James Oseland calls Malaysia the ‘most important food destination on the planet’

James Oseland was researching and tasting home cooked food in order to feature local Malaysian flavours in the first volume of his series of books. — Picture by K.E.Ooi
James Oseland was researching and tasting home cooked food in order to feature local Malaysian flavours in the first volume of his series of books. — Picture by K.E.Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, July 27 — James Oseland’s passion for South-east Asian flavours started when he went to visit a college friend in Jakarta during summer break. Since then, he has returned to this part of the world many times.

His relationship with Malaysia is a rather special one; apart from travelling to the various parts of the country making friends, eating and learning how to cook various dishes, he finished writing Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking From the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore during an extended stay in Kuala Lumpur.

On his most recent trip here earlier this month, Oseland was researching and tasting home cooked food in order to feature local Malaysian flavours in the first volume of his series of books.

“Truthfully, this project (to write a series of books on food) has been on my mind for more than 30 years,” he said in an interview with the Malay Mail Online recently.

On this trip sponsored by Tourism Malaysia, the former editor-in-chief of the acclaimed food magazine Saveur is working on a series of books that tell the culinary story of each country he visits.

The 53-year-old American left his last position as the editor-in-chief of Rodale’s Organic Life four months back to start this project that he felt could stretch into a long-term project lasting many years.

“My idea is to start off the series, God willing, with Malaysia which for me, beyond the shadow of a doubt is one of the most important food destinations on the planet,” he said.

He will be focusing on Malaysian home cooked meals in his first book and has already travelled through a few states to visit the kitchens of regular Malaysians, hawkers and food sellers to document and experience the way they cook.

“For me, the heart and soul of Malaysian cooking is the home kitchen. I think it’s there, when you’re watching a home cook prepare a meal and then when you’re eating his or her food, that’s when you really begin to understand the great poetry of Malaysian cooking,” he said.

Oseland said he could not get enough of Malaysian food due to the variety of flavours and the marriage of cultures that resulted in cuisines unique to this country.

He called his visit here as his most happy working experience where he “stuffed his face with the world’s best food.”

When Oseland arrived in Malaysia this time round, he stayed in Kuala Lumpur where he tasted the best of Hari Raya fare before he headed over to Penang where he stayed with Sabira Ghouse, a local Jawi Peranakan cook.

He even took a trip to Balik Pulau where he tried the famed Balik Pulau laksa, fresh seafood at Pulau Betong and was even lucky enough to pick up a durian that had just dropped onto the middle of the road. Twice.

“It’s quite amazing, beyond amazing. It was incredible. It (the durian) couldn’t be more fresh,” he said of the durian experience.

The former Top Chef Masters judge makes his journey to the East Coast, central and southern Malaysia after Penang before flying off to Sabah and Sarawak.