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A Journey of a Thousand Meals – the heart of Malaysia & Thailand: Day 1

by Simon on June 1, 2010

A journey, when seen through the rose-tinted perspective of a metaphor, is one that not only implies a sense of adventure, but also a degree of change and growth in one’s self.

A recent journey (in the literal sense), a food-centric tour of Malaysia and Thailand, with fellow food bloggers Billy, Helen & Minh, along with a couple of additional traveling companions, had drawn me into a rather unexpected journey (in the metaphorical sense).

Things will no longer be the same.

Caution: This is a rather large, detailed post. Hopefully it’ll be worth your while, so thanks for bearing with it if you do.

Through the course of a two and a half week holiday, there was much change and growth; experiences & lessons learned, shifts in perspectives and priorities, subtle changes to character and mannerisms, and a broadening of ones own views.

For instance:

  • Exchange of currency is often better done in the country you’re traveling to.
  • Sydney is a really expensive city, out of reach of many an average foreigner.
  • Skepticism towards the degree of importance one should place on travel advisories.
  • Getting something you’ve wanted at a price that cannot be matched locally can still leave you with a feeling of melancholy, and even a degree of distain.
  • The usefulness of Internet-connected devices, and my degree of reliance on them.
  • A new found appreciation for 80’s love songs and ballads.
  • An impulse to sing to favourite tunes out loud.
  • Ear plugs are a godsend for maintaining one’s sanity.

This is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure that more will be uncovered during the course of subsequent posts.

Hosier Lane, Melbourne

A brief stop-over was made in Melbourne, the first leg of our tour de food. Though a failed organisation and a failed shout out to meet with Melbourne food bloggers felt like something of a lost opportunity, we made the most of our time in Melbourne with some food, and a spontaneous tour of the city.

The highlight for me was the site of a recent Masterchef celebrity chef challenge location, Hosier Lane; a graffi-ladened laneway where artists are free to show off their street art, often with a considerable degree of talent. As beautiful as these images may be on the screen, it’s another thing entirely to be immersed in the artwork; to experience all its splendour first hand.

If you’ve never been, take the time to visit the next time you’re in Melbourne. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Suria KLCC, KL

The first thing you notice when stepping of the plane into Malaysia is the heat and humidity. For someone who is inclined to turn on the A/C once the mercury starts to approach the mid-twenties, well, let’s just say it takes some getting use to.

Our first day in Malaysia was spent predominantly in or around KLCC, the city centre of Kuala Lumpur (KL for short). As much as there was the heat and humidity to deal with, thankfully KL is likewise blessed with a large number of air-conditioned shopping malls. One such shopping mall is located at the base of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, namely Suria KLCC.

Suria KLCC was our first shopping experience, as well as our first taste of what Malaysia had to offer with regards to food.

The look and feel of the food court here is much like a lot of Asian food courts, such as those found around Chinatown in Sydney. As much as the range of cuisine on offer differed, it felt very familiar; very safe. That probably should have served as a warning.

I ended up with a “generous” plate of food and some ice tea from Hameed. Nasi Kandar (40 RM, including the ice tea) to be more precise.

Yes, yes. I know. 40 ringgit.

To the Malaysians that are reading this with considerable disbelief, disgust or any other dis-prefixed word you feel is appropriate, I know that I was utterly gouged. There are some lessons you learn the hard way and this was one of them.

For those that may not understand the gravity of this price, though conversion to Australian dollars may at worst make it seem a tad expensive (approx. $13 AUD), check out the price of other meals further down for a better perspective.

Nasi Kandar, to over simplify the dish, is pretty much rice served with a variety of sides. In my case,  it was deep fried chicken (also known as ayam goreng), mutton curry (hidden from view), a large prawn (which ended up being half the total cost!), some fried meat item which I can’t for the life of me recall, and some mixed vegetables. It was an average tasting meal, as one might expect from a typical food court.

One of the dishes that made my short list (and one I should have gone with in hindsight), was this Curry Noodle Soup from Ipoh Noodle (7.80 RM).

Nasi Lemak with Ayam Goreng (8 RM), as well as a couple of desserts were also ordered.

Ais Kacang (4 RM), a popular Malaysian dessert known locally as ABC (short for Air Batu Campur), I thought was rather nice at the time. Little did I know of what was to come. Incidently, Air Batu Campur translates to “stone water mix”, which makes sense given the dessert is ice, with a melange of various sweet and savoury items mixed in.

The other dessert, simply called Red Ruby (4.20 RM), is likewise an ice-based dessert topped with red-coloured, tapioca flour coated water chestnuts (the red rubies of the dessert); jackfruit, & salted coconut cream.

Yep. Utterly gouged…

Hakka Restaurant, KL

With an over-priced lunch, shopping and some much needed rest back at the hotel seen to, we journey once more into the city to sate our growing appetite. As the evening’s twilight takes its leave and the curtain of night is slowly drawn behind the Petronas Towers, we find ourselves at Restoran Hakka, a restaurant that serves, oddly enough, Hakka-style Chinese food.

Fish, inmates encased in a prison of glass and water, bide their time on dish row; oblivious to the crowds of diners that await the execution of their order.

The order is given, and an unsuspecting catfish meets its demise on the blade of its executioner. Its head is presented on a platter (along with the rest of this tasty morsel), steamed and served with a simple soy-based sauce with ginger, chili and coriander. The River White Whisker Catfish (70 RM/Kg) has a surprisingly firm and springy flesh, but is somewhat mild in taste.

There is also Bitter Gourd (13 RM), which is stir fried with egg, and wasn’t all that bitter.

The tender, fatty and gelatinous pork belly wonder that is the Moi Choy Khao Pork (14 RM), a signature Hakka dish stewed with preserved vegetables in a dark soy that tastes a lot like the stewed Korean side dish jang-jorim (link: Maangchi).

Herbal Chicken (22 RM), a moist, comfort dish of stewed chicken that falls off the bone, is served with an unknown starchy root-like vegetable and a sweet, herbal sauce.

There is also the delightfully spicy sweet Kam Heong Style Prawns (40 RM), stir fried with dried shrimp, minced garlic and curry leaves.

Homemade Hakka Noodles (20 RM), with its delightful chewy texture, smokey breath from the wok and a flavourful sauce without being greasy.

Homemade Tofu (10 RM), made on premises and served with minced prawns, mushrooms, chili & spring onions; is silky in texture and mild in flavour.

Jalan Alor, KL

After a much needed post-dinner stroll around the city, we end up at Jalan Alor for supper; a strip that seems dedicated to the service of food, whether it be in an enclosed restaurant, or an open-air hawker stall.

White plumes, either of mist or fog, descends on the dining public, attempting to hold at bay the evening’s heat. Even at this late hour, it’s still very much sweat-inducing.

The, ahh… “perfume” of durian when entering Jalan Alor is unmistakable. Having yet to have tried one of these fruits in its fresh form, I was far from tempted when considering the cornucopia of supper items that were available.

Don’t let the image fool you. If Billy’s opinion was anything to go by, this Rojak (price unknown) was very far off the mark. Exclamations were made of missing crackers & tofu, as well as insufficient fruit & sauce.

Having only eaten rojak once before during a blogwarming dinner more than a year ago; this salad of sorts, comprising of cucumber, green mango & pineapple in a fishy-salty-sweet dark sauce, seemed to be somewhat lacking. Whether it was due to the memory of my previous experience, or the influence of the high standards of our critical Malaysian ex-pat, I couldn’t say for certain.

Rojak, thankfully, wasn’t the only thing we had for supper.

ABC (4.50 RM), which tasted far superior to the one had earlier in the day, perhaps in part due to the substitution of rose syrup with palm sugar syrup (sorry Karen, I’m with Billy on this one).

Lin Chee Kang (3.50 RM), a herbal flavoured and mildly sweet dessert soup with mixed fruit and jelly pieces.

Chicken and Beef Satays (0.70 RM each), served with a decent tasting mild satay sauce.

Chicken Wings (2.20 RM each), which, aside from a sticky, soy glaze, was otherwise unremarkable.

We make our way back to the hotel, somewhat in a daze (or at least I do). Brought on, I would imagine, by the very feat of pushing our stomach capacities to its very limit. However, this was only Day 1, and we had many more food-filled days ahead of us.

This is going to be interesting…

Note: Address details of all of the above venues to come soon.

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