Kuantan, Malaysia - Halal Cantonese dinner
The Vistana Hotel in Kuantan has a Cantonese kitchen crew which churned out better-tasting Cantonese food than I expected - why? Because Kuantan is a largely Malay-Muslim city with a 57% Malay population, and only 32% Chinese population. Its restaurants are mainly halal, to cater to the majority Muslim population.
Vistana's Cantonese cuisine offerings seemed to have surmounted this challenge, and what we had last weekend was almost on par with the Cantonese spots in KL. One catch though - you'd only be able to experience the full course Cantonese dinner when you get to attend a formal banquet (like we did) - else, you only have to make do with a limited a la carte menu available at the hotel's multi-cuisine poolside restaurant.
What we had for our dinner:
- Four Seasons Hot-and-Cold combination, consisting of crisp wantons, prawn-in-mayo cocktail, sweet-spicy jellyfish salad, and stir-fried venison & onions in black pepper sauce. Pretty standard Chinese starter here. Kuantan folks seemed so much more "conservative" than their big-city cousins in KL, and more resistant towards trying out new Chinese culinary creations. You won't find a Ming Room or Reunion type of modern-Cantonese cuisine.
- Braised shark's fin soup. A not-surprisingly traditional preparation, the soup streaked through with ribbons of egg-white & thickened with cornstarch. It was delicious with a dash of black vinegar. I guess being halal meant that "Jinghua" ham could not be used here, thus depriving the soup of that added dimension which you'd find in the versions in HK, Singapore or KL's top non-halal Cantonese restaurants.
- Roasted chicken with sesame seeds and "Beijing sauce". It was very tasty, although I don't think I'd ever encountered that sweet-hoisin-soybean-paste "Beijing sauce" in all my travels to Beijing ;-)
- Braised "Bai Ling" mushrooms with poached broccoli and layered-beancurd rolls. Absolutely delicious: crisp, just-cooked broccoli, lovely braised mushrooms tinged with ginger. Only stuff missing - Shaoxing wine, which would have given thedish an extra taste kick.
- Wok-fried garlic prawns. A bit of a letdown here as the prawns weren't as fresh as I'd expected from a coastal town like Kuantan, with its large fishing community. A sprinkling of chillis give the dish a sharp, tasty edge.
- Fried rice with turkey ham and pumpkin. Hmm, I think I'd have much preferred pork ham, or some barbecued pork (char-siu) to flavor the fried rice, but I guess turkey "ham" will have to do here. The little cubes of pre-cooked sweet pumpkin gave the fried rice dish a unique touch nonetheless, and was an absolute delight.
Jalan Telok Sisek
But you don't much care for shell-on prawns anyway, yes? :-)
Interesting spread. It does look sort-of "old fashioned" - but that is often the tastiest kind, at different places. I can't say the fried rice with pumpkin and turkey ham (boo) would catch my fancy at first blush... (I gather you were there on a "semi-official" trip as you seem to suggest this meal was a "formal banquet"?)
I imagine there *are* non-halal Chinese restaurants in Kuantan?
Which was why I only had *one* prawn.
Yes, we were here on a short beach holiday, but was invited by local business contacts for this meal.
There are quite a few non-halal restaurants in Kuantan catering to the large Chinese community there, very different from the other 2 major East Coast towns in Malaysia which have tiny Chinese populace: Kota Bharu (3%) and Kuala Terengganu (2%).