Friday, February 15, 2008

Ten Quail Eggs, Fried

Shocking, the way I've neglected this blog. Nearly four straight months without a post. Lots occurred in the interim, though. Term papers, other course requirements, then I went home to India, got married, returned and immediately plunged into the work backlog I was confronted with, that sort of thing. I've had a few food adventures too in the interim. Not very many in India, some in Singapore. And a couple in Malaysia, where I found myself rather unexpectedly earlier this month.

My friend Arijit's in-laws live in Ipoh, a quiet, verdant, laid-back town surrounded by limestone hills. So this bloke decides to spend the Chinese New Year holidays there, asks me to come along saying we'll drive down, and then quietly buys flight tickets for the entire lot. Ouch! I couldn't even pay him back. When I suggested the idea, he claimed the tickets were part of his frequent flyer benefits, and so didn't cost him anything.

Malaysia is utterly charming. Much more spacious and relaxed than Singapore, it also offers more offbeat variety. For example, I haven't yet found a second-hand bookshop in Singapore, but came across one in my second visit to Ipoh Parade Mall. It even had a stack of P G Wodehouse novels (Wonders of Wonders!), of which I bought two for four Ringgits total. I also had a wonderful chat with the owner, a gentleman of Tamil descent called Raj.

Ipoh Parade Mall is also where I encountered quail eggs. The first time we went there was on the day of the New Year. Most shops were closed, but several stalls had been laid out along the wide central corridors. The food stalls mostly sold preparations not commonly found in Singapore. Arijit's wife Smita introduced me to Mango Rice, just sweet glutinous rice topped with mango. Delicious, it was!

The quail eggs were the most interesting item on offer, of course. I had seen them sold raw in Singapore's departmental stores. Tiny things, barely an inch across, coloured a speckled light brown. They were reasonably priced too, but I could never muster the courage to buy some and cook them in our rather primitive pantry. This was the first time I encountered the cooked product.

Taking up most of the stall's main table was this large black heated dish. It was pitted all over with little circular depressions about an inch across (I counted twenty-one), somewhat like a golf ball laid out flat. The stall-owner cracked an egg into each pit, its contents fitting snugly into the hollow space. When all the pits were filled, he covered the plate with a glass lid, and let the eggs cook on their own accord.

Soon they were done just so, the whites opaque and firm, the yolks orange-yellow and slightly runny. He then gently prised out the eggs, tossed them into styrofoam boxes, and seasoned them with pepper and a brownish sauce. I initially thought the latter was Soy Sauce, but its taste turned out to be quite different; lighter on the palate, but very salty.

The rest of the gang point-blank refused to try the eggs; Smita said they were 'too eggy'. And true enough, despite their small size they were intensely flavoured. Not the whites, though, which didn't taste much different from their chicken counterpart. But the yolks were different. In texture they were more viscous than the usual eggs fried sunny-side-up. And they had a strong but very enjoyable taste - think egg yolk crossed with liver.

Unbelievably, these absolutely delectable morsels sold at five Ringgits (little more than two Singapore Dollars) for a box of ten. That day I polished off a carton in no time. I was keen to go for seconds, but we were already late, there was a fair crowd milling around the stall, and the owner had inexplicably disappeared.

The following day I went to the Mall alone; that's when I discovered the second-hand bookshop. I started out with twenty eggs, and then, on impulse helped myself to ten more while going out. Surprisingly, this binge caused no unpleasant after-effects at all, which was very lucky since I took a trip down to Penang the next day.


ys said...

Hahahohohaaaa!!! You Glutton!

Xing Li said...

"Malaysia is much more spacious and relaxed than Singapore..." agree :)

Ayan Roy said...

Thirty eggs...gosh, you had them as if they were like Bengali 'peetheys'. The way you described the eggs being molded reminded me of the peethey making process my Thamma uses to make them.

Abhik Majumdar said...

Ayan, you're right. Those frying eggs reminded me of _something_, I kept feeling. Just couldn't put my finger on it. Of course it was Pitheys! I have such wonderful memories of toddling upstairs to the first floor and Oporer Dida plonking plates of those Pitheys in front of me.

ys said...

Pray what are Pitheys? Is that probable topic for another post? Perhaps not usable by a veggie, but knowing it won't hurt :)...

Abhik Majumdar said...

Pitheys are entirely veggie. They are traditional sweets, mostly rice-based, associated with Paush Sankranti celebrations (our version of Pongal).

Could do a post on it sure 'nuff, but have to get back to India first, then snoop around in Bengal round mid-Jan.

Pity my grandmother's not around any more. She used to make fantastic sweets as such, but her pitheys were in a class of their own.

Soumyasree Chakraborty said...

Mango (glutinous) Rice & Quail Eggs -- Interesting Combo!!