Since coming to Finland in 1998, many things have changed. I actually lived in Finland for more than 2 years not knowing any Asian stores existed. I took for granted what I could find everyday in Malaysia when I moved here. You see, the neat selection of high quality products available in Finland always puts me in awe. The packaging of items, the fresh produce, the toiletries, EVERYTHING was well organised and it just made me feel good to visit the stores, plus the selection was different. In Malaysia, often times the stores are chaotic, but it has changed quite some bit since then. It has to do a lot with culture and products that go on sale in the local supermarkets, for example you may find a meat counter in Malaysia lacking pork (this department is probably in a hidden corner far far away from the main store).
People still frequent the night markets (known as Pasar Malam to the locals) or morning markets (known as Pasar Pagi) for their tidbits, greens, proteins, and some household items. My grandmother buys her pork from a meat seller that sells them on his motorcycle (something you don’t see here in Finland). My last visit was in January of 2016 and I witnessed not only infrastructural changes but progress is some areas and sadly regression in some. Nonetheless, it was an eye opening experience and I do feel I need to visit again in the near future especially to some of the places I haven’t been to in a long time.
It all started when after a few months of living in Finland, my husband (then boyfriend) took me out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It was nothing fancy but it was because he saw me craving for something from home and he thought maybe we could find something that’s not toast or spaghetti with ketchup (this story for another day xD)etc. We weren’t swimming in cash, he was studying and working at the same time, while I was being, how do I put this nicely, a Freeloader (yep, I’ve said it!) so going out to eat was very much a luxury. I really appreciated the gesture but the meal was not as I expected. He did sort of see the disappointment in my face, as I was not good at hiding that unfortunately but the sweet positive man that he is said next time it’ll be better. Better it was but still not exactly what I was looking for, he took me to New Bamboo Centre in Annankatu, Helsinki (I don’t exactly remember when the first time was, could be in the year 2000). We’ll go there every now and again and at that time I ordered ‘Nasi Goreng’ and the ‘Aunty’ there would get it done the way that I like. One day (after I don’t know how many visits) I asked her where she would get the veggies and the sauces to make some of the dishes. She told me about a store in Mankka, Espoo. This was the ‘curiosity killed the cat’ moment, I begged the hubster to take me there, just to ‘see’. Boy…seeing…became hoarding. I buried myself in oyster sauce, soya sauce, curry powders, herbs, spices, and anything that my eye would catch and recipes, dishes, images of ladies selling on the roadside came flashing through my eyes. I was in the land of possibilities!
So it began, my journey to rediscover what I had that in my childhood took for granted and started to ask my grandmother, my aunts, my friend’s parents, my friends and anyone who can make a decent Malaysian home or hawker type meal for recipes and tips. Since I hadn’t been cooking for some years (meaning full blown Malaysian meals) as I didn’t have access to some of the ingredients, it was difficult for me actually make them. Most of the time some items can be omitted but you’ll have to know what you’re doing before attempting such. I began experimenting more, and my neighbours, mostly students, began to hate the lingering scent of some of the worlds strongest spices in the corridors of Espoo’s student apartments (sorry HOAS apartment mates, I wonder if Mr. Smokey still lives in Suvela?). This is when the cooking journey began.
Ps: I would have love to share more photos pre-2002 but we didn’t own a digital camera until, well mid 2002. Even so, it was only 3 megapixels and pfft…the phone cameras these days do a better job. Plus, I’m sure my operating system did a fine job killing some of those photos during transfers from previous hard disc drives that some don’t open anymore. So I’ll have to scan some in, when and if I find the time.