Surprise! I've just arrived at the cultural melting pot of Asia - Malaysia!! I'm here as a media guest of MATRADE (Malaysian External Trade & Development Corporation) and Tourism Malaysia to get an induction into the spectrum of Malaysian cuisine. I'm so privileged to be in the company of other food lovers including Adam Liaw (of Masterchef fame), fellow blogger Helen (of Grab Your Fork) and some food & travel journalists.
My first taste of Malaysian cuisine was at Sydney restaurant Mamak many years ago when they first opened but now I'm right at the source, in Kuala Lumpur! The last two days have been really fascinating, learning about new flavours as well as discovering the similarities it has with the Teochew and Chinese dishes that I've grown up with. All the Hokkien influence has been especially interesting since the language is so similar to Teochew and it's great I'm able to learn a bit about Zen's cultural heritage (with him being Hokkien).
Day one was a never-ending feast!
My flight was on Sunday so plane food was dinner. I had the lamb curry which was followed by a full size Weis Mango and Ice Cream Bar! The ice-cream made up for all the crazy turbulence we experienced at the beginning of the flight. There's nothing a good ice-cream can't do!
We've been staying at JW Marriott which as you can see in the pics below, is absolute luxury. Lots of gold and nude hues, intricate brass detail, gorgeous smelling toiletries (think of flavours like grapefruit and mint, or ginger and lemongrass) and my favourite part - the large double doors that lead into the bathroom!
This is the view from my room on the 20th floor -
(Spot the Prada store front!)
And this is the lobby -
Did I mention we're in the same building as the Louis Vuitton store? Or conveniently opposite the fabulous Pavilion shopping centre? :)
Anyway, back onto food...
On this particular day, we were guided by the Fried Chillies team. We talked about the future of hawker food, the changing palates of Malaysians and the growing concerns about the next generation of street food vendors. What will happen if the next generation aren't willing to takeover and prolong the family business?
Restaurants such as Heritage Village maintain their traditional recipes while operating from a more modern and commercialised set-up. Drinks on offer include the limau kasturi (pickled calamansi lime drink) and teh o ais (tea with sugar and ice).
Nasi Lemak is a coconut rice served with fresh cucumber slices, ikan bilis (deep fried anchovies), roasted peanuts, hard boiled egg, and sambal. Heritage Village's version is based on a family recipe that has spanned three generations.
We have it with a variety of accompaniments including beef rendang, sambal sotong (cuttlefish), assam prawns, ayam goreng and acar fish.
The rice is super fragrant with coconut milk, but it's often the sambal that makes or breaks this dish.
The sambal at Heritage Village is strong and intense, a little tomatoey with a nice kick.
Next stop was Toast & Roast, for their killer char siew and Hakka mee.
The Fried Chillies guys gave this an appropriate introduction, describing it as the "savoury version of a moist chocolate cake"!
And boy were they right!
Unlike the char siew we are used to in Sydney, this version here is super fatty. But that's not to say it is unpleasant, because it is completely irresistible! So indulgent and moreish. The pork featured a charred and caramelised crust and every mouthful was just divine.
I can't begin to imagine how bad all this lard must be for your body... but let's eat now and think later!
The char siew experience was enhanced when eaten with Hakka mee - perfectly cooked egg noodles with crispy bits of fish skin and green onion. What makes this dish more "Malaysian" versus Chinese is the adaptation of it, in particular the use of condiments such as pickled green chillies.
Not too long later, we were at Restoran Jamal Mohamed for Aunty Gemuk's char kway teow, which aptly translates to "Fat Aunty's stir-fried rice noodles".
This hawker centre is in a halal area so there is a notable difference in the char kway teow in that there is no lup cheong (Chinese sausage) because of its pork contents.
It was an amazing sight, walking into an open room of people savouring all types of dishes.
Core ingredients forming the char kway teow include rice noodles, sambal, bean sprouts, garlic chives, prawns, cockles, egg and dark soy sauce.
The noodles are the focus of this dish and all the other ingredients help the noodles shine. They're wok-tossed until well coated with flavour. The bean sprouts which were added last provide a nice textural balance.
Overall the char kway teow here seemed to have more intense peanut and sambal notes and I definitely would have enjoyed a more charred taste. I love that they use cockles though, because that's not an ingredient you'd often find in Sydney char kway teows.
Last stop for this breakfast and lunch crawl was Raju Restaurant for a taste of the Indian-influenced mamak style foods.
This restaurant was such a highlight. We all sat outside beneath the
cool shade of enormous trees and umbrellas, we used banana leaves as
plates and ate freshly fried mackerel and other types of grilled fishes,
curries and dahl.
The roti canai were so light, crisp and airy and only 1.50RM which equates to 50 cents!
Later that evening, Adam gave us a masterclass at cooking char kway teow.
He mentioned that the timing of ingredients was critical as well as the wok-heat. In order to achieve a quality char kway teow, he recommended cooking 1 - 2 serves each time and to even use the oil from rendered lard for full flavour.
By night, we're sipping on cocktails at Sky Bar while enjoying the most spectacular view of the Petrona Twin Towers.It was the perfect way to end day one.
JW Marriott Hotel Kuala Lumpur
183 Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone: +60 3 2715 9000
D-G-31, Jalan PJU 1/45 Aman Suria, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: +60 3 7880 8891
Toast & Roast
No.20, Jalan SS2/72 47300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor , Malaysia
Phone: +60 1 6682 2249
27 Jalan Chantek 5/13, Off Jalan Gasing, 46000 Petaling Jaya , Malaysia
Phone: +60 3 7956 1361
Sky Bar, Traders Hotel
Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50088 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone: +60 3 2332 9888
Next blog post: A visit to one of Kuala Lumpur's last wet markets and a Kampung cuisine cooking class
JENIUS is attending the Malaysia Kitchen Media Famil as a media guest of MATRADE (Malaysian External Trade & Development Corporation) and Tourism Malaysia, with thanks to Ogilvy Public Relations.