Tuesday, 23 September 2014

a day in kuantan

Fresh local coconut.

We kicked off a trip up the Malaysian Peninsula east coast in late August, and while it's not the first time I've gone to that part of the country, I feel like I've discovered a different side to some of these places that I didn't see as a child.

Our first stop was Kuantan. Truth be told, we considered it to be more of a resting place before we continued on to our next destination, so we didn't do much, but it was certainly pleasant enough.

We happened to pass by a shop called No.1 Egg Tart King on our way to our hotel, so I popped in to get a couple of their signature egg tarts. They were actually very nice - there is a sweet, gentle whiff of fragrance that led the way as I tucked into the flaky pastry and tender custard.

A tasty egg tart.

We went for a walk along Teluk Cempedak beach. The place is absolutely swarming with monkeys! By the way, if you're planning to visit, my advice would be to just keep your distance and admire them from afar. They can get pretty aggressive - I saw a guy who only intended to share a few of his potato chips but somehow got mugged for the whole can. You have been warned. If you can avoid being caught up in the monkey business, though, they can be fun to watch.

Monkeys grooming each other at Teluk Cempedak beach.

That night, we had dinner at Hai Tian Restaurant. Our experience was slightly mixed, but really it was just one overly salty tofu dish that strayed - the two seafood dishes we had were good.

We chose to have the assam fish with "ikan kembung" - Indian mackerel. Spicy, sour, satisfying.

Assam fish with "kembung" fish, i.e. Indian mackerel.

The coconut prawn curry was impressively presented in an actual coconut. The prawns are large, and the curry gravy was quite intensely rich.

Coconut prawn curry, served in a coconut!

After dinner, we called it an early night, and slept well to prepare for the drive up to Terengganu...

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

back to the beginning: eating in klang

The night we arrived in Malaysia, my parents whisked us from the airport, back to our home in Klang, and on the way we stopped to get some takeaway fried chicken from a street stall.

Fried chicken.

Klang is where I grew up. It seems fitting, then, that my sabbatical starts here.

I had some ambitious plans for this sabbatical, but to be honest, I haven't been terribly productive since I quit my job. Still, I have been eating my way around Malaysia. On this front, at least, I've done quite well.

There are food items that had barely crossed my mind, but I instantly recalled them with affection as my parents started dishing them up to me. Jianshuizong - which literally means "alkaline water dumplings" - is one of those things. Made with glutinous rice and lye water, it may not sound all that great, but there's something about the sticky texture and the alkaline taste that is oddly alluring when paired with something sweet - sugar, syrup, or honey.

Jianshuizong - alkaline dumplings, served with honey.

Then there is chee cheong fun, rice noodle rolls with assorted goodies such as beancurd skin, fishballs and vegetables, all slathered with a savoury-sweet sauce.

Chee cheong fun.

I am also in tropical heaven. When I was in Australia, I gravitated towards cheap,local, seasonal produce, and even though I missed the tropical fruits I grew up with in Malaysia, I usually didn't fork out the money for them. Here, however, I didn't need to hold back! Mangosteens, longans, dokongs... all can be enjoyed for just a few ringgit per kilo.

Mangosteens, longans, and dokongs.

We ate out often enough, too. One of the first highlights was this deep-fried salted egg tofu dish. Here, wobbly, silken tofu is masterfully held together in a crispy salted egg batter.

Deep-fried salted egg tofu.

Then there is the place where my dad says has the best roast pork he's ever eaten. I can believe it. The tender, juicy meat is topped off with probably the most satisfyingly crunchy crackling I've ever experienced.

Roast pork.

Last but not least, Klang is famous for its bak kut teh - which literally means "meat bone tea", and here, we like having it for breakfast, a truly carnivorous start to the day. Nary a vegetable in sight, just bowls full of various cuts of pork in a rich dark broth, to go with oily plates of rice. You may opt for lean meat, or you can go for a fattier part such as the pork belly, or chew on the gelatinous skin to your heart's content with the pork leg. Or, like me, you might choose to throw yourself at the pork stomach and intestines. Don't knock it till you try it...

Bak kut teh - the offal version.

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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

an exploration: our malaysian garden

Well, we're now in Malaysia!

It has been nearly 5 years since my last visit. But home always feels like home.

The day after my return, my dad took me for a tour around our garden, complete with commentary. Some things have changed, some things stay the same. I enjoyed re-acquainting myself with the old, and discovering the new.

The first stop was the mulberry plant. Mulberry fruits are quite sour, and my parents tend to either make a fermented drink out of them, or throw a few into a mixed fruit smoothie for a nice hint of tartness.

A mulberry fruit.

Bird's eye chilli probably needs no introduction. With its fragrant, intense heat, these little chillies are a case of good things coming in small packages.

Bird's eye chilli, commonly known as cili padi in Malaysia.

We also have a kaffir lime tree. Though I had been oblivious for a long time, apparently this name has politically incorrect connotations in some parts of the world, so an alternative name is makrut lime. My mum makes an awesome salad and she often includes thinly sliced lime leaves for their sharp, distinctive flavour. I've also used it a few times in recipes that have featured on this blog, and my favourite original creation is this tofu dish.

Makrut lime (more commonly known as Kaffir lime).

Pandanus shrubs (also known as screw pine) thrive in the garden. Pandan leaves, which impart a gentle mellowness to dishes, are commonly used in various Southeast Asian desserts. Here is a simple pandan beverage you can try, if you are after something delightfully easy and thirst-quenching.

Pandan plants.

Then there's what we call Pegaga growing as ground cover. It is otherwise known as Centella or Gotu Kola and is purported to have excellent health benefits. It can be blended to make a refreshing drink, and it is also often sliced and thrown into salads.

Pegaga, aka Gotu Kola or Centella Asiatica.

Last but not least, here is the pretty blue pea flower. It has the rather cheeky scientific name of Clitoria Ternatea, referring to the flower's resemblance to a clitoris. Questionable naming conventions aside, the flower yields a gorgeous blue dye, so it is the perfect natural ingredient to colour rice for sweet glutinous rice cake desserts, as well as the savoury dish called Nasi Kerabu.

Blue/butterfly pea flower.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our garden in Malaysia - there are many more plants that I have yet to mention here, but I think I'll have to leave them for another time. I might do a post on our garden herbs in the future, once I learn more about them via my parents' wealth of knowledge, so watch this space.

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