Seeking Inspiration On The Way To Penang

We recently arrived in Penang, Malaysia quite exhausted from a whirlwind dining tour in Dubai during our multi-hour layover. We flew over on Emirates Airlines and Dubai is their hub, so a stopover when heading east is de rigueur. With little time to spare, Jori had researched some cool spots featuring fresh chapati and mutton which, with the wind at our backs, we would be able to race to, stuff our faces and cruise back to the airport for our connection to Malaysia.

We scored big time and found a tiny spot tucked away at the end a dead end lane so deep in a labyrinth of lanes our taxi driver had to get out and ask for directions three times. We sat on a wool rug and lounged on decorative red pillows while gorging ourselves on tender mutton kebabs and spicy, stewed mutton kedai; the latter we ate with a rich mutton biriyani. Delighted and perfectly full, we were prepared for the next leg of our journey, somewhat.

I don't do well with long flights. I get restless, my ass gets numb and I develop a hypersensitivity to all the smells floating through the cabin (we all take pleasure in the anonymity of our own high altitude flatulence). Each cough, shift and child's cry assaults my senses to the point that I simply have no choice but to knock myself out. Short of using a hammer for the job, I swallow a couple Ambien.

This hypnotic will, on occasion, influence some erratic behavior, such as the time I arrived in London still rolling along in that sleeping pill haze, dropped my bag at the front desk of my hotel and proceeded to spend the next three hours visiting tailors and buying bespoke suits and shirts (not typical of me, I assure you). Then there was the time I decided it would be wise to explain a brilliant restaurant concept I came up with mid-flight by calling Jori, my chef and my partner all while in the air — each one individually from the airplane phone. Those calls weren't cheap, but the conversations were memorable, at least for the folks on the other line. The concept, however, was not.

Mild flight mischief and entertainment was on order on our Emirates flight a few days ago. First off, I decided I had to log on to the airplane's wifi so I could email an installment of the Alimentary Canal to Food Republic. I must really love those guys because a mid-flight, sleeping pill–induced email, column or blurb is a very revealing stream of poorly cobbled together, uninhibited thoughts. Here is an excerpt from the unedited copy:

"From the air...from Dubai...belly full of mutton kedia, fresh green chilies, mutton biriyani, tahini rich hummus, mutton kebab...and butter cookies with dark chocolate.

Heavy new gold necklaces and random electronics, the whimsical purchases of 4am airport transfers...there should be an international law banning these 24 hour airport malls, it's like stealing...even more so because no one knows what currency they're spending...a moment when we think maybe it's not even money, so, yes, of course I'll buy that rolex, and can you please set it for whatever time zone we're in right now. We're just waiting eat, to market, to market, will your gizmos and novelties and ornate mont blanc plumes help get us to market? My mistress Penang is waiting....

On a happy adventure our adventurers feed on Laksas, char kway teows, fish head curries, rafts of roti canai swimming in rich curry, a life lesson in fermented fish sambals and the test: man against keropok lekor. Our young candide (played by jori jayne) and her ever-optimistic dr. Pangloss (yours truly...and blindly) and perhaps a few other mascots, nihilists, pragmatists and peasants from our blurred decks, our transient environs, will affix themselves as entourage on this meaningful quest to enjoy, scrutinize, and push forward to the heart of the matter: that we are here to eat, unimpeded, and our thoughts will reflect that and weave along uninterrupted by the anxiety whirlwind sucking in anxious metaphors and premature comparisons to cuisine we don't cook and nor do our contemporaries. We don't cook this or like this. You didn't just eat there on friday in Williamsburg. The best chili is at dawn...and the best Laksa is in a durian farm...wear a helmet. And try to follow. The keyboard, my head, the camera, the ground, whatever it is, it keep focused. The faint hearted are dead. Reticence is soporific...and so are these pills....

AC is on the road and swinging from the tropical firmament. When we get off this plane, it's getting weird."

There was a bit of indecipherable weirdness book ending the body of this email that I sent over to the folks at Food Republic...blips and fragments that had more to do with what was on my iPod and flashing on the video monitor on the seat back in front of me. Silly, solipsistic stuff, but who can help it when you're in that fog, you've no clear path out for the fireworks of free association, though, under the weight of chemical-induced slumber, our free association is less impressive than fireworks and closer to the underwhelming impotence of party snaps. But the airplane food never tasted better...and Jori's necklace looks great!

Look for the next installment when we discuss the merits of a good char kway teow and high-humidity perms.

Makan Makan!

—Zak & Jori