy), Cap Tangan Peanuts, Yaws, all sorts of muesli bars, chocolate, ice cream, Chickadees, and those Tortilla Chips and the optional dips, but for me the Keropok is the Daddy of Them All. Do you know who your Daddy is?
Keropok is generally made out of fish or prawns, which is massaged with flour and a bit of salt. It is then either drawn out into a shape similar to that of a sausage (kerepok lekor, second above) or cut in to strips (keropop keping, as first above) or round in shape, although this is less common these days, or keropok sira (chili-flavoured fish). If the ingredient is prawn then the keropok will tend to have a tinge of red on the sides and the cream will have splotches of red here and there, or sometimes uniformly red (as seen below). The ones made of fish are more commonly a dark to light dull brown to a quite light grey depending on the fish used.
The popular one is uses an ikan parang base which is more or less like the one up there (in the first picture) although sometimes it could be lighter. The one I adore is the one made out of ikan tamban where they pretty much throw the whole thing in which causes it to be 'gatal'. A direct translation of that word is 'itchy' does not quite capture the sensation which is more akin to a very faint tingling sensation around the mouth, as if you have eaten chillies but without the spice. It's also the cheaper one and to my chagrin it is not the type vendors normally stock.
Although I am pleased to say I have found my future supplier for the goods stuff on what I call the Keropok Stretch around the Cherating area. If you love keropok, you have to check this place out. I think it's about a few kilometers of road around the Cherating area where many of the stalls dot both the sides of the road. They've got freshly made keropok lekor for ya, with their own special house sauce with the usual teh tarik, etc. and the bigger ones tend to have a slightly wider range than the mere stall. They also have more further up in Terengganu around the Dungun area as well. I am happy to find that sometimes some of them take pride in making their own chili sauce. Although it must be said, this stuff goes especially with the Lingam Chili Sauce too. Oh baby. Now that's a piece of heaven right there when you combine the two. Although to my personal taste, I think the Lingam goes better with the Tamban or Parang but not so well with the prawn based ones, there's a sense of spice and urgency in taste with the former as compared to the rather uncomfortable taste in between.
As with all snacks it can be eaten any time but the advantage here is that this snack is in one way healthy for you. As I've mentioned earlier, keropok is mainly just fish and flour. And you can tell how much flour there is in the keropok after you've fried it. The harder it is, the more flour there is in the mix. But the point here is that we all know how fish is good for us right? If ya don't, click on the link. And if you eat enough, why it could serve as a meal. The flour takes the place of the rice, if you are so rice inclined as I thoughly and unashamedly am. So you can eat as much of it as you like without feeling to guilty as compared to eating chocolate, ice cream or those other more processed junk food like Twisties, Chickadees, etc. (or so I try to convince myself). And please, be sure not to confuse this with the papadam with is made out of chickpea flour, generally a yellow or light yellow, and oval or circular in shape. Below is an illustration of one of the genrally types of papadams. So if you still get it wrong after this, may the curse of the white pubes be upon thee sorta thang.