KL trip report (long)
I went on a trip to Malaysia a couple weeks ago, stopping at KL, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh and Penang, trying to eat as much as I could, based on suggestions on this board (and also from the Eating Asia blog). I'll start with KL.
Ok, it's a chain, but a pretty decent one for Nyonya food. We went to the one at KLCC then again at Mid Valley. The KLCC one is definitely nicer, decor-wise as it's newer. At KLCC we tried the char kway teow (decent 'breath of the wok', but would prefer more dark soy), nasi lemak with chicken curry (great - pretty good curry), otak otak (my first ever, and quite decent - seemed to be 'bouncier' than the ones i had later - have no idea what it considered more 'authentic'), assam laksa (a bit bland and very thick - had a much better one in Penang later on!). At Mid Valley I had a cha cha (loved the taro and yam).
The absolute highlight of my trip. Actually maybe one of the most satisfying meals I've had in Asia for a long time. Got there at noon on Friday, in time for their roast rolled pork. Fresh out of the oven and absolutely delicious. Don't get takeaway, the crackling will soften. Juicy, pink pork, crackling that was crisp but not fragile - broke into shards like brittle toffee. Great apple & white wine sauce (made in house) that was nothing like the sweet, pureed, jarred things you get from the supermarket. This was light and even a little refreshing. We also had the belachan fried rice - divine, though (or and?) super spicy. We liked it so much we decided to try another fried rice - the chicken and salted fish, but it was a little disappointing. Also had Hokkien fried noodles, which were tasty but nothing wow. The roti babi was great - super soft onions, tender pork - but you have to make sure you eat it (well, and everything else) before the belachan fried rice - the rice kind of nuclear bombs your tastebuds. Kaya toast was also excellent - I think they make the kaya in house too - again, nothing like the pre-packaged supermarket stuff. The writers at the Eating Asia blog call kaya a "jam" which I always thought sounded weird because the sheer amount of egg yolks means that it's nothing like western conserves, but the kaya at Yut Kee was slightly lumpy with coconut bits (I think) and was even a little translucent, i.e. like jam, and unlike the peanut butter-like opacity that I'd taken as the 'norm'.
A note about the roast rolled pork - it's only available Fridays and Sundays, and I'd get there before 12.30pm for any chance of getting some. We got there at noon on the dot and the place was virtually empty, but by 12.10 the crowds began to stream in, and by 12.20, the pork was gone. (Someone came by and bought a whole roll - there were only 5 to begin with)
I must insist - don't miss it. The belachan fried rice and roast, along with that old school kopitiam decor now hold a very special place in my heart (and travel diary).
Wong Ah Wah
I guess I was expecting a bit too much from their legendary chicken wings, given all the hype. They were good, but they were chicken wings. The chicken itself didn't seem particularly tasty (or maybe the syrup/honey-ish glaze was too strong), and to be honest, they're a bit burnt for my liking. The tip of the wing was basically reduced to a glossy black shard. I've made them sound horrible, but to be fair, they weren't. They were cooked just right and really juicy, just a bit tasteless... We also ordered stingray, crab and satays - the first two were fine (stingray maybe a bit dry; crab nice and meaty and decently stir-fried with spring onion), but the satays were like meat lollipops - wayyyyy too sweet! Their lime + water drink was nice (not lime soda, but lime water, as the lady insisted) - it's normally served with preserved plum but we opted out as 1. I don't like preserved plum and 2. they have a coating of chemically sugary stuff.
My crew (my parents and their friends) aren't the kind that can do street food, food courts and kopitiams all day, every day. So at their request, we went to this very upmarket restaurant that does modern Malaysian. Pretty expensive in Malaysian terms for smaller-than-average portions, and a funny rendition of otak otak that requires you to scoop the steamed fish paste out from the dish and lay it upon a toast soldier - a bit silly imo as the fish is no longer in a spreadable format, unlike fois gras. Most of the other dishes were fine, but definitely no standouts. However, I would go back to Bijan for one thing - the chocolate and durian cake. It's basically a 3x3 inch cube of chocolate cake covered in very dark chocolate ganash. When you cut it open, you find that the chocolate cake is sliced very thinly and layered alternately with mashed up durian. You'd never guess how well these two flavours, strong in their own, unique ways, come together. The bitterness of the dark chocolate appeased the pungency of the durian and brought out its fresher, 'fruitier', sweeter side (very important for a non-durian eater like me), and not only made it palatable, but highly satisfying.
Chun Heong (Bangsar Baru)
Last breakfast in KL before we headed off to Cameron Highlands. The hawker stalls inside this coffee house served mostly Chinese-Malay food, ie. har mee etc. and call me an idiot, but I can't usually stomach noodles in the morning. So I had kopi, kaya toast (kaya was sadly, nothing like Yut Kee's) and barley water (which was excellent - really rich), then went to the stalls outside and got a popiah (wet) - a refreshing and crunchy bundle, and roti canai from the Indian restaurant nearby. The roti canai was a bit too oily, but nonetheless flaky and satisfied am carb cravings. We also bought some Nyonya kuih to go. There was a funny glutinous rice one that was dyed blue and served with kaya - once you get past the funny colour, it's awesome.
That's it for the KL part - will try and write up Cameron Highlands, Ipoh and Penang soon!
Great report, e_ting. You do know that Madam Kwan is halal (i.e. no pork/lard), don't you? Penang char koay teow without lard or Chinese sausages is like clam chowder without the clams. Madam Kwan's otak-otak is not authentic at all - rather, it resembles a giant Johore-style otak-otak (but without its fishy fragrance). I prefer Penang-style otak-otak anytime!
When you're in Penang, step into any Nyonya restaurant & try a true otak-otak. It has the custardy texture of Thai hor mok, but it tastes totally unique & different.
Look forward to the rest of your trip reports!
I had no idea Mme Kwan's is halal!! Shame on me - no wonder it was a bit 'different'! I did eventually have otak-otak in Penang, at a restaurant called Nyonya Breeze, hopefully will have time to post about it soon - but actually my untrained palate preferred the bouncier otak-otak at Mme Kwan's (must be my HK-style fishball/fish cake upbringing), whereas the one at Nyonya Breeze was a bit mushier. Taste wise, though, I did like the one in Penang...
I was just at Yut Kee on Friday and completely agree about the pork roll. We were there for breakfast, and was leaving just as the pork roll came out of the oven so we got it to go. The crispy skin did soften a bit, but it was still fantastic. I also enjoyed the roti babi, and found it strange that the woman recommended a healthy douse of worcestershire sauce. Hokkien fried noodles were just okay, I just don't think I like the super soft texture of the noodles. I must have eaten too much Italian pasta.
Another meal highlight that I will mention briefly, to add to this KL thread, was a Sri Lankan crab curry at Aliyaa (sp?). It was a huge 1 kg crab, which I hadn't seen yet during the previous 2 days I'd been in KL.