Special Feature

Student Food Survival Guide

by The Charlie Photography FriedChillies on Wed, August 25, 2010
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So it's time for you to head off to University in a foreign country and you might miss a taste of home while you are there. Here are some ways to ensure that you can take a piece of home with you.

Everything looks different, feels different, smells different

Congratulations on your acceptance to the Friedchillies University!

We at FCU realize that food is more essential to your well-being than any book or lecture can ever be. You now face the challenge of selecting which food items that are important to you, whether they be essential ingredients or snacktime treats that are unavailable in countries other than your own. We appreciate that this is an immense task for any young man or woman about to enter our hallowed halls.

We encourage you to peruse the following list for possible food items you may wish to bring with you into our fair country. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, simply a guide. Your essentials and treats will most likely differ from the next undergraduate.

Essentials:
Ikan bilis
Serunding daging/ayam/ikan
Your favorite chilli sauce
Your favorite soy sauce
Belacan
Stock cubes (variety of flavours)
Ready made mixes (e.g. rendang, masak merah – just add meat)

Treats:
Assortment of local candy*
Assortment of local cookies (e.g. kuih samprit, pineapple tarts)*
Assortment of local nibbles (e.g. corn chips, nut mixes)*

*Available from your neighbourhood kedai runcit, or enquire with your mother.

The next crucial step on your journey towards your diploma is to be well-versed in the language of packing. We have duly noted that space in your luggage is scarce. However, through years of research, we have found that most students arrive ill-prepared for the challenges that arise from homesickness. This is easily rectified by practicing careful packing. Refer to the following photos for a basic tutorial.

How to pack smelly things

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First wrap in foil, then newspaper to absorb the smell, and then in a plastic bag

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Seal the bag by melting the edges

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Wrap it in sturdy fabric like your jeans

How to pack wet things

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Wrap the bottle in newspaper, then in a bag and secure with rubberbands

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Next wrap it in a cloth or towel incase anything leaks

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Now you're all packed and ready to go!

We also encourage you to join our student network and befriend your seniors. They can provide a wealth of information, utensils and gadgets. Graduating seniors will sell their lesung batu for cheap, or have leftover ingredients they will not be able to use up in time, such as rice and tinned foodstuff. Identify groups such as the good folk at http://www.freecycle.org for even more bargain deals on equipment that may be too heavy for you to pack or too expensive to buy new.

We hope that your sincere commitment to food will also translate into a commitment to class attendance. Please look over the information stated in this letter, as it will truly help your seamless transition into a collegiate experience.

Our very best wishes to you,
Friedchillies University

So here you are, in foreign lands. Everything looks different, feels different, smells different. And for the next few years, everything will taste different. But this is why we're here, to help you get as close to possible to the tastes of home.

Compile a recipe folder
Bring over recipes from home. This cannot be stressed enough – you don't want to be in the middle of your first year crying in a heap because you miss your mom's rendang.

Make connections
Make friends with your roommates and neighbours can set up a kitchen fraternity to pool resources. Take note of what everyone has. Agree to barter items, especially equipment. Be friendly to those with cars, always important for far flung ingredients ex: Halal meat

Plan some activities
Hold potluck or cookouts. It is likely that the university or city you're going to has some sort of Malaysian student association. Even if you don't feel like it, join it – they could very well turn out to be indispensable.

Know your nearest markets

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Take at least a day or two off to explore the city. Find out where the local markets are and when they open and close. You can probably get stuff for cheap if you come right before closing. Locate Asian grocers – every city has a Chinatown, Koreatown or Little Vietnam.

Be friendly to restaurateurs
Malaysian/ Asian restaurateurs know how it's like to miss your own food. You might be able to piggyback on their orders and get rare ingredients like Asian fruits and seafood. Some would even oblige you by cooking dishes the authentic way, instead the mat salleh-fied versions.

Perhaps you could... actually cook!
If you're lucky enough to score your own apartment, or a dorm with kitchen facilities, there are a wealth of recipes right here on our site. You could try them out with a minimal amount of utensils and intelligent ingredient substitutions. However, if you have firm housing rules that restrict open flame, you should at the very least get a kettle, a multi-purpose cooker (or a rice cooker), a microwave, and a small fridge with a freezer (in places like America you can even rent them!).

Meal Ideas:

Rice – Cook a cupful of rice in your multi-purpose cooker; let the rice cool while you prepare other ingredients, then use the pot again to fry some nasi goreng. Or if you're truly ambitious, try a facsimile of a biryani by browning some meat, chucking in vegetables, rice and stock and letting it cook slowly.

Pasta – Boil some pasta either in your kettle or the multi-purpose cooker, toss it with some cream, canned sauce, cheese and “bake” it in the microwave. Or throw some vegetables, chicken and spices in the cooker with some water and add some pasta towards the end for a fast soup.

Desserts – The microwave can replace your conventional home oven for simple desserts like sponge cakes and brownies. Unfortunately Malaysian-style kuihs are a little out of reach if you have limited resources, so it's not recommended that you try.

Whatever you cook, make in batches as large as your pot can hold. Portion what you don't eat at that meal into little baggies to freeze, and zap them in the microwave when you're hungry later for a no-fuss meal. A fun idea many Malaysians do overseas is to bring all their rice cookers over to one dorm and have dim sum parties; boiling, steaming, frying all sorts of dumplings for a good yummy time.

Lost in Translation

Labels are confusing. What is ketumbar here is coriander elsewhere. The vegetables, fish, spices, will all have different names. You'll know the translations of most ingredient names just by visiting a Malaysian supermarket and taking notes before you leave. Just in case, here are a few choice tips:

It's amazing how much you'll miss ikan bilis!

• Ikan bilis, the stuff of quick Malaysian flavour, will be called dried anchovies, dried whitebait, gong yu zai (Cantonese), jiang yu zi (Mandarin), and cá c?m (Vietnamese). Your best bet is to look for it in an Asian grocer.

• Sawi is also called choy sum (sawi = choy), e.g. sawi putih is bok choy. Sawi is best for a quick Asian vegetable stir-fry, and not difficult to find overseas nowadays.

• Learn the difference between whitefish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitefish_(fisheries_term) and oily fish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oily_fish Local. oily fish include terubuk, bawal putih and ikan merah. Whitefish include bawal hitam, cencaru, parang, and kembung. So if your recipe calls for bawal putih and you can't find any, mackerels or carps will do in a pinch, as long as you substitute it with the right kind of fish. You can get by with using mackerels, sardines, and bluefish for most Malaysian dishes, be it ikan goreng, ikan bakar, gulai, or kari.

Once you gain footing in your city, you'll realize that you have your own cheat-sheet that works best for you. Be generous and share those tips to your juniors, friends, cousins, anyone who will make the trek to another country to study. These tips will help make your years overseas a little more bearable – pass the good deed on!

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