Bak Kua (Malaysian Jerky)

January 28, 2023

To eat is to rejoice.

Several of my happiest memories are tied to food. For example, bak Kua or Malaysian jerky, which is charcoal-grilled squares of dry-treated meat charcoal-treated to perfection, with flavors so sublime words can’t even begin to describe, brings back nostalgic memories of the ancient times.

My late parents, who raised a large family, used to take me to see kung fu movies as a kid because I was the youngest. When I was a kid, I was baffled as to why the bad guy from the previous week’s movie was still alive and well. I didn’t know movies were made up, but that didn’t stop me from being intrigued.

At the weekend, we saw a lot of movies. The old Capitol and Federal cinemas in Penang were a favorite haunt for my parents. My weekend excitement was always centered around “cinema food,” which was aromatic and drool-worthy charcoal-grilled bak Kua sandwiched between buns from the hawker stall in front of the cinema.

This was my favorite kind of “comfort food.” The hawker carts that sell bak Kua, pork floss, pink-colored chicken wings, and buns will be familiar to anyone who grew up in Malaysia. In contrast to American movie snacks like popcorn and soda, ours consisted of bak Kua and bun. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite foods from my childhood.

Emotions overwhelm me when I reminisce about my past as a child. People tend to forget about things that happened in their past, but I believe that one should never forget their roots, including all of the senses associated with their upbringing and childhood. Everything that has happened in your life up to this point has impacted your personality.

Since I’ve been in the US, my attempts at bringing back bak Kua from Penang have been foiled by airport customs. Once upon a time, it occurred in Singapore. My suitcase was stuffed to the gills with a box of bak Kua, all neatly sealed and labeled. The customs officer immediately disposed of it. There was absolutely no use for my 5 kilograms of bak Kua goodness in various flavors, shapes, and meats. Naturally, I went back and tried again, but this time I was caught. Airport customs officials in the United States were to blame for the second time around. Another 5 kilograms of bak Kua has been destroyed. I eventually had to give up.

Food is a celebration and an essential part of our lives. We can’t live without it!

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