August 7, 2014

Stuffing Malaysian-style

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Today I found myself in the rare position of attending a "media tasting", and it wasn't exactly your run-of-the-mill restaurant promotion, either.  For some reason I received an invitation from the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) to lunch at Café Malacca, so that I could sample Malaysian food and learn about the Malaysian Kitchen Programme.  Well, I had a pretty good dinner at the restaurant last year, and though I already have some exposure to Malaysian food through my years of living in Singapore, I was curious to see what more I could learn.  So I said 'Yes' to the invitation.

The very kind people from MATRADE were on hand to talk to us about the Malaysian Kitchen Programme, which is a global initiative to introduce Malaysian food to the world, not just through restaurants but also the distribution of food ingredients.  I guess it's not surprising that they are really focusing on the trade aspect in addition to the cultural aspect of food...

We started by sharing a few dishes, then each of us ordered a "main course" for ourselves...

Emping - these bitter deep-fried crackers are often found in Malaysian or Indonesian cuisine, and are made from flour ground from melinjo seeds.  They are bitter and therefore an acquired taste.  Fortunately I have grown to enjoy the bitter flavors over the years.

Beef and chicken satay - nice flavors in the peanut sauce, and plenty of cumin on those sticks.  It's also nice to see the full set of condiments... cucumber, red onions and ketupat.

Rojak - star fruit, pear, cucumber, guava, green mango, squid and deep-fried Chinese crullers (油條) all mixed with a prawn paste sauce.  This was probably the first time in my life that I actually enjoyed rojak... since I never cared for it as a kid.

Gado gado - seemingly the usual mix of cooked vegetables, with cabbage, bean sprouts, green beans, fried tofu, cucumber, potato and eggs.  But this was much better. The peanut-based sauce was sweeter, spicier, and very fragrant thanks to the kaffir lime leaves.

I was no longer hungry and starting to feel somewhat satiated, but then came some roti canai which were just absolutely delish.  What's not to like about flour fried in ghee?!  There were three types of curry that we could choose to accompany the roti:

Fish curry - made with flounder.  This was relatively mild, with acidity coming from tomatoes.

Chicken curry - this definitely stood out.  Much more smoky and nutty than the crap found around town, and I believe I detected some cloves...

Lamb curry - the lamb was very, very tender, and the curry was a little darker, grayish, and also a little nutty.

I was already pretty full by now, but I still haven't tried the one "main course" I had my eye on...

Penang assam laksa - I have always preferred the thick, coconut milk-based broth of Singapore laksa, so today I decided to give assam laksa a try. Thankfully the broth is much lighter without the coconut milk, and the acidity really helps... a little.  Fish flakes, mint leaves, shredded pineapple, red onions with a generous sprinkle of finely diced bunga kantan (ginger flower) on top.  Pretty nice, actually.

Just when I was bursting and wanted to stop, I realized to my horror that I had forgotten to mix in some otak udang, which was a sweetish, viscous paste made from prawn heads that's kinda like belacan meets kecap manis.  So I had a few more mouthfuls...  Boy, am I glad I had just excused myself from the table so I could secretly go off and loosen my belt a notch!

Coconut jelly - this was perfect on a hot summer day.  So refreshing!  If I weren't literally about to burst I could have had 2 of these.

Durian pudding - made with D24 durians from Malaysia, these were TO DIE FOR.  I've always preferred Malaysian durians over the relatively bland Thai ones.  Honestly, if this place weren't so far away from me I'd come here every week for dessert.  It's THAT good.

I was in pain.  I just had a delicious lunch but now I seriously needed to be away from other people... to minimize any collateral damage in case I really did explode.  So I thanked my generous hosts and carried my stomach back to the office...

Now a couple of words about Café Malacca, as explained to me by my friendly neighborhood Malaysian Trade Commissioner:

The reason why some of the dishes taste so different - and so much better - than other versions available in Hong Kong is that they source their ingredients from Malaysia, as opposed to using local substitutes.  I do believe that it makes a difference, and of course MATRADE would be there to help with that.  Chef Sunny Tse may not hail from Malaysia, but apparently he has traveled to Malaysia and Singapore to learn about the dishes, hence the more "authentic" flavors here.

The other thing that was explained to me by my friendly neighborhood trade commissioner is that the restaurant maintains two separate kitchens, as one of them is halal.  She herself is Muslim and this is naturally very important to her.  When Muslims dine at the restaurant, even the utensils used are completely different.  In fact, they get a set of black plates, bowls and spoons that actually look nicer than the generic white ones that I got to use...  This is clearly good news for Muslim travelers and local diners alike.

Anyway, I really enjoyed my second visit today, and given how awesome the desserts were (and the savory dishes were good, too)... I just might have to come back more often.


Unknown said...

Thank you for accepting the invitation and I hope u'll enjoy more Malaysian food

Peech said...

Zaimah, thank you for the kind invitation. It was delicious!

JL said...

And from a layman Msian, proud that Msian food managed to satisfy Growing Boy's tastebuds.

Peech said...

Jason, having spent considerable time growing up in Singapore, I have always loved Malaysian and Singapore food. They are truly delicious, but normally they don't show up on this blog unless they are part of my "travel" experiences... And sadly the last time I visited Malaysia was a decade ago...


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