Malaysia, the country where I was born. Despite being an Australian for over 3 years now, Malaysia is still where my root is, Ipoh is still my home town, and my whole family still lives there. Sadly I don't go back to visit my family as often as I should, but if I do ever go back, it is always a memorable one. There are only two things that I always looking forward to whenever I am in Malaysia - First, see the family, then second, the food. The humidity, not so much...
Malaysia is all about food, even the country is shaped of a sweet potato. I am due for a visit back home to satiate my cravings for cheap hawker food, but this time I am bringing a group of bloggers with me. We spotted some cheap airfares on AirAsia website late last year and pounced on them immediately without hesitation. For sixteen days, Helen, Minh, Simon, Brian, The Pom and I will be touring the west coast of Malaysia, eating our way from the south to the north, before flying over to Phuket and spend the last four days looking for more local delicacies.
There are so many places we visited and ate way too much food, it was up to the point where six meals a day was considered normal. So I will try to keep this a pictorial post, short and simple, and introduce you to some of the must visit places and restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Klang.
The Luna Bar is a open air poolside roof top bar inside Menara PanGlobal building. It is actually part of the Pacific Regency hotel, which is located right across the street from the KL Tower. Perched some thirty stories above the city, you will have the most spectacular view of the KL city skyline, with the shimmering Twin Towers on one side, and the glowing KL Tower on another.
Unfortunately all the booths with the best view are either taken or reserved by intimate couples when we arrive, so we resolve to sitting side by side along the bar, cocktails in hand to beat the humidity. The cocktails aren't cheap even for Malaysian standard, but it's a small price to pay for the view that you couldn't have asked for more.
Also don't forget to check out the urinal inside the men's bathrooms while you are there, a frosted glass panel facing directly to the 34th floor window, a clear view of the city down below is just as impressive.
Food court @ Suria KLCC
The two shiny silver Petronas towers had been called many names by the locals - the twin towers, coin stacks, or two large corn cobs, it is seriously an impressive architecture located right in the heart of the KL city. You simply can't miss it and can be spotted from many directions, if you just keep following the direction to the towers, eventually you will arrive in the middle of the city.
We have our first lunch in Malaysia at Suria KLCC shopping mall, located right behind the Petronas towers. There are two food courts inside the shopping mall offering hawker-style food, a good place for tourists to sample the street food without having to worry about the hygiene issue. The food at the food court is reasonable priced, with most dishes under AUD10. That's why I was so shocked to find Simon's lunch of Nasi Kandar has cost him a whopping RM40 (roughly AUD14.50), only realised later that the RM25 big head King Prawn on the plate is the inflation culprit.
Both Helen and I go for nasi lemak, with sambal sotong (squid) on mine while Helen goes for the crunchy ayam goreng. Nasi lemak is a national dish of Malaysia, a fragrant coconut rice served with meat or seafood of your choice, then a variety of other accompaniments of crispy fried ikan bilis, peanuts, hard boiled egg, cucumber slices, some blanched water spinach, and some fiery hot sambal paste. I almost forgot how hot the sambal was in Malaysia, you only need a small dose to go with the rice and the best way to sooth the burning tongue is to order the Ais Kacang, a sweet dessert drink made of shaved ice drizzled with rose syrup and evaporated milk, and a mixture of creamed corn, red beans, chendol noodles, peanuts, jellies, palm seeds that gives this drink an explosion of colour, texture and flavour. Red ruby is Helen's favourite, small cubes of crunchy water chestnuts are coated in red tapioca flour which gives it a satisfying chewiness on the outside. Brian's Wan Tao Long brings back some childhood memories, when sometimes I will hang out with friends after school and order this drink to beat the heat. Wan Tao Long is a refreshing drink with lime jelly and sea coconut flesh, served on pile of shaved ice, soaked in Kalamansi juice. Wan Tao Long is literally means "seasickness", as the citrusy flavour of this drink is known to be the perfect cure for dizziness.
Helen wants to try a Hakka dish called abacus, after watching Poh cooking that dish on Masterchef season 1 last year. The closest restaurant from our hotel that specialises in Hakka cuisine which I could think of is literally Hakka restaurant, on Jalan Kia Peng. When we tell our taxi driving where we are heading for dinner, he seals it with an approval, "Oh Hakka restaurant, good food..."
The Hakka restaurant has a huge outdoor seating area with strings of fairly lights hanging overhead like fireflies, and fans are spinning at furious speeds. There is also a small air-conditioned indoor dining area, but tonight is not too hot and we opt to sit outside.
As we peruse the menu, Tiger Beer ladies are on the prowl, persistently asking us to order beers. The more we order, the more commissions they get. The menu itself is extensive, but discover only a few are actually authentic Hakka dishes while the rest are just normal Chinese affair.
We go overboard and order 7 dishes. The herbal chicken is wrapped with Chinese medicinal herbs and spices, then simmered for hours until fragrant and tender soft. The Kam Heong style prawns are plump and sweet, stirred fried in a mixture of dried shrimp and curry leaves which gives it that bold flavour. To balance all the big flavours, we order a simple saucy dish of fried silken tofu with minced prawns and mushrooms on top served in salty thick sauce. The uneven homemade Hakka noodles is a comforting filler dish to accompany other dishes.
The bitter gourd dish is surprisingly not bitter at all. A quick stir fried together with scrambled egg while it still hold its crunchiness. One of the most authentic Hakka dishes will have to be the Mui Choy Kao Youk, by using preserved vegetable sandwiched between thick slices of fatty pork slices, then stewed in a thick black soy sauce. Another version is by using taro which I also liked.
Then, there is a fish. The fresh catfish is steamed and served with a simple soy sauce and sesame oil dressing, garnished with coriander and chili. Since catfish is a bottom feeder, the flesh of the fish can taste a bit muddy sometimes. Restaurants usually will keep them in a fish tank for few days to clean out the muddy taste before it is ready to be served. Our fish is soft with a bouncy texture, and a very subtle earthy flavour. Helen is fascinated by the whiskers, and before i know it, she is slurping them like noodles.
The meal cost us roughly RM250 (AUD90), considerably cheap with the amount of food we've ordered. I forbid the others to order desserts and shall reserve the stomach space for hawker food later.
Street Food @ Jalan Alor
Almost at 10pm, the night is still young. How I wish Sydney food scene can be as exuberant and stay open late as in Malaysia. Supper is very common in Asia countries especially in Malaysia and Singapore. It is the best time to catch up with friends after dinner at mamak stalls, pull up some stools and you can eat all the delicious street food to your heart's content.
Initially we are planning to hit Sungei Wang shopping complex after dinner for a bit of late night splurge but all the shops inside are already slowly closing. There is not much we can do except hunting for more food and have an early night supper. We don't have to look far as the popular hawker food street, Jalan Alor is just around the corner.
We come here for supper over two nights consecutively and the food here are a bit hit and miss. I actually haven't been to this area for years and surprised to see this street had been through so much changes, from a dodgy red light district to a busy street lined with hawker food stalls, buzzing with hungry people. The competitions among stalls are feisty, with laminated menus shove right in your face and insist you to sit down. If a stall that doesn't serve the food you are looking for, they are more than happy to order it from another stall for you without extra cost.
On the first night, we've had some mediocre Ais Kachang (or ABC), Chendol but good enough to beat the heat on a balmy night. Chicken and beef stay skewers are always the perfect light refreshments for supper, but the most disappointing street food we order has to be the rojak, an appalling fruit salad mix of sour mango, pineapple and cucumber, tossed in a diluted prawn paste sauce that is bad enough to make us weep.
We've had a better meal on the second night here at Jalan Alor in a restaurant called Restoran Meng Kee Grilled Fish. As the name suggests, grilled fish is the specialty of this restaurant with many dated newspaper cutouts inside the restaurant to boast. The most popular type of fish for grilling has to be the stingrays. Grilled stingray, is always a favourite of mine with its delicate soft white flesh, smoked and caramelised with a dash of lime juice. Love at first bite, I assure you.
The Char Kueh Teow is a decent plate of slipper rice noodles, wok tossed with crunchy bean sprouts, prawns and tiny blood cockles. It is not as spicy hot as I'd hoped for despite I asked for 'extra hot'. The crunchy four-angled beans is stir fried in sambal chili paste which packs quite a heat punch. You can now also find four-angled beans in Sydney and try my recipe if you dare.
Helen funnily points at the menu signboard and asks, "What is stir fried la-la... la la la? It's like singing a song!" I actually not sure why but pipis are well known as 'La La' by the locals. We have the pipis stir fried in Kum Heong style again, the little morsels of sweet flesh are absolutely smothered in hot chili sauce and licking the shells clean are absolutely a guilty pleasure can't be dismissed.
The fried oyster omelette or commonly known as Or Jian, has a different texture than the ones that I am used to. Instead of light and fluffy, this Or Jian is pan fried with a thin and crispy skin but there are lots of briney oyster inside to keep us satisfied. Grilled tofu, an underrated street food snack has also become the new favourite to many of us at the table. The airy fried tofu is grilled over hot plate and inside is packed with cucumber, jicama and peanuts with a spicy shrimp paste sauce similar to the rojak.
The dinner comes to a mere AUD5 per person, you simply can't beat that.
Klang Lek Bak Kut Teh
The next day we feeling ambitious and drive all the way to Pork Klang for the local specialty, Bak Kut Teh. It is only a little over 30km from Mid Valley Mega Mall where we hire our car from to Port Klang, but it is the bad traffic that makes the trip such a drag and by the time we arrive at Klang Lek Bak Kut Teh restaurant, is already well over 2pm.
The Klang Lek Bak Kut Teh restaurant is a little further out hidden in a suburbia area as we even had to ask the local petrol station for directions. The restaurant is dated and a little tired, cauldrons of hot Bak Kut Teh soup are boiling away at the shop front and since it is late, only a few regulars are still there loitering, chatting away over a cup of Chinese tea.
For those who are not familiar with Bak Kut Teh, it is literally translated as "Meat Bone Tea". It is a famous dish in Malaysia and Singapore, by boiling different cuts of pork in a heady herbal soup made from a concoction of Chinese herbs and spices.
We order two types of Bak Kut Teh, one is called 'half-half' which filled with lean pork meat mixed with fatty pork belly, and another one is a variety mixed of pork 'intestines'. Both are served in claypots, we also found button mushrooms and bean curd sheets among the meat in the herbal soup.
The lean pork meat is tender and gives you a better bite, but it is the fatty pork belly that gives you that luxurious mouth feel. If you overcome the fear factor, the pork intestines Bak Kut Teh is actually quite delicious. All different cuts of intestines have different layer of textures and flavours.
We are also given a bag of deep fried dough (yao char gwai) to go with the soup, which is unfortunately a little stale and chewy, but we happily dunk them in the soup and soak up all the goodness to go with steamed rice.
Let's have a break from food I see you moan. We do some sightseeing along the food trails too! From Klang, we all jump back into car and head straight to Shah Alam for Batu Caves, a holy sight for the Hindu pilgrims set inside a majestic cave that is over 400 million years old.
As soon as we arrive, the lightnings strike, the thunders roar and the sky immediately turned pitch black and start raining heavily. The monsoonal downpour is fierce and fast, we quickly take shelter in the souvenir shop and by the time the rain stops, it created a mini flood and with no other choices, we just have to take our shoes off and ready to conquer the heart-stopping fleet of steps all the way to the entrance of the cave. This 272 steeps steps have the food bloggers gasping for air, a much needed exercise from all the indulgence we've had since we set foot in this country. But is also a good excuse for us to go look for more food and replenish after the strenuous exercise.
Original Kayu Nasi Kandar
Be still my heart, all hail to the one meter roti tissue!
My friend Christine brought me to Original Kayu Nasi Kandar restaurant in Kelana Jaya last year, and it was my first encounter of this amazing sight and my jaw literally dropped in awe when this giant cone of crispness emerges from the kitchen.
The roti dough is slapped, pulled, and stretched to the limit. It is as thin as it gets without tearing a hole, then quickly pan fried on hot plate until lightly brown on parts. When it hardens, it is the most amazing thin layer of crisp that simply crumbs away with the poke of a fork. It is liberally coated with coarse white sugar and a generous drizzle of sweet condensed milk. You can also try the roti tissue at Mamak in Haymarket, Sydney, but have to say it is just as not as impressive specially when this one meter roti tissue needs three plates to hold it, across the length of the table.
Original Kayu Nasi Kandar restaurant is of course also famous for its Nasi Kandar which we didn't get to try as we don't feel like a heavy meal after 11pm. Kayu offers hindu-muslim cuisines such as roti, nasi kandar, mee goreng and you simply can't go past their speciality drink of Teh Tarik. The hot milk tea is literally 'pulled', pour from one metal jug into another over and over again to build up an aeration in the tea, creates a light froth on top when served.
Mee goreng here is mediocre with yellow egg noodles, wok tossed with bean sprouts, fried egg and prawn fritters. Brian orders a roti pisang, the crispy thin roti is pan fried with slices of banana embedded inside. I do have a soft spot for murtabak. The chicken murtabak we order comes in a metal food tray, a thick slice of roti filled with a generous amount of shredded chicken meat inside that is not overly spicy, served with two choices of curry sauce, and some strikingly pink pickled onion. We simply can't leave the restaurant without having another order of ais kacang. (Sorry Karen, I still prefer my ais kacang with palm sugar syrup) :)
I am already tired and hungry simply by writing this long post, and can you believe that we've had all these food only in the first two days? I guess we don't call ourselves food bloggers for nothing. And I just realised the short but simple pictorial post as promised ended up with over 3000 words... Oops!
The eating frenzy continues...
Luna Bar (Pacific Regency Hotel) Menara PanGlobal 34F
Jalan Punchak (off Jl P. Ramlee),
Klang Lek Bak Kut Teh
27, Jalan Teluk Pulai,
41100 Klang, Selangor, Malaysia
Restoran MengKee Grilled Fish
39 Jalan Alor (opposite Wisma City Tower)
50200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (03) 9283 4523
Sri Subramaniam Temple Kuala Lumpur
Original Kayu Nasi Kandar
PJU 1/43, Aman Suria,
Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Suria KLCC 50450 Jalan Ampang
No 6. Jalan Kia Peng
50450 Kuala Lumpur