"Rojak and cendol! Cheap!"
You know what’s a great pick-me-up for a lazy weekend (or any other day, for that matter) afternoon?
Rojak and cendol.
And while there are so many different kinds to cater to the equally many different tastes, I think I’ve found one of the nicest examples from Rojak Ali, a food truck at Jalan PJS 1/26. You won’t miss the simple, small white truck with a couple of tables and some chairs set up, nicely shaded with umbrellas. It’s visible even from the NPE heading towards Sunway. You won’t miss the area too, as it’s rows of motorcycle shops!
The rojak (RM3.50) is of the Penang Pasembur variety, and it comes to you freshly prepared and chopped up by Karim. The rojak is chock-a-block full of excellent textural contrasts: delicate tofu, meaty cucur, and crunchy fritters lie beneath a bed of crisp, fresh sengkuang and cucumbers. Half a boiled egg garnishes the dish, and all this is bathed in their excellent kuah pasembur.
The kuah is wonderfully balanced, not too thick or thin, with spicy, sweet, creamy and nutty flavours that get soaked up by the other ingredients. To bulk it up, you can also order it with sotong and mee.
To accompany the rojak, the cendol pulut (RM2.50) is lovely. The ice is shaved using an old-school, hand cranked ice shaving machine that looks decades old (and probably is!), then scooped into small bowls, then a dollop of pulut is added. More »
"The briyani specialist"
Living up to its name, this neighbourhood restaurant offers a range of Briyani sets. We ordered the Chicken Briyani, plain Briyani with Fried Chicken and a number of sides. The Chicken Briyani is gingery soft, while the fried chicken is succulent and lean. They used a fine, lightly spiced basmati served in large portions. Acting as a base, its mild taste is a welcome when coupled with hot condiments.
A proper Briyani experience would not be complete without its side dishes. We greatly recommend the Green Chicken; chunks of juicy meat doused with mint sauce, coriander and green peppers. The resulting flavor is an exotic blend of sweet, refreshing and fiery spice.
Another side dish to try is the Chicken Tikka Karahi. The Karahi comes in a delicious coriander and chilli mix. It’s hot and spicy, providing the extra taste mileage to the meal. We also ordered Qeema, a minced meat dish spiced with ghee. The meat provides depth to a tasteful sauce - great to eat with rice and bread. For a vegetable side, we had the Aloo Gobi. The cauliflowers and potatoes are covered in thick masala sauce, leaving a lingering taste that’ll heat up your mouth.
Each Briyani is served with a small bowl of mixed vegetables and yoghurt. The yoghurt deserves special mention as it's thin, a fantastic silky taste of sweet mint and sour milk. For bread selection, the restaurant includes Naan Garlic, which is chewy and thickly flavored; and Special Naan (Taftan) which is served in three fluffy slices sprinkled with sesame seeds. Both are perfect to dip with savoury gravies like curry and dhal.
"Their roti booms are da bomb!"
Many folks are divided on what makes a good roti canai. There’s the flaky-and-crispy camp (which I lean towards) and there are those who like the light-and-fluffy kind. My personal taste? I love the smaller and thicker reincarnations of roti canai and I know exactly where to get it. It's the same reason why a lot of people come to Naan Corner, it's one thing and one thing only: their incredible roti boom.
Most people agree that the best roti booms are crispy, with a bit of heft and layers to catch all the gravy it’s dipped into. They also shouldn’t be too big – so you can proudly say you’ve eaten 5 in a row – or too small that you can eat it in one bite, because you want to break apart that swirly mass of crispy dough. Naan Corner’s roti boom ticks all the right boxes. People have been known to brave the rain and traffic for it, and even some foreigners make beelines for it once they arrive in Malaysia.
Our favourite gravy for roti boom-dipping is their butter chicken. The moment the dish reaches your table, you’re almost assaulted by the scent wafting out of it. Tender pieces of chicken chunks are almost swimming in a sea of lightly spiced, yet almost obscenely buttery gravy. Ignore the surgeon general’s warning and have it anyway. More »
"Ask for the killer 'secret' sambal...."
Chanai & Chaya is one of the few places in the whole of Klang Valley where I will absolutely order their apoms. They make it plain and simple. Just in case you have not already known, the TTDI market
was scheduled to be demolished to make way for 'development' with no plans to relocate the sellers into a new place. It's such a shame that one of the best managed markets in Malaysia with the choicest ingredients had to go in this manner and we are all to blame if we don't do anything about this. Just in case we lose this market entirely, I wanted to record a piece of history before all this fades away.
So here's your apom guys! An indian apom is fermented rice flour cooked over a hot small wok. One expert batter pour later, the wok is covered with a small lid so that the heat from the steam cooks the thick middle layer but leaving it moist and juicy whilst the wok crisps the sides like a sweet cracker.
Aunty Padama makes this perfectly everytime. Her mom helps sometime when things get busy. Perfection on a plate. Apoms like this has a companion. Sweet coconut milk, slightly diluted so that it does not become too creamy. I like. It's such a simple dish with the simplest ingredients but every chef or cook that is worth their salt will attest that it's the simplest recipes that are the hardest to make well. C&C's version is light, slightly soury, no rice flour residue and comes with 27 years of experience.
Most people ferment the batter overnight but at C&C, they actually start batter fermentation at 4am. Perhaps they have a very good yeast catalyst or my best bet is that they put some of the previous day batter into the new one.
"Biryani here is fieeerrcee..."
Fierce Curry House sits on a back street in Bangsar. Most people who would even know of this road are journalists who work in the newspaper offices nearby or people who have been driving in KL for a while. In actual fact, it is literally a stone's throw away from Jalan Bangsar. Who knew a true culinary gem had been hiding there these past few months?
Herukh Jethwani, who used to work at Bangles (that old and fancy North Indian restaurant in town), now has his own place, a little shop his family took over from a chap fan place. The set up is deceptively simple, as it looks just like any other mamak shop: foldable plastic chairs, buffet steam table, and open air, so the smell of curry and spices can reach the street and entice people in. And what you get when you go in, my friends, is one of the best Hyderabad biryanis in the Klang Valley.
Using almost 30 different spices (!), their biryanis are complex, exploding with flavour. Ingredients are assembled in little metal pots, sealed with plain capati dough and steamed for a few hours. Herukh points out that the dough helps keep the steam in, while providing an excellent marker as to when the contents in the pot are cooked: if the dough is cooked, then the biryani is cooked. Once it's served to you, you then use your spoon or fork handle to pry off the dough and carefully open the top. Try, please, to not faint at the delicious scent of the steam.
We had the mutton biryani and the vegetarian biryani that day, as Fridays are their special biryani days, serving all four of their biryanis (the aforementioned along with chicken and fish). The mutton biryani was chock full of tender chunks of meat, these guys sure are generous! It's also boneless, meaning that you don't get that nasty surprise of chipping your tooth on a shard of bone as you do in a lot of other places. Flavour-wise it's intense. There's a hum of onions, the hit of herbs and spices, and the meat is actually sweet. This is because they get their meat delivered every day (their supplier is about 20 steps away from the shop) and everything is fresh, fresh, fresh.
What steals the show for us is their vegetarian biryani. As soon as we take a spoonful, our eyes go wide, sighs of delight take over the table and we silently shovel the rice and vegetables into our mouths. Carrots, cauliflowers, what looks like beans (at this point we don't really care and trust Herukh with our lives), all mixed up in a melange of equally complex but completely different combination of spices as the ones in the mutton biryani. The flavours in this one are a little more assertive, brighter, showing us that they don't use a one spice mix-for-all approach. In fact, they're so concerned about their biryanis that the biryani preparation gets its own kitchen! More »
"Just like how my grandpa ate back in the day..."
I can count with one hand nasi kandar sellers that still practices the old art form. Most of them are in Penang and one of the them is this nameless stall in Kedai Kopi Tai Min along Jelutong Road (just opposite the Jelutong Balai Polis). You can't miss this place. They have queues that start as early as 6.30am. Just look out for that and you're there. Nasi kandar that is made the old school way has a smooth taste, although (mind you) we are talking about curries here. And the mixing process of different curries personalises the plate to you. So, no two nasi kandar plates are ever the same. Also, due to the double boiling process perfected over the generations, the rice is not starchy so that you can eat more.
The nasi kandar stall at Tai Min is now run by Mohamad Ali bin Amier. A 3rd generation nasi kandar 'currista'. According to Ali, his grandad started selling from the Merdeka days and from the same spot. He was not a cook or chef. His recipes were a trial and error based from his memories eating back home at the Ramnad district, India. A successful obfustication of recipes resulted in a small stall way back when Malaysia just got its feet and starting to stand up tall.
Since day one, they have always served their nasi kandar wet. The currys are light, flavourful and forms a small pool on your plate. It is friggin drenched. Thin but not quite watery. The rice is what the malays call 'ceroi' (the rice does not stick) which for some reason carries the curry gravy quite well when mixed together. You must try their famous beef curry with the black gravy. Slow cooked over fire for hours, the beef is tender. The black gravy is a closely guarded secret but in general made from curry mixed with soya sauce. A good nasi kandar seller must have good black gravy and theirs are wonderfully delicious. The right amount of curry spice with the right balance of soya sweetness.
"Slick and yummy noodles..."
The best Mee Goreng Mamak is more commonly found in Penang. Their Klang Valley counterparts don't seem to make the cut. That's why when someone told me about a place in Kota Damansara that has the unassuming Mee Goreng as a signature dish I was game to give it a go. I mean it saves me a long trip to Penang for a plate of fried noodles, right?
So I headed to Gulam Mee with great expectations. It's not often that Mee Goreng is given centre stage so I hope that my traffic-ridden trip to Kota Damansara was not in vain.