The joy of ‘goreng pisang’ — Guilty pleasure or comfort food?

COMMENTARY, Feb 28 — Crunchy on the outside, with crackly, coral-like lace. Caramelised and molten on the inside. Soft and honeyed. The shocking hot steam that escapes when you take a bite.

The golden colours and contours of a perfectly fried goreng pisang (banana fritter) make for quite an experience. That it’s delicious is no surprise; that it can bring us so much joy is a gift.

It’s not only the flavour of the fritters that gives us an agreeable spike of dopamine. The sizzle of freshly fried goreng pisang being drained of excess oil with large strainers is music to our ears.

A tempting display of goreng pisang and other fritters is a sight for sore eyes too, surely? The candied aroma of cempedak fritters is a fragrance unlike any other.

Indeed, it’s not just bananas that one can dip in gloopy batter and dunk into a wok of hot oil — you can make fritters out of just about anything, from sweet potato and taro to pumpkin and even durian!

Freshly fried 'goreng pisang' being drained of excess oil with large strainers.

Freshly fried ‘goreng pisang’ being drained of excess oil with large strainers.

Is it a guilty pleasure or a comfort food though?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference especially with all the noise of others telling us how to eat, how to feel and, essentially, how to lead our lives.

Nowadays it seems as though everything has to be placed into a satisfyingly clear category. Yet labels are derided as too restrictive and limiting: even what we call our foods can be controversial.

Those of us of a certain age will always call these deep fried ambrosia goreng pisang rather than the clunky pisang goreng, no matter how many dictionary makers or academicians argue over naming conventions.

Didn’t someone reason that goreng pisang would be the correct form anyway if you read it as “fritter of banana”? A good thing by any other name would taste as delicious, I say.

It’s not just bananas – you can make fritters out of just about anything, from fragrant 'cempedak' to sweet potato.

It’s not just bananas – you can make fritters out of just about anything, from fragrant ‘cempedak’ to sweet potato.

Whatever you select to include in your bag of deep fried goodies — to bring home to enjoy with your family or back to the office to share among your colleagues or to savour solo, slowly with no plans or pinnings — know that the choice is yours and yours alone.

This is about a small packet of joy — deep fried joy, no doubt, but joy nonetheless — and why we shouldn’t fear the pleasure certain foods give us.

Whether it’s a double patty smash burger with extra cheese or my Dad’s insatiable appetite for muruku or, yes, even a teatime’s worth of goreng pisang, we are allowed to enjoy ourselves… in moderation.

Let us not swing to either extreme.

On one hand, the self-righteous health guerillas who insist we must subsist only on raw, organic produce or everything Paleo; do we subsist on plant-based meat alternatives or do we follow the proponents of the Carnivore Diet?

A tempting display of 'goreng pisang' and other fritters.

A tempting display of ‘goreng pisang’ and other fritters.

On the other hand, hedonists who declare that anything goes, our rising cholesterol and blood sugar levels be blasted — that we only live once so let us eat anything we crave and in any quantities, even as our waistlines widen and our knees buckle beneath us before we even reach middle age.

Honestly, the sensible path probably lies somewhere between these two poles. To eat well but also as healthy as we can most of the time — meaning meals made with whole foods and an ingredient list our great-grandmother would recognise (hello, Michael Pollan!) — and to treat ourselves from time to time.

That treat could be a rainbow-hued bowl of ABC (air batu campur) or a slice of pizza oozing with cheese or a delightful packet of goreng pisang.

For this isn’t really about goreng pisang but about what we allow or deny ourselves, often informed by peer pressure or the opinions of others, without asking ourselves what do we really want and how much of it is just right?

A small packet of deep fried joy.

A small packet of deep fried joy.

I often refer back to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We all know how the blonde-haired home invader declares Baby Bear’s porridge and bed are “just right” but perhaps we can figure that out for ourselves without any unlawful breaking and entering.

We simply have to try everything once, as my Dad told me when I was younger, then decide for ourselves if we like it or not. And if we do, have some but not too much, and don’t forget to enjoy every moment of it.

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