The Good: The book is funny. It’s actually a collection of Hishamuddin Rais’s articles written for The Edge from 2004 to 2009. Hishamuddin is a true Malaysian foodie. Not pretentious, he is obsessed with the Malay ulam. So obsessed, in fact, that I think he is part goat. No human can love the ulams that much. More of a travel book than a food book, Tapai reveals to the reader the secret foodie hideouts serving authentic Malaysian cuisine, i.e. ‘kampung’ food. Along the way, Hishamuddin writes about the lost art of Ghazal, helping to cook food for the homeless in Japan and his failed attempts at chatting up a French girl by telling her about the many kinds of belacan (prawn paste).
The Bad: He drinks like a fish and is not ashamed about it. Well, I suppose we have to applaud him for his honesty. From Tiger Beer to Chateau Whatever 1972, he’s gulped them all. He even had red wine when he stopped for a satay feast in Keramat and begrudgingly swallows boiled water while in Trengganu, which he calls a ‘dry state’. A self confessed “born again agnostic”, Hishamuddin detests art exhibits that do not serve free alcohol. But he takes the Eid celebration seriously, though. Not for the religious significance but for the tapai which her sister makes for the occasion.
The Ugly: None. The book has a cleverly designed cover (see above) that will definitely catch the eye. The paper is smooth and the book is peppered with colour photos.