If there’s one thing you should add on your to-do list is a foodcrawl on the coastal road to Kuala Terengganu. It's a place that never ceases to amaze me with the freshness of its food and the sincerity of its people...
A wonderful way to spend a long weekend...
It goes without saying that I am a Terengganuphile. I adore the drive there up the alluring coast-line, hanging out at Batu Rakit crunching keropok and paddling in the South China Sea. Terengganu operates on different rules. People here work hard but also take the time to enter weekend-long fishing competitions, play with their kids on the sand and engage you in long, meandering conversations.
The Terengganu Coast Crawl Map
View Where To Eat in a larger map
And the food- simpler, less embellished and fresher. Makciks here don’t cook if the catch ain’t fresh. What would be the point? Often you can help a fisherman pull his boat up and get a gift of fresh kerisi still wriggling and bright-eyed.
Kerisi, sexily grilled and served with budu and ulam
Yes, I am biased and often I will cajole people to brave the 7 hour drive from KL so they too can experience my tasty Terengganu. If Terengganu is a woman she won't be one of those loud types garishly beckoning you with her wares. She'll be one of those girls that catches your eye, who shyly looks up through her lashes at you, smiling that special smile. In her palms she'll cheekily offer you a roti paung hot from her oven. And the more you get to know her, the more you'll fall under her spell.
But I digress. Here is my beginner’s guide to eating well on the Terengganu coast.
Breakfast: Start early. 7-730am because the windy drive past Genting is lovely in the morning. Also you can stop at my favourite rest-stop Genting-Sempah for breakie. Something about eating nasi lemak bungkus on higher elevation makes you feel like your holiday has truly begun.
Elevenses: Hobbits do them and we love it too! The drive on the East-coast highway is a little dull but just power through, wave to Cherating and make a bee-line for Chukai to Hai Peng Kopitiam.
I like my hot buns filled with butter and kaya... oh yeah...
Seriously ‘kaw’ coffee, roti benggali with homemade kaya and your first encounter with nasi dagang.
Here it’s wrapped in banana leaf and you can drench it with however much gravy you like. They also have nasi lemak ikan, a Terengganu staple.
Carry on, at some point you will start seeing the sea peeking to your right. Gaily coloured keropok stalls line the roads. Settle back, pop on your shades because the drive gets a little slower here but also more gorgeous.
Lunch: By about 1 you should be passing Dungun and nearing Tanjung Jara. Just before you hit the entrance to the resort, on your left is a stand alone restaurant. C.B. Wee is a charming wooden eatery with some seriously good butter prawns- the slightly wet kind.
The moment it arrives you'll be hit with the scent of hot butter...
We also love their juicy oyster omelette.
Everything here is pretty top notch. The lovely Aunty here also makes herbal tea from herbs she grows in her garden.
Something to fortify you for the eating yet to come...
Snack: Rubbing that full tum of yours it’s only a little more than an hour or so to get to Kuala Terengganu where you can put up for the night. If you’re feeling peckish just stop awhile at the many keropok sellers by the side of the road.
Keropok comes in all shapes and sizes here...
Tea: Check in, rest and take it easy. Near tea-time about 5 or so make your way to Batu Rakit near Mengabang Telipot. Just follow the signs to Kota Baru and once you see the sign that you’re in Batu Rakit turn to the road that hugs the coast. This is a charming fishing village. Facing the sea you’ll see a shack and tons of cars. This is Warong Pok Nong. This places used to be the hang-out of Kustem staff but word travelled and now this shack is packed.
They have one of the sexiest sotong goreng on the coast.
Their batter is crispy and not too oily. And they dip fresh fish in it too and fry it up whole. This is a popular dating place. Plenty of tables have couples tearing through a mountain of fried goodies, mouth greased and eyes dewy at each other. Be warned: the counter where the food is serve is thick with people so you need to be a little aggressive.
Dude, get your hands off my squid!
The moment the piping hot fried goodies arrive it’s every man for himself. Grab what you can get because the squids here are fat and soft. You can also get keropok lekor. It helps if you send a pretty lady there, the swarthy Ganu men might put a squid your way if you give them a big smile.
Multi-coloured ais kacang filled with dainty little treasures...
What we also love here is the ais kacang. Possibly the best one I’ve had in a long time. It’s just the right size with enough milk and syrups and the bits inside are small and delicious. So even if you can’t get the sotong, stop awhile and have the killer ais kacang with equally killer views.
The divine Batu Rakit views
Dinner: After a bit of a frolic on the beach, dinner brings you back to KT. Ocean Restaurant has been around for a long time. It’s a typical Chinese restaurant that overlooks the river. Get your fix of steamed fish, crabs done kam heong style etc. Address: Lot 2679, Jalan Sultan Zainal Abidin, KT
Wake up early! Terengganu is a State of breakfast and all the good stuff finishes by 830am. It’s tradition here for people to eat breakfast in stalls or take away nasi dagang and nasi kerabu home. Go up the coastal road north towards the district of Setiu. Here make a stop at Penarik.
The coastline here lures you to stay a littler longer...
Penarik lives up to its name. It’s said that the first settlers here were so charmed by the place, they named it so which means Attractive. The sea here sits languidly and eating your first meal of the day here is a treat! Get yourself to Gerai Mak Ngah in Rhu Sepuluh, it’s blue and have big letters advertising what they sell.
My vote for best laksam in the world
You want to have the laksam here with fish so fresh it tastes citrusy. She also sells nasi dagang which is a little sweet because they are closer to Kelantan here. They also serve nasi minyak which is an everyday occurrence, colourful with some sambal, acar and gulai ayam on the side.
Not a fan of laksam? Try the nasi minyak...
Elevenses: You can opt to go towards Tembilar and then to the Kuala Besut market. It really depends how much time you have on the coast. Kuala Besut weekend market is great where you can get all sorts of kuih like Lompat Tikang. In Tembilar, stop awhile at Kedai Mek Ani, a shop full of plants. If you’re lucky they might have Serawa Durian on the day you visit- eaten with rice of course.
On the way, there are plenty of wide, empty beaches you can have a swim and picnic at so explore!
Empty windswept beaches at Bari Besar entices you for a little dip
Alternatively you can go back to KT to Pasar Payang. Upstairs they have simple nasi dagang and you can buy batik and such. A good place to wander about in the morning, haggling and snacking as you go along.
Lunch: Back in KT, my favourite place where the Terengganuphile Club used to meet weekly is Restaurant Meka.
Is there anything finer than a plate heaped with grilled squid?
This is a great eating shop serving delicious grilled squid and fish, delectable fried ayam kampong and Terengganu staples like budu. The budu here is served with a side of tempoyak, cili padi and a squeeze of lime. Ridiculously addictive but you will suffer for it later.
That fiendish-looking dip goes superbly with anything!
If alas, you only have a weekend to spare, after lunch and a Budu-induced nap, it’s time to leave the fair shores of Terengganu. So scroll down for your snack and dinner options. But if (yay!) you are spending a long weekend, get yourself back to Batu Rakit to Pok Nor Satar and Otak-otak for tea.
Each pyramid hides a juicy treat
If you've only tasted satar it in KL, then you're in for a surprise. This is the real deal. Full of fresh fish, slightly charred it is a succulent bite. Their satar here is so good, you can buy them frozen and take home. What I love here is their otak-otak.
Full of fish with chunks of squid or fish in the middle. Yum!
Dinner: On the second day I’m usually way too stuffed for dinner but you can go to NR Cafe where they serve all manner of Malay-style seafood.
But first, the mellow sunset of the East Coast
Morning! Again the eating options are endless. On my last day here I like to have breakfast at Chendering. Nasi Dagang Mak Ngah is the famous one but just a further up the road is another place that serves it delicious too, just look for the cars parked next to it.
A great nasi dagang is a thing of beauty. Must have with boiled egg
If you fancy some nasi kerabu there’s a one just a little further up the road opposite the mosque with a green roof. It’s called Kak Sitie. She started off selling nasi kerabu, bright blue and perky for a morning meal but later expanded the menu to nasi with gulai ikan and ayam, nasi dagang and a rather good nasi lemak.
Rice is what people eat here in the morning in all sort of guises
Another option is to make a pit stop at Marang, just a few miles after Chendering. Just turn left after a big Balai Polis and follow the road until you see the Marang market. There are gerais overlooking the river. The one right at the corner is Mek Biah’s. She has good laksam and nasi dagang and some cute cats prowling for fish.
Mek Biah's laksam uses thinner homemade rice noodles
After that have a little gander at the Marang market where you can pick up local fruits like the reptilian buah salak and buah keranji who I’ve always just known from a childhood poem. If you bring a cooler, stock up on the fresh fish on offer so you can cling on to Terengganu when you get back to the city.
Look at all that glimmering fresh fish!
Elevenses: Back you go on the coastal road waving Terengganu goodbye. In Kampung Nyior stop for some Akok. Here they have akok Gula, akok nisan and even akok kelapa which seeing as they are in Kg Nyior is hardly surprising.
They still use sabut kelapa to make the akok so they are smoky and sweet
Akok gula. Akok in its natural habitat is large and delicious!
You’ll find that different kampong has it’s own specialty, some places its jagung bakar and some it’s air nira, in Kijal if it’s in season do stop for the durians.
Lunch: Stop by Kemaman if you fancy buying coffee from Hai Peng and get some stuffed crabs. The famous place here is Tong Juan but the shops all on the same row have the same dish and they are all pretty good. Crab claws are stuffed with luscious crabmeat, topped with beaten egg whites and then baked till golden. You eat it with a generous dollop of garlicky chilli sauce. They also open for dinner so if you're travelling back in the evening, it's worth a stop here.
A claw for your maw anyone?
And then you’re done! Back on the East Coast highway past Cherating (which is another post) to the metropolis. Terengganu remains just a whiff of beach air in your lungs. Needless to say that when I get back I will spend a week in depression refusing to eat any seafood plotting my next trip to the coast.
Bye bye beautiful. Till we meet again...