MALAYSIA (KL,KT, PENANG) REPORTBACK - LONG
First-ever trip to Malaysia: KL, Penang, Kuala Terengganu, Pulau Gemia, Taman Negara. Lots of great food to be had!
We stayed across the road from famous (mainly Chinese) hawker street Jalan Alor, and made use of this wonderful resource. We could never find any of the places recommended here (Meng Kee, Shu Kee, Charn Kee, Hup Kee, Lim Kee and Rayum Kee restaurants were all in a row – and those were the ones that had names), but had good food everywhere we went. For those who want names, dammit! Here are the ones I recall:
Cu Chua Restaurant: One of the bigger ones, towards the top (PetronasTowers) end of the street. “Ginger seashells” (RM15) turned out to be a plate of unbelievably fresh little clams, barely stirfried with scallions and ginger. Mmm. Boyfriend also preferred their char kueh Teow (RM5) to others we tried. Stirfried kailan memorable.
Restaurant on the same side of the street as Cu Chua, but at the other end of Jalan Alor, next to the car park:
Yong tow foo sui kow (RM6.20) – a mixture of deepfried items, veg, tofu, fish balls, etc. most stuffed with fishpaste.
Chicken wings, grilled (RM12.60 for 6) were recommended by our taxi driver. Lovely.
Unnamed Indian Roti Stand, across road from Hup Kee Restoran – became our local breakfast haunt, for their the tarik, roti chanai with veg curry and meat curry gravy, roti milo (they laughed when I requested this, but made it with good humour). We went there for supper once, too, and got to have the curry that the roti chanai gets its gravy from. And two small plates (how do Malaysians get portion sizes so right?) of crumbed, fried chicken. I don’t know if this last one is considered particularly Malay-Indian, but it was done perfectly. KFC eat your heart out. RM13 for supper for two, RM5 for breakfast.
Chinese Cruller Lady – I made up songs in my head singing her praises. Not actually on Jalan Alor, but opposite the KFC between Jalan Alor and Bukit Bintang. A little stall that kept strict hours, 3pm to 8.30pm, and a family affair – dad and son would roll out the dough, make it into shapes with a range of chopstick-things, and then uncle (?) deepfried them in a wok of boiling oil. Cruller Lady would give you a basket and tongs to put your selection in (everyone else were locals, getting enough takeaways for a family of six) and then she counts, packages and announces the cost and makes the necessary change. Best crullers I had in Malaysia. There were traditional long crullers, star-shaped ones tossed in sesame seeds, H-shaped ones with cinnamon and cup-shaped ones with sweet glutinous rice centres. The latter were my favourite; sesame seed was boyfriend’s nirvana. Cost something like 70 sen for one? Don’t remember; would gladly have paid more.
Off Jalan Alor, on nearby Bukit Bintang opposite the Federal Hotel was a Pappa Rich, which is a chain, I think. We went once for breakfast, for kaya (cocont curd jam) and roti bakar (toast), and the classic half-boiled egg. At first I thought it was a bad translation, but no, it really is half-boiled, with whites opaque but not firm enough to be called a soft boiled egg. Followed the locals, cracked it into a teacup and dipped away – sooo good. I think this might be a good place for new visitors to go for breakfast, if the delights of Jalan Alor seem a bit overwhelming at first. Also make sure to get what I think is a KL specialty (requesting it elsewhere was met with strange looks): a milo dinosaur. Basically iced milo with a 2-cm head of milo powder instead of foam. You sort of stir it in so you get nuggets of crispness in your drink. Yum.
We liked Suria KLCC as far as KL malls went, and enjoyed what I thought was an inventive and perfectly crisp lemon chicken on top of wan tan mee dry in their food hall, at the noodle stall.
We had a meal at Mandarin Palace on an evening when we didn’t want to leave the hotel. I think this was the most expensive meal we had in Malaysia – RM161 for two, no alcohol. I really enjoyed the noodles with crab, butter prawns (with pork floss), and the steam egg custard with hot milk. But I have difficulty reconciling the price with the experience, compared to the prices I had gotten used to paying for amazing food in Malaysia.
We ate our breakfast at Sup Hamid each morning – roti chanai, roti milo, roti pisang, roti telur – you get the picture. Rotis only served until 11am, as is the custom all over Malaysia (asking for a roti during the day is like asking an Italian for a cappuccino after 11am too, apparently). We tried lunch once there, which was the typical Malay buffet of different curries. However, I’d recommend going there for dinner instead - they put up chairs and tables down the block to seat the crowd that comes for curries and Malay food for supper.
At the end of our trip, we agreed that the best food we had was at the Gurney Hawker Market, close to the beach. We went about three times, and everything we had there was the best version we had on the trip. Lots of choice, lots of stalls. The satays in the third ‘courtyard’ were amazing, lots of rojak, both traditional and the deepfried versions. Particularly worth mentioning is ‘Homemake” dessert stall. I discovered tako here, a two-layered water chestnut and coconut jelly wrapped in a square pandan leaf container. I was delighted to find it later across the country, but this first version I tried here was the lightest and tastiest. Her curried potato puff (another thing we enjoyed everywhere) was memorable, too. Sample widely here, even if it means taking stuff back to the hotel. The other stall is stall number 85, WAN TAN MEE. Best we had in Malaysia, and trust me, we had this a lot. Particularly worth trying is their wan tan mee dry, which unusually comes without soup on the side, just egg noodles, some greens, sliced pork and all glazed with what the cook told me is just reduced stock and soy sauce. Stellar, would make angels weep.
Our only restaurant meal was at a Nyonya place recommended by our concierge, called Perut Rumah, on Kelawai Road. It cost RM65 for two, without taking advantage of their impressive wine selection. We sampled roti baba (French toast roast pork ‘sandwich”), popiah (spring rolls), loh bak (deepfried belly pork in bean curd skin), huan choo heok masak lemak (sweet potato leaf coconut curry), kari kay (chicken curry), hen yak ay (stirfried cinalok pork). It had a nice ambiance, and we quite enjoyed the food, but I cannot comment on whether the food was authentic. I think part of me felt that for that price, we could have gone to Gurney Hawker Market three times! But it was good to taste a range of foods I’d read about at one time.
One of our big surprises was the buffet breakfast offered by our hotel, the Felda Residence. We’d generally been ignoring the breakfasts at our hotels, free or otherwise, but I’m really glad we tried this one. Since most of the hotel clients were local businesspeople, the buffet was a smorgasbord of local delights. Local desserts, different rice dishes, curries, etc. This was where I first had roti jala (lacy crisp roti), beef rendang, nasi kerabi (blue rice), etc.
I also recommend visiting the central market. Great kuih (traditional desserts) stalls and other food stalls, fun to see locals shopping up a storm.
We got a package deal to go to Pulau Gemia, a tiny island not far from KL. We were lucky that the restaurant on the island turned out very pleasant set meals comprising several dishes, Malay and Chinese, and we tried dishes we might otherwise have not tried, including local squid (we could see the squid boats on the horizon at night), claypot dishes and different soups. The situation was very different when we went to Taman Negara, and found the food everywhere – at our resort, at boat restaurants on the river – very disappointing.
Those Bkt Bintang crullers are absolutely superb and taste good even if you leave them aside for awhile! My fav are the butterfly ones with sesame seeds. Not easy to buy if you're stuck in the office during their limited opening hours, heard it often sells out early.
Oh I love those crullers & deep-fried stuff so much. And the butterfly one happens to be my favourite type - sweet, with an elusive addictive taste. My 2nd favourite is the one with a dab of sweet glutinous rice in the centre. They can't be healthy, but nothing like a crisp piece of dough to dip into a hot black coffee for breakfast first thing in the morning.
KUALA LUMPUR: You probably couldn't find Meng Kee as it's located at Tengkat Tong Shin, which is a street perpendicular to Jalan Alor.
Best grilled chicken wings are from Wong Ah Wah but I guess if this is your first-time foray into KL's street foods, what you have is as good as any by way of introduction.
KUALA TERENGGANU: One of the rice dishes you'll most likely see at the breakfast buffet is Nasi Dagang. This is akin to Nasi Lemak, but the rice is much more aromatic with the addition of finely-julienned ginger, sliced purple onions and fenugreek seeds ("biji halba" in Malay), besides the use of salted coconut milk which imparts a "lemak" or rich taste to the rice. The rice is semi-glutinous, as traditional Terengganu Nasi Dagang consists of 4 parts rice & 1 part glutinous rice, soaked overnight, then steamed.
I fully understand your sentiment in your other post (MALAYSIA FOR FIRST TIMERS) where you said "I certainly didn’t have enough experience to know the difference between an amazing nasi goring and a superlative nasi goring". Same thing happened to me when I visited Kuala Terengganu in 1989 (I'm from Penang - sure, we Penang & Terengganu folks are all Malaysians, but we might as well be from different planets culturally). That was when I encountered the legendary Terengganu Nasi Dagang for the very first time. I was in a dinghy little coffeeshop for breakfast - the only Chinese face in a sea of Malays, and they obviously knew I was not a local. The plate of Nasi Dagang, richly aromatic, slathered with Gulai Ikan Tongkol (a very rich, coconut and turmeric-flavoured tuna fish curry) gravy and an amazingly delicious piece of curried chicken totally blew me away! I had never had ANYTHING this good for decades!! You know what - I ordered a second plate & then a third!
Whilst having my third plate, an obviously amused local Terengganu man walked up to my table & said, "You seemed to like Nasi Dagang so much!! Do you know that the best Nasi Dagang is not in Kuala Terengganu town itself, but in a small village 40 minutes drive from here?". I remembered telling him something to the extent that, to my untrained palate, I wouldn't have been able to tell "average" from "super-duper-delicious-Terengganu foodie-busting" Nasi Dagang, and what I was having there & then was the BEST thing I've ever tasted as-is!
Glad you liked Gurney Drive's hawker centre. It offers a range of all hawker food popular with foreign visitors to Penang: Penang rojak, fried koay teow, cuttlefish-and-kangkong, etc., in one place. Plus, the seaside promenade location helps. Of course, there are a hundred other hawker centres in Penang for hawker foods (Lorong Selamat, New Lane, Red House, Padang Brown, Northam Cafe, Bee Hooi in Pulau Tikus, etc), but for a first-time visitor, there's definitely no beating a trip to Gurney Drive.
Perut Rumah Nyonya restaurant is a fairly recent addition to the Penang dining scene. The food is pretty authentic (although I didn't like their chicken curry). Most Penangites complained that Perut Rumah is pretty expensive - I thought that it was the most expensive Nyonya restaurant in town. There are quite a few other Nyonya restaurants offering the same dishes but which are more reasonably-priced.
If you plan to return to Penang again next time, it's worth remembering that this is an island which prides itself on its hawker foods. Check out some of these Penang food-bloggers for more dining tips: Penang Tua Pui, CK Lam, J2Kfm, SweetJasmine, Buzzingbee, Cariso, Lingzie and Steven Goh.