I remember it all clearly – as a young girl, I followed my mum and grandma to the fresh food markets in our village. Our village is remote with a population of no more than 30,000 people. There were no supermarkets, no Woolworths… Nothing like the big cities in West Malaysia – far from it. Our markets were wet, natural light was scarce, and they were jam-packed full of people shouting and haggling for bargains. The place was filled with the natural aromas of fish, meat, vegetables and everything in between. Some of the sights and smells were really not forgiving at all, and for first-timers, sensory overload was certain!
Half the time, I couldn’t bear the noise levels and I would just tell my mum I would be standing by the street food stalls. It was so fascinating to see all the “uncles” and “aunties” cooking different styles of street food and the aroma was truly captivating. Most kids would be attracted to sweets but for me it was the smell of the cooking! My mouth couldn’t stop salivating. Sometimes if I stood there long enough, they would offer me some tasty bits. And with that, I started to cultivate my passion for food and wanting to learn more about it – the fresh ingredients, the spices, noodles, and simply enjoying the eating and creating process. I also had the opportunity to “play” at the spice store just next to the food stalls, learning about the different texture and colours. The uncles and aunties would use them sparingly in their cooking – particularly the curries and chilli fried noodles.