Our wide range of spicy, sweet, sour and salty local specialities has bewitched a famous YouTuber.
LAST Sunday morning, I was looking for food at the Malay stalls in SS19 Subang Jaya. I was craving sautéed beef liver.
At one of the stalls, a Chinese woman was photographing some dish in front of a Caucasian. “Another food-lover indulging in food porn,” I sarcastically thought.
The stall was Warung Terengganu. It served nasi dagang and nasi minyak. It was crowded. “Food must be good; I must try,” I thought.
While ordering nasi dagang, I noticed people taking photographs of the Caucasian.
“Siapa tu? (Who is that?),” I asked a pakcik (uncle) lining up to pay.
“He’s on YouTube,” the 50-something man said in Malay.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But I have seen him on YouTube,” he said.
A Warung Terengganu owner told me the Caucasian was a YouTuber who hosted The Food Ranger channel. While the Food Ranger was eating, I took his photograph and tweeted it.
The Food Ranger is Trevor James, a friendly 28-year-old Canadian. And the photographer was his co-host Chuchu, a China national. Trevor is probably famous in this country because of his “My First Time Eating Penis Soup in Malaysia” video clip.
The two-minute-39-second video has about 466,000 views (not counting the viral clip shared on WhatsApp and Facebook). He had Sup Torpedo (bull’s penis soup) at Sup Hameed restaurant in Penang.
The Food Ranger was in the city for six days to shoot a comprehensive 20- to 30-minute documentary on “Malaysian street food tour in Kuala Lumpur. He picked Warung Terengganu as a The Food Ranger subscriber recommended it as “one of the most local nasi dagang you can get in Kuala Lumpur”.
Trevor’s rating for the place is ... “I haven’t decided, probably 8.5 or 9 out of 10”.
Later in the afternoon, I met Trevor in Chocha Foodstore in Petaling Jaya. I wanted Apsara, my eight-year-old daughter, to meet the famous YouTuber as she wants to be a YouTuber too. His advice to her was – to quote Apsara – “to take videos of interesting stuff that will make people watch.”
In 2014, after graduating from the University of British Columbia in Canada, the forestry graduate decided to move to Asia to shoot food videos so that he could share his love for food and travel.
Trevor’s first destination was Kuala Lumpur in June 2014 as he had heard about Malaysia’s amazing food culture.
“I had heard (mostly from watching YouTube) about how Malaysians talk about food. It is like love. They go hunting for the best spots. And the locals debate among each other over which place has the best food and they take pride in it. The standard here seems to be pretty high for food culture,” he said.
His first The Food Ranger video clip was shot at hawker stalls in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. At that time, his channel had about 2,000 subscribers. Now it has 461,126.
His three months of ranging for food in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Malacca was amazing. He loves Malaysian food because of the strong flavours – spicy curries, durians ... “things that make your whole mouth alive”.
“It felt as if wherever I went there was some local speciality,” he said.
His favourite Malaysian food was musang king durian (really sweet and buttery), laksa (“so much going on there – sweet, spicy, sour and salty”) and char kway teow (wok hei which is Cantonese for breath of the wok or smokiness of the wok).
“Where’s your favourite place for char kway teow?” I asked. Trevor laughed and said: “One thing I discovered in Malaysia is, if you used the word ‘best’, people are going to disagree. I learnt the hard way. I made a The Food Ranger video in Penang and I said, this is the best char kway teow in Penang. And the locals said, ‘no way, you went to the tourist spot’.”
“Were they right?” I asked.
“I’m sure they were right. But for me as a non-local, it was still so delicious. It still tasted amazing. I haven’t reached the level to be able to distinguish the slight differences,” he said.
Trevor also fell in love with the multi-culturalism in Malaysia. “Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures mixed together for me – looking at it as a non-local – is really enjoyable to have all that together. It seems everyone is accepting of each other,” he said.
After his three months in Malaysia, Trevor moved to Chengdu where he is currently based. He went full time with his food channel in December 2015.
The Food Ranger is planning to range for food in Sarawak and Sabah in July.
“What do you know about Sabah and Sarawak?” the Sabahan in me asked.
“I have to be honest. I haven’t done a lot of research for that trip yet. But I heard the food is another world there. The goal of all our videos is to find food – that is food ranging.
We try to film the local people serving the food and being friendly and changing the people’s perspective of the place,” he said.
I’ll bring Trevor to my mum’s house in Kampung Pogunon, Penampang, near Kota Kinabalu.
She’ll prepare hinava (Kadazandusun raw fish) for the Food Ranger.
Opoto! (Kadazandusun for delicious).