Malaysia is not the next undiscovered beer destination

Part two of a series on beer in Southeast Asia.

It’d been an hour since we got to the bus station in Seremban, it was hot, and still the bus to Port Dickson hadn’t shown up. I was already in a sour mood since the ticket touter back in Joroh Bahru, across the strait from Singapore, said that the long distance bus was supposed to go all the way to Port Dickson, but clearly it was on me to have asked more specifically. A minor annoyance borne from my own ignorance. Oh well, it’s a lesson to get a guidebook.

To make change for the RM 2 tickets for the bus, we needed to break a large bill, so the station’s Dunkin Donuts seemed a promising possibility. My wife and I love donuts, and while they certainly were available back in Bolivia, the donut shop isn’t quite the same edible institution as elsewhere. So we’re always up for ducking into DD. Plus, we have some vaguely fond memories of DD from our time in Philadelphia that are probably a trickle-down effect from the obsession East Coast folks in the US cultivate for it.

I love donuts.

I love donuts.

Walking into that run-down DD shop with peeling menu boards and about six too many people working in it was a revelation: DD tailors their flavors to local preferences and categories. This DD featured flavors such as Taste of Prosperity, Dragon, and Fire Cracker to celebrate Chinese New Year, Gummy (with gummy candies set in the frosting), M&M and Oreo Moment, Pandan Kaya-Filled (green coconut jelly), and the hilariously blunt Sugar Raised and Sugar Log (Long Johns). Heretofore, we resolved to stop in to every DD. We ducked into another bus station DD in Kuala Lumpur later in the week and found Salted Chocolate Caramel, Wormy Chocolate (gummy worms on top), NBA Basketball (orange with black stripes ala a basketball), and of course my favorite, Sugar Logs.

Coffee and donut-sated, the wait wasn’t too much longer. We had to passive aggressively shoulder our way onto the city bus, which then meandered its way 20 km onto Port Dickson, and then another taxi ride on to the hotel made for a bit of an exhausting day of travel. The perfect sort of day to end with a beer. Any beer, really.

As it turned out, we were staying in what I suppose might be called a family-style resort catering to Muslims. So, no poolside beers or cocktails on the beach. The hotel named “Ilham” probably should have tipped us off to that. I’d done a few brief searches to see what the Malaysian macro lager would be, but couldn’t find anything. That probably should have tipped me off. Somehow it never occurred to me that Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country and as such, trying a local beer would be futile pursuit.

Young bulls in Malaysia out for a ride.

Young bulls in Malaysia out for a ride.

I’ve been to plenty of Muslim countries before, I even lived in Saudi Arabia for three years back in high school, but I’d never had a taste for beer back then, so couldn’t be bothered to miss it. Which isn’t to say others were the same. Just before Malaysia, we’d spent a few days with family friends from Saudi who, as my father tells it, were the first to greet us when we got there, with a packet of wine yeast and winemaking directions in hand. My parents don’t really enjoy alcohol all that much, but the gesture was nice. Plenty of that visit in Singapore was spent regaling us with stories of the disgusting homemade bathtub hooch that people turned out in Saudi. Basically just grape juice plus lots of sugar. Ugh.

So, Malaysia was a bit of bust beer-wise. There’s plenty of imports available, but whereas everything in Malaysia is about 1/3rd the price of Singapore, beer wise it’s not so great.

But, the upside of staying at a family hotel is that during the middle of the week we had the entire place to ourselves, and it was remarkably Malaysian. Which is to say, while there were the typical components of the continental breakfast, the bulk of the buffet consisted of things like fish or chicken in various curry based sauces, and the garnishes for the white porridge included tiny dried fishies and cilantro. Just, different. I loved it. (Although, it would truly suck to have a peanut allergy in Malaysia. Everything has peanuts, and is all the more delicious for it.)

There are a surprising number of greenish jelly desserts across East Asia. This was a delicious cake of some sort.

There are a surprising number of greenish jelly desserts across East Asia. This was a delicious cake of some sort.

Let’s end this with a song. To remind us that, “you never know what you have / ’til it’s gone away,” Comeback Kid’s “Always” from their stellar debut album, Turn it Around:

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