Growing up in my kampung (“village”) in Ipoh where I was surrounded by many Malay friends, I have always been partial to Malay cuisine. Influenced by my friends and neighbours, pounding sambal belacan in a mortar was a regular thing for me. I also became very adept at cooking “Ikan Masak Lemak Chili Api” (fish cooked in a spicy coconut broth with bird’s eye chillies) and my earliest childhood memory of the yummiest Malay dish was this awesome “Sambal Sotong Tumis” (squids cooked in spicy chilli paste) cooked by a neighbour. Whenever I got to have this treat, I would polish off a huge mountainous plate of rice with it!
Various states in Malaysia have their own unique style of Malay cuisine and besides Perak, I love the food from our East Coast. Well-known and well-loved dishes like Nasi Dagang and Ayam Percik hailing from Trengganu, Masak Assam Tempoyak Ikan Patin and Sambal Udang from Pahang, Laksam and Gulai Ikan Tongkol… these are all delicacies originating from the East Coast states.
From today until 25 March 2012, the Makan Kitchen – the signature Malaysian restaurant at DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur is featuring “The Best of East Coast Flavours”.
During this promotion period, a basket of complimentary Keropok Lekor – a unique specialty snack of Trengganu, will be served at every table. These oblong pieces of fried crackers are made from fish ground to a paste, seasoned, rolled into long tubes, steamed and then sliced and deep fried. Quite a lot of work there, for this simple-looking snack! These should best be eaten hot from the wok… I love the crunchy outer layers while the insides remain slightly chewy and smooth… and fish, of course!
At the preview of this food promotion, we were treated to a platter of Ikan Kembong (mackerel) deep fried in batter and presented pretty much the same way as the Keropok Lekor … with the same spicy chilli dip. I was told that these fried Ikan Kembong are meant as snacks, eaten the same way as the keropok and not as a rice accompaniment!
An East Coast spread cannot be complete without the iconic Nasi Dagang and Nasi Kerabu. The former is steamed fragrant coconut rice, usually paired with thick fish curry – Gulai Ikan Tongkol – and served with hardboiled egg and pickles. Nasi Kerabu, also known as “Nasi Ulam“, is rice mixed with a variety of shredded Malay herbs and vegetables, served with raw vegetables like long beans, bean sprouts, leavy herbs and Ayam Percik – woodfire roasted chicken doused with a thick sweetish coconut gravy. The Kelantan version of Nasi Kerabu is usually tinged blue from the natural color of the bunga telang (clitoria or blue pea flower). A plate of Nasi Kerabu is also not complete without some salted fish/salted egg, crackers and sambal!
Sambal Udang is such a common Malay dish, eaten everywhere. I didn’t know this originated from Pahang!
Ikan Patin Masak Tempoyak – good for fans of fermented durians! To some, this is an acquired taste – you either love it or hate it. Pungent fermented durians cooked in a slightly spicy gravy, with freshwater fish – ikan patin – is definitely something uniquely exotic.
The Malays love their sweets… and people from the East Coast are good with desserts. They even give them unique, and sometimes humurous names… like Lompat Tikam (“jump & stab”?), Puteri Mandi (“bathing princess“), Tahi Itik (“duck’s droppings“), Jala Mas (“golden net“)… and we got to sample some of these at the preview, together with Akok, Talam Kaya, Kuih Bakar and Pulut Panggang.
Pulut Panggang – parcels of steamed glutinuous rice rolled up in banana leaves and grilled, usually have a filling made from minced dried shrimps, chillies, shallots and garlic. What set the East Coast version apart is that the filling consists of minced fish and spices and this was really good – I had more than one helpings of those!
The glistening whitish balls of “Puteri Mandi” are made from glutinuous rice and coconut, served in a “bath” of thick sugar syrup. Now that may sound really sweet and rich but surprisingly, the sugar level of those balls of “puteri” weren’t really devastating and I found myself liking it after a few tentative bites.
Chef Ahmad Nurul Azri is the Chef de Cuisine for Makan Kitchen and the main man spearheading this East Coast Flavours promotion. Chef Azri started cooking since he was in Standard 3, inspired by his grandmother who passed on to him a treasure trove of authentic home-style Malay recipes. When you are at the Makan Kitchen, be sure not to miss his signature dishes: Grilled Fish with Dark Soya Sauce and Ayam Percik.
The “Best of East Coast Flavours” will be part of the buffet spread available at The Makan Kitchen priced at RM59++ per adult for lunch, RM49++ per adult for Weekend High Tea and RM79++ per adult for dinner, available from today until 25 March 2012.
The Makan Kitchen
@ DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur
182 Jalan Tun Razak
50400 Kuala Lumpur