Wednesday, August 27, 2008

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

I found myself in the two capital cities of Malaysia recently - Kuala Lumpur in the West and Kuching in the East. And as much as I'll like to say that I feel a sense of belonging to this country which my parents once called home, I can't say I do. I attribute this to not having lived, spoken the language or made lifelong friends there. But the food in Malaysia is my connection. Malaysian food, in particular street food, is delicious. There's something genuine, wholesome and completely unpretentious about the wide variety of Malaysian food on offer.

Kuala Lumpur
I caught up with one of my oldest friends from Australia who moved to Kuala Lumpur for work a few years back. Knowing my eagerness to sample some of the local fare, he suggested that we head over to Jalan Alor for dinner. We checked in at "Wong Ah Wah" at the start of this food filled street. This old establishment serves up great local favourites which we eagerly ordered. The beef and chicken satays were flavoursome and moist, owing to the thicker cuts of meat used which had been well marinated. The barbecued skate was a thick cut of the firm fleshed fish and came with a side of sambal chilli that had a good amount of oomph. We also ordered barbecued chicken wings which were bites of sweet, savoury and gooey goodness. What was disappointing, however was the bamboo clams stir fried in black bean sauce. Whilst tasty enough, there was very little clam flesh encased .

But all was redeemed with a dish that Kuala Lumpur is famous for - the Fried Hokkien noodles in dark soya sauce. I had been told many a time by locals that this was one dish that I had to try - and I wasn't disappointed. Thick chewy egg noodles stir fried with pork, cabbage and a dark, almost syrupy rich sauce. What defines this dish however is the chunks of crispy pork crackling that are stirred through the noodles at the end of the cooking process. Very sinful - and very good.

Kuching
The quintessential breakfast grub in Kuching is the kolo mee, a deceptively simple yet majorly tasty noodle dish which is loved by the locals. I have always adored this dish - curly noodles cooked just al dente, tossed in shallot oil, deep fried garlic and topped with stir fried pork mince, slices of char siew, and prawns. I was pleasantly surprised to find a variation of this dish by a popular hawker (Top 1 food centre in Jalan An Cheong) on this trip - instead of the usual sauce and toppings, this version was tossed with chinese black vinegar and served in a big bowl of tasty broth (consisting of chinese preserved cabbage, bean sprouts, hand made pork balls, prawns and fish cake). The vinegar in this dish reminded me of one of my favourite things to eat in Singapore - Teochew minced meat noodles, in which a liberal amount of black vinegar is also added. Curious, I chatted briefly with the hawker and sure enough, he revealed that he was indeed a Teochew Chinese and had prepared the noodles true to his roots. He became surprisingly passionate once we were on the topic and went on to describe how this humble noodle dish has numerous variations, influenced by hawkers of different backgrounds that prepare it. An unusual twist on an old favourite and one that I'll definitely come back to.
Feeling satisfied from a delicious breakfast, we then proceeded for something sweet - and decided on Yik Cheong, a local coffeeshop near the food centre that specialises in pastries. The owner recommended the puff pastry balls which we decided to try. Biting into the buttery, flaky pastry revealed an interesting mix of chicken floss encased in sticky lotus paste. The contrast of the salty and sweet in these tiny morsels was surprisingly good.
By the end of my short trips to both the East and West of Malaysia, I felt strangely proud to have such a connection to this country. Malaysians love their food. They also have a uniquely down to earth attitude towards eating - and a genuine passion for great tasting grub... And at the very end of the day - that's something I will always be able to definitely identify with.

13 comments:

teenuts September 30, 2008 at 2:10 PM  

Next time you visit Kuching you really must try the kolo mee at Carpenter Street - the one on the corner. It's famous for the noodles served with the seaweed & pork mince soup and you can order it with all the innards as well, to your liking. To most Kuchingites, it really is the best and most famous kolo mee in town. Plus it's the only kopitiam where you can't yell out your order liberally otherwise you risk getting a scolding from the owner..who looks pretty fierce most of the time : ) The mee has a slight vinegar taste to it as well...

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