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Photo Essay: Kuala Lumpur and Malacca

19 Jan

Last month, Farva and I spent a few days in Malaysia – specifically, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca. We decided to document our time there through snapshots of the food we had the pleasure of trying and the stories it unveiled.

Entrance to Jonker Walk in Malacca

The Portuguese Settlement in Malacca

We spent a day in Malacca, a nostalgic city with a protracted colonial history. Malacca was colonized by the Portuguese in the 1500s, followed by the Dutch in the 1600s and finally the British arrived in the 1800s. The footprint of the trifecta of colonizers and waves of immigration from China over centuries are reflected in the cuisine most prominently. Peranakan and Portuguese-Eurasian food for instance, is the product of cross cultural marriages between local Malays and Chinese immigrants during 15th and 16th century, and between the Malays/Chinese/Indian and Portuguese during the 16th and 17th century. Malacca’s rich Peranakan culture (the name given to the descendants of early Chinese migrants to Malacca) has given birth to a type of cuisine commonly called ‘Nyonya’ cuisine. As a result of inter-marriages, the Nyonya style of cooking blends Chinese flavours with malay herbs and Indian spices and the recipes have been improved to perfection over time.

Beef Rendang at Restoran Peranakan

At the no-frills family-run Restoran Peranakan (see end of post for details) – we had delicious Beef Rendang, tender slices of beef blended with chilli, lemongrass, turmeric and coconut milk. Beef Rendang is also associated with Hari Raya, the yearly celebration by Muslims that marks the end of Ramadhan. According to tradition, due to the flavourful aroma of coconut milk and spices cooking in a wok for hours, those who were fasting during Ramadhan would crave for the fasting month to be over so that they could indulge in this delicacy on Hari Raya.

A notable culinary remnant from the Portuguese era are the famous Portuguese egg tarts or pastéis de nata (above). Flaky on the outside and creamy on the inside.

The Nyonya pineapple tarts (below) are mouth watering pastries wrapped in home-made pineapple jam with just the right amount of sweetness.

Laksa, which literally translates as ‘many’ from Sanskrit is a reference to the recipe traditionally having numerous ingredients. An aromatic dish of rice vermicelli and yellow noodles in a broth with coconut milk and curry paste (comprising chilli, garlic, Asian shallots and toasted belachan (shrimp paste)), laksa is a Malacca staple.  There are several varieties of laksa but the most popular (and photographed below) is curry laksa.

Curry Laksa

Fruit vendor selling durians, rambutans and dragonfruit outside a Buddhist Temple on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur


In KL we spent an afternoon in Little India where food hawker stalls line the tiny narrow lanes selling everything from shimmery chiffons to the Don 2 soundtrack.

Fried Indian snacks

Ever since I first visited a Malaysian restaurant (Penang in NYC), I’ve been in love with Roti canai. I used to think that the measure of how good a Malaysian restaurant is by how good their Roti canai is. However, I’ve now learnt that what is considered to be an integral part of the menus of Malaysian restaurants in New York or London does not feature on the menus of sit-down restaurants in KL. It’s the quintessential street food to be enjoyed while sipping a chilled soft drink from mamak stalls (food establishments run by Tamil Muslims). The cripsy roti is served with daal curry – a gravy made from lentils with carrots, and potatoes, chicken or fish curry with a dash of sambal for added spiciness.

Excellent Blogs on Food and Travel in Malaysia

Eating Asia

Rasa Malaysia

A Whiff of Lemongrass

Restaurants We Visited

Restoran Peranakan, Malacca
Restoran Peranakan on Heeren Street is the courtyard of a huge Peranakan house. The menu is limited but the food quality is very good. Prices range from RM 10 – 15 per person (US$ 3-5).

Estana Curry House, Jalan Nagasari, KL

You won’t find this place in the guidebooks but it was recommended to us by a taxi driver.  Roti canai is delicious and only RM 1.5 (50 cents). Need I say more?


Roti Chai – Indian Street Food Kitchen

23 Aug

Roti Chai is the new entrant on the casual Indian dining scene. Dubbed as a new concept in Indian Street Food, the menu features a selection of roadside cafe staples found in India. Having had a soft opening last week, I decided to check out what the initial buzz was all about.

The first thing I noticed upon entering were stacked bottles of Rooh Afza on display, which may not have been my favourite drink from childhood but it certainly does evoke fond memories of home. The decor is quite minimal with turmeric hued ceilings and fixtures and a brightly painted kitchen wall with posters of Indian product advertisements but given the amount of space they have, they could be doing more with it.

The menu is not expansive but it is varied and I believe menu additions are in the works. I ordered Chicken Lollipops (spiced chicken wings) and Bun Kebab (spiced lamb patty inside a bun). The lollipops were succulent with a delicious and flavourful marinade served with smooth mint chutney. I would DEFINITELY go back for more.

When I think of bun kebab, it invokes an image of velvety shami kebabs smothered in chutneys served inside a toasted, buttered bread. This variation of the bun kebab was not reminiscent of that but it has the potential to head in that direction if the spicing and seasoning is kicked up a notch.

The eponymous chai is not much to rave about. Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the food and would come back to try more items. Moreover, the service was excellent. I do wish the ambiance and food presentation reflected more of the street food culture and earthiness.

Sri Lankan Street-Food: Kottu

6 Mar

Chicken and Cheese Kottu

Having lived in Colombo for nearly a year, my taste buds have acquired quite a liking for Kottu Roti simply known as Kottu”.  The word “Kottu” is derived from Tamil in which it literally means chopped bread (or roti) and can be considered the unofficial Sri Lankan national dish.

Kottu perhaps the most common street-food dish found in Sri Lanka is a medley of finely chopped Godamba Bread (Flat Wheat Roti), vegetables, an array of curry spices mixed with your choice of meat.

Traditionally steaming hot Kottu is prepared on a flat heated iron stove and is pulverized using metal blades – a concept similar to the Pakistani “Kat-a-Kat”.  If you walk through the streets of Colombo you can hear the distinct racket of clanking metal blades as the Kottu is prepared in road-side restaurants.

Despite being a staple street-food Kottu has made its way on the menu of most of the 5 star hotels in Sri Lanka. Kottu can be prepared with different kinds of meat, eggs and vegetables depending on your taste palette but beware it can be quite spicy!

So next time you find yourself in Sri Lanka or even a Sri Lankan restaurant make sure you try Kottu!

London Restaurant Festival Market

17 Oct

As part of the the 2-week long London Restaurant Festival (LRF), Spitalfields Market was home to the LRF Market on Sunday, 17th October. The market featured a range of London-based restaurants and food stalls serving a range of food items. I was a little disappointed with the lack of diversity in cuisines but later discovered that this year the market was only showcasing Malaysian and Mexican cuisine. However, there were food stalls serving Spanish and Moroccan food as well as scrumptious desserts. Featuring some snapshots from the Market:

Chorizo and Bean Stew


Moroccan Entrees

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