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(article, Liz Crain)
[%pageBreakSettings nobreak=true] [%adInjectionSettings noInject=true] Husband-and-wife duo Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman have worked and lived in Asia for more than 11 years. In the last two years, they've taken their palates to task with their blog, Eating Asia. Eckhardt writes and Hagerman photographs their adventurous culinary posts, which range from fiesta fare, such as whole spit-roasted pig, to street foods, such as bamboo-skewered and grilled frog. Interestingly, he still shoots film for the blog. p(blue). Blog: Eating Asia Average posts per month: 15 Bloggers: Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman Ages: 45 and 49, respectively Blog place of origin: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Although the couple is based in Kuala Lumpur, they travel frequently (mainly throughout Southeast Asia) and document their travels with ambitious local recipes, photo montages of wet markets (open food markets where the couple does most of their grocery shopping), tales of street foods, and other regional food finds. What brought you to Malaysia? Eckhardt: Dave's work, originally. We relocated from Saigon a little over two years ago. Before that it was Bangkok, and, years before that, Hong Kong and Shanghai. [%image durian float=right width=300 credit="Photo courtesy David Hagerman" caption="Fresh durian fruit for sale in a market."] How do you get around Malaysia? Eckhardt: Kuala Lumpur is a car culture; a visiting friend likened it to Los Angeles. Malaysians, for the most part, drive, and we do, too. Relying on public transport would really limit our explorations. We've been in KL a bit over two years and are still discovering new neighborhoods. Having a car, whether we're in town or on a road trip, allows us to meander and stop for food anywhere, anytime. And, of course, having a car makes day trips — we like to explore markets, especially in other towns — easier. Do you speak Malay? Eckhardt: I speak enough to get around, especially at the market and in the kitchen, but I'm still studying. I rarely get a chance to use my Malay because almost everyone speaks English or Chinese (I speak Mandarin). The best way to make improvements with my Malay, I've found, is to hop over to Sumatra, just an hour away by plane, where very few people speak English. Indonesian and Malay are quite similar languages. What are your favorite Asian dishes to prepare? Eckhardt: We love hot and spicy food, and Sichuanese mapo dofu \[a popular Chinese dish with tofu and minced meat in a spicy bean sauce\] is a regular on the table. We lived in Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province, in the mid-1980s, and I like to make mapo dofu at home so we can have it as it’s made there — mouth-searing, with heaps of ground Sichuan peppercorns. I'm also a fairly recent convert to sticky (glutinous) rice. All you have to do is soak it long enough, drain it, and then steam it long enough, and it will come out perfectly. And it keeps and reheats well. I like to make a coconut milk-free northern Thai pork curry and a dip like nam prik dta daeng to eat with it. That said, we don't always eat Asian food. I probably cook as much Italian as I do Asian dishes. How often do you cook? Eckhardt: At least six nights a week, often seven. I've been a keen cook since university but, ironically, I think I'm cooking less now than I did before I started writing about food. I sometimes think wistfully about the long, leisurely afternoons and evenings that I used to spend in the kitchen. I just don't have as much time for it anymore. [%image promo-image float=left width=400 credit="Photo courtesy David Hagerman" caption="A bowl of koay teow th'ng, or rice noodles with pork, garlic, and chiles."] What's your kitchen like? Eckhardt: It's serviceable. The downside of moving around a lot (the last time we lived in any one abode longer than one and a half years was in the early 1990s) is that we're always renting, never buying, and so we have to make do with whatever the kitchen situation is. The upside is that I have cooked in so many kitchens over the years I know exactly what works and what doesn't; my dream kitchen is a clear picture in my head. Our kitchen is large, bright, and fairly new, but leaves something to be desired in terms of functionality. The range is electric induction, which is horrible for cooking Asian food. I'd give anything for just one gas burner. The refrigerator is old and smallish and crammed to the gills with jars and bags of ingredients we've purchased on travels. Any time I want to find something, I have to pull out half of the fridge's contents. Then again, the view from the window over the sink is pretty nice: a patch of garden that is often playground to neighborhood monkeys. What professional projects are you working on? Eckhardt: I'm doing research for a feature story that I'll soon be reporting in the region and, as always, trying to finish up a pile of half-done pitches. I write a column on Kuala Lumpur's food culture for a Malaysian magazine, so this weekend we'll be doing interviews and a photo shoot for that, and then it will be on to the next one. We're also working on a long-term project we hope to finish up by the end of January. Do you still solely shoot in film? Hagerman: I dove into digital some months back, but I do like the colors I get with film. The blog is still entirely film and, because I still have a huge stock of film, that's what I use for assignments whenever possible. [[block(sidebar). h1. Liz's favorite posts [[block(smalltext). 1. Oink 2. The Fish Whisperers 3. A Word From the Photographer 4. First Class Fish Head and Paradisaical Prawns in SJ ]] ]] How many rolls do you shoot a month for the blog? Hagerman: Pretty much every photo I take is fair game for the blog; only the rare "styled" food shots are blog-specific. If we're in KL, I generally shoot about 30 rolls a month, but if we're traveling, I might shoot five to seven rolls a day. Those numbers are bound to decrease now that I'm also shooting digital. Though I think I'll be sticking with film for a while for the blog. Living in Malaysia, what foods do you miss? Eckhardt: We lived most of our stateside married lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, so what we miss are all the foods we loved there: great olive oil, local cheeses, and artisan breads, especially sourdough. Greens like dandelion and chard and lacinato kale, and spring veggies like fava beans and baby artichokes and fresh peas. Morels and chanterelles. Stone fruit. Fresh mussels and oysters and wild salmon. Pizza! Good Mexican food. And wine, of course. It's incredibly expensive here and the selection leaves much to be desired. Any recent exciting local food finds? Eckhardt: In Penang, we were recently introduced to koay teow th'ng, which is basically wide rice noodles in a clear broth with pork and pork parts. Sounds pretty boring, but it's eaten with chiles and chopped garlic that's cooked to the almost-but-not-quite burnt stage; the combination of soft noodle, mild soup, and sticky-crispy assertive garlic is wonderful. At a market I recently bought pekasam, which is fillets of fish coated in salt and ground rice and left to dry/ferment for a few days. You wash it off and shallow-fry it in oil till crisp (adding an egg to "bind" it and keep it from falling apart) and eat it with kalamansi_ \[a small Asian citrus fruit\] or lime squeezed over. It was unexpectedly lovely. I need to do a post on that. p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer in Portland, Oregon.