"The cencaru is perfectly fried and really crispy outside"
Furniture shop? Restaurant? Furniture for sale? Cafe? These are the usual questions first timers have when they enter this place. But unmistakeably during dinner time, it is a restaurant and a busy buzzing one at that. The crowds that flock in are usually in search of good food, similar to what Mum used to make.
With a mixed fare of Malaysian, Nyonya and Portuguese dishes, the mere flicker of images in the menu can easily trigger your drool reflex. A well known favourite that everyone must have a go at is their Black Pepper Terung (Aubergines). These morsels are meticulously seared with black pepper, yet it is still very moist and succulent with every bite. The sweetness of the well cooked flesh of the terung is enhanced by the subtle deep spiciness of the grounded black pepper. Absolutely fabulous! Or it can just be the fact that aubergines are a favourite of mine. What comes next can definitely settle your sniffles in a licking. At first, the Deep Fried Cencaru (Torpedo Scad) with Chilli Padi (birds-eye chilli) Paste & Petai doesn't really look like it offers much. And here we are reminded of the phrase 'don't judge a book by it's cover' for it certainly blew our minds!
"Every bite of the pandan chicken was a juicy crunch"
As Malaysians, we all enjoy the usual Thai fare. But after awhile you realise that most Thai dishes loose its zing(!) when it arrives in Malaysia. However, ever so often you will find a place that still has its Thai roots in place while inserting a Malaysian twist to it. Ayuthai has been opened for over ten years, but only known to those who live nearby due to the nature of its location. It has a loyal following with their original customers now bringing their children here.
The setting does not differ all that much from any other Thai eatery. It has a makeshift bamboo roof over the counter and many hanging pictures showing Thai dishes (some of which you can't really pronounce). It’s a rule of thumb to try out a few signature dishes that deem a Thai place worthy of their name. Usually it's their Tom Yam and Pandan Chicken with an emphasis on their fish dishes such as Ikan Masak Tiga Rasa.
For starters their Tom Yam is excellent! Really delicious thick sauce not made with the store bought Tom Yam paste. You can actually taste the lemongrass, juicy sourness of the tangy lime, the bite of the kaffir lime leaves, heat from the chillies and some unidentified pounded spices. Why bother figuring it out? The soup itself is so good! And for those who are counting the floating prawns in the dish, well, I can assure you it is more than most places will willingly toss in there. And then the Pandan chicken arrived.
"Their nasi lemak is a fan favourite!"
Damansara Uptown is well known to be a food hub for foodies. There's something good to eat on almost every corner and Village Park is a rising star. The reason for their fame is their Nasi Lemak, simple and plain nasi lemak that'll make your day.
The exterior of the place is pretty much calm and cooling but once you step in the reality of the famous lunch spot comes to attention. The ambience is boisterous and aromatic- a kaleidoscope of food food food! The thing about Village Park is that the food is laid wide open for you to stare and drool dumbfoundedly at. Just picture a whole fish head sitting in a pool of deliciously sour assam pedas gravy and topped with a bouquet of ingredients. Then next to that you have a whole array of dishes from spicy to sweet, soft to crunchy and all just sitting pretty and enticing you to take a bite.
Undoubtedly the main star attraction is their Nasi Lemak. Like proud parents, articles, newspaper clippings and pictures of this Nasi Lemak are hung and stuck on each wall, casing and even the glass windows. Even if you were having doubts on what to choose, the Nasi Lemak would command your attention. What gets every visitor is that this Nasi Lemak doesn't clump together. They fall on your plate grain by grain while releasing beautiful rich aromatic scents of coconut milk, pandan (pandanus leaves) and some secret ingredient that makes your world all that brighter. But the deliciousness doesn't just end there.
"They do your favourite seafood dishes here very, very well"
“You have to try the fish here,” my friend knows that I like, nay, LOVE fish. Just the thought of fresh fish steamed with garlic, ginger and scallions in superior soy sauce is enough to make my mouth water, and the fine hairs on my tongue rise in anticipation. Here, the fish they are famous for is the Chinese carp. It took us a while to figure out what’s the English name of the fish whose Chinese name completely eludes me. But no matter. With a lot of gesturing and pointing, they knew what we wanted.
You can order the whole fish here but trust me that just the head is enough for you to enjoy it; plus it's easier on the pocket too. The head is pretty big and comes steaming on a plate with loads of firm flesh glistening under a heap of shredded ginger, garlic and emerald coriander leaves. Argue for the fat and succulent cheeks. Remember Hannibal Lector saying that the cheeks of any animal are the best part of the beast? How true. How true. Alas! Being a well brought up Asian person, I ended up digging it out and then passing it to my mates. They confessed though that each sliver of cheek is a burst of fragrant flavour.
This is the sort of fish head that I can spend the whole night picking on. Each crevice of the fish reveals juicy sweet meat and cooked unadorned save for the soy sauce means that you can really TASTE it. Another famed dish here is the Chinese cabbage stir-fried with preserved tofu and garlic.This dish is lovely, the cabbage is crunchy with the saltiness from the tofu adding a layered depth to it. By itself the cabbage might be bland but with the tofu minced fine interred within the gravy, there is a savoury saltiness that makes this very addictive when coupled with hot white rice.
"The lamb rack came, succulent with bits of fat still sizzling on it"
The Yogi Tree. The first thing that might pop up in your mind would be a Yogi meditating up in a tree. However, this perhaps is what The Yogi Tree aims to achieve, a serene blend of health food and at the same time pulling away from most local health food cliches. Hand in hand with their theme 'naturally good food'
is the fact that most of the things on the menu are organic. From their vegetables to eggs, and even their meats are organic.
The atmosphere in The Yogi Tree is very relaxing as they have bright white based walls and tall windows that just puts you in a mood for food. The cosy chairs also adds to the chilled out ambience. What did strike our fancy was their 'Wall of Phrases' right at the back corner, next to the window. It was full of many inspiring health influenced words. The menu too have simple yet effective words, most of them spelling out the beautiful culinary delights on offer. Starting from the lighter dishes and then gradually moving up to the heavier stuff, we ordered accordingly from their scribbly
menu! Yes, they do have arrows and scribbles all over the menu highlighting certain ingredients or benefits of each item.
The Healing Teas seem to be a hit here, especially their American Ginseng, Red Dates, Longan and Wolfberry tea. Although we ordered it out of curiosity, the real reason for ordering this drink is that it can reduce stress, lowers cholesterol and helps curb illnesses. Most of their drinks have healing properties. For those who prefer juices their Ginger Spice comprising of ginger, honey, yogurt, lemon juice and mint is very refreshing. You can also choose any variety or pick on the concoctions that meet your physical or epicurean needs.
"There's bountiful seafood in the kerabu soohoon"
Good food can be found in the most unlikely places. Especially in places that have been around for ages but you are not too sure how the food is like there. Well, Hawina is tucked in one of those improbable places. Its appearance might give out different vibes but rest well that the food is good and cooked well.
One of the few unique dishes here that not many Tomyam places offer is their Nasi Bubur set. Although it sounds more like a meal for those who are down with something, here their mouth watering Bubur Set will make you reconsider. What always holds to be true is that the most delicious food is normally the simplest. This set comprises of just porridge, stir fried baby kailan, whole salted egg and deep-fried crispy ikan bilis (anchovies). This is topped off with a sweet lime syrup, roughly chopped onions and chilli padi- the Wow! factor that sets this porridge apart from the rest. And if you still feel you need more items for this plain porridge, you can always take a peak at the little side bar that has various items for you to choose from. The colours alone will make you go wild!
But the fun doesn't stop there folks! Like many tomyam establishments, you can either have plain rice with your assortment of dishes or you can have your one dish meals. We opted for the former as it would get our grubby little hands on more stuff. And so it was called for and we had a spread of fish, chicken and veggies. First up, we had Kerabu Soohoon or Vermicelli Salad for our appetizer. The best thing about this is the seafood portion is bountiful not to mention sizeable. This is then tossed with vermicelli along with big slices of yellow onion, tomatoes and a juicy dollop of lime syrup. What a great appetite opener.
"You can order Beginner, Regular or Adventurous soup!"
Nestled behind all the glorified franchises of many, lies this quaint looking noodle shop. The first few minutes upon finding it will be spent making funny faces in trying to figure out how to pronounce the names of the dishes. It may seem odd to our language, but the food pictures will definitely strike familiar chords of deliciousness.
Once cosily seated with a complimentary cup of water and all set to order the food, it hits you that it is actually written in a whole different language. Reading the menu makes you feel like connecting the dots on all the hyphenations and accentuations in each word. Thank god for translations! With those you can actually interpret and order the mouth watering dishes, instead of bluntly pointing out pictures to the waiter and saying "I want this!" One thing you will like at this place is the service as they are very fast and efficient and served with a friendly smile. For starters we had their Summer Roll and Chả Giò (fried roll), which is basically spring rolls one served fresh and the other fried.
Though seemingly similar the fillings are different, the Summer Roll has fresh iceberg lettuce, sweet basil, carrots, vermicelli, and chicken strips that are then dipped in a thick peanut sauce. Whereas the Chả Giò is just stuffed with minced beef and vegetables dipped in a fish sauce based emulsion. For those for looking for a special appetiser, they also have the Sugar Cane Prawns which is simply delicious! Prawn is finely chopped and mixed with a lemongrass herb mixture and then shaped on a sugar cane stick before being deep fried into perfection..mmm.. yummy! We had a wonderful time gnawing the sugar cane once we cleaned off the prawns bits. It somehow cleansed your palate and prepares your tastebuds for the next dish.