Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Almost Ex-Convict and a Cop at Penang's First Nasi Kandar, Jelutong

Dogged by alcoholic wakefulness over the recent break in Penang, I would invoke the most random food cravings at odd hours of the night. However, eating out at my usual favourite kopitiams in the thick of Chinese New Year celebrations is strictly off-limits, given the certainty of decline in standards and jaw-dropping price hikes.

One such morning, after a fitful night's sleep haunted by unprecedented hunger, I was fortunate to have the company of an acquaintance, who suggested early breakfast, at the first and oldest nasi kandar stall in Penang, no less. He had read about this here, amidst the abundance of content online celebrating the ever more popular Line Clear Nasi Kandar in town.
This Nasi Kandar stall is without a name, though it sits squarely next to Kedai Kopi Tai Min, in a dilapidated annex, along Jalan Jelutong, right opposite the Jelutong police station. Now, my friend had some choice stories to share about the men in blue who worked opposite, for he happened to have been arrested and thrown into lock-up there many years ago (for an allegation that was laughably trivial, mind you).

The Nasi Kandar here attracts folks from all walks of life, of varying colour, creed and disposition. While we took our place in the snaking queue in front of the stall, we spied pakciks and makciks at leisure, exercise bunnies in jogging shoes and workers clocking holiday overtime. My almost ex-convict friend even spied a cop from across the street, whom he recognised as part of his arrest those many years ago. On account of the less-than-pleasant one-time encounter, my friend decided to not say Hi, understandably.

The choices offered here are fairly limited, as nasi kandar of yesteryears were no doubt a much simpler affair compared to the Kayus and Pelitas of today. Choose from chicken, beef, squid, fish, fish eggs, lady fingers to top the signature drenched rice. What immediately stood out was how light and mild the gravy was, nothing like the laborious, plodding nasi kandar that we knew. Kinda like how a country's judicial system is when bogged down by modern-day gluttony and garbage.

Slightly traumatised by the reminder of his harrowing rendezvous with the Malaysian arms of law, my friend went on a protein binge, with fish AND fish eggs, hard boiled egg and ladyfingers.

The kopitiam itself was as colourful and intriguing a scene to consume as the Nasi Kandar, which has aged well. The horror stories of those imprisoned by corruption and abuse, however, is a different pot of rice altogether.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Permission to Fusion, Erawan Classic Thai & Fusion, Kota Damansara

The word "Fusion" used in food is a source of great personal agitation. Kinda like badly cut pants that chafe at the thighs. Or the Malaysian persistent fondness for replacing the article "the" with "D'" and springing a whole host of D'ed abominations, like D' Pub, D' Shop, D' Bakery, D'Place where you don't want to be if you had a shred of sense in you. Or the inclination to bad spelling, like replacing the letter "S" with "Z." Appropriating the language of another is a necessity for our young lingual heritage but come on, this level of abuse is practically Defilement - another D word of epic popularity among the jesters we call politicians.

I had read about Erawan from the pretty smashing, multi-authored food blog on the Malaysian Insider and its post here got me all hot and bothered, despite the threat of Fusion starting to sound like an excuse for aspiring gourmands to splice and dice cuisine artlessly, badly. Getting to Kota Damansara was however, another challenge for what is that geographical horror if not another cultural nightmare? I shall however, save that rant for another day, for there we were, regardless, ready to pounce and devour.

Seeing that there were all but two of us, Anan, the charming manager deftly explained that the portions were a little on the large side and recommended we went for the single-serve rice dishes or the tomyam noodles, which were also more economical options. The idea of a basil stir fry with rice and a fried egg just didn't cut it with us so we went with ala carte.

The Erawan Pomelo Salad arrived swiftly, well before we had taken in the cosy, warm interior of the restaurant. It came with a separate serving of sweet Mieng-Kam like sauce, to which we were told to mix in on our individual platters to our own taste.

I loved the handsome shelled prawns and the succulent chunks of pomelo dressed with toasted coconut and crushed peanut. Not crazy about fried shallots in general, but it somehow worked to this salad's advantage here. Gorgeous!

We had to contend with a lengthy wait for the mains to arrive, and understood later that Erawan's main chef Korn attends to each and every dish, hence the delay. I need to add here that a meal at Erawan isn't meant to be an in-and-out sort of dining experience; it absolutely needs to be savoured, sipped and praised.

When it finally did arrive, the Tomyam Seafood unseated us from our quiet lull. We were provided a choice of Clear or Thick soup, and spice levels of one (mild) to five (very spicy). Our pick of Thick, level Three set our bellies and worlds on fire. This was very hot and very good.

I had my heart set on the duck curry, but it was unavailable that day. The manager recommended the Green Curry Fish Paste in place. The fish paste, made on the premises with fresh ikan tenggiri (mackerel) are shaped like balls, with a salted egg yolk ensconced within. This was an interesting twist to an otherwise spectacular ode to a classic. Suppose that warrants a nod to "Fusion"?

Fragrant jasmine rice presented in dainty little bowls. Toto, we're not in Tai Pai Tong anymore!

To wash it all down, Lemongrass juice with ginger, dwarfed next to the Iced Lychee Tea.

The meal came up to RM93.50, very gratifying and well worth the journey into the frenzy that is Kota Damansara. For this and this alone, I could sideline my loathing of the rampant use of "Fusion" and just bask in the perfect marriage of spice and everything nice.

Erawan Classic Thai & Fusion
22-1 Jalan PJU 5/16 Dataran Sunway
Kota Damansara
47810 Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03-6141 2393

Reservations are highly recommended.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Fat of the Land, Nambawan, off Old Klang Road

Our glorious land is stuffed to the brim with promise and we know, KNOW this. But buried by political opportunism and citizen inertia, we forget too easily and vicariously extol the virtues of giving up and taking off to faraway lands, padded by the belief that the grass (and meat) will always be greener, fatter on the other side.

I had read enthralled about the highly inconspicious Nambawan off Old Klang Road from Masak-masak's post recently. A hidden pork haven in an area virtually unheard of at jaw-dropping prices, no more than a 15-minute drive from my humble neighbourhood... hello, did Xmas 2010 arrive 11 months early?!

The place was pretty empty when we arrived in the thick of lunch hour but we were undeterred, as we usually were about places that had gotten Boo's stamp of approval!

My dining companion Caterpillar, a burger fiend dove straight for the homemade Pork Burger (RM6.90). The serving was a little on the small side, given that he was ravenous. The sight of the untoasted, banal store-bought burger bun didn't help.

However, one bite into the virgin pink patty erased all doubts. It oozed juice, brass and lustrous flesh, everything we could want to realise the elusive potential of this place we call home, on a remarkably hot Saturday afternoon.

From that delectable snack, there was no way to go for me but one of the weekend specials, Roasted Pork Belly (RM12.90). Slabs of exquisite fatty (like FAT, FAT, FATty) pork layered on roasted potatoes, doused in brown sauce and topped with crunchy pork skin arrived, causing some internal mayhem. At that price, this is a new level of bliss. I didn't think much of the applesauce though, which was a shade of puke-green and tasted underwhelmingly colourless. A bit like the promises that we are spoon-fed, and let down by time and time again.

We decided to race for the third main, seeing that the portions were bordering on the side of small and to mix it up, ordered the Stone Charbroiled Pork fillet. The leaner slabs of meat and chewiness were expected but we were still pleasantly surprised by how delicious the dish was.

Caterpillar bowled me over when he declared that he was still hungry and ordered the Homemade Beefburger. I didn't get a picture of it for I was distracted by the host of supermarkets on the street but was informed later by meal owner that the pork burger tasted better.

Clearly, there's wealth in our backyard but we need proper guidance, courage and effort. The location, while a little off the beaten track, was not that hard to get to. Masak-masak's Flickr album has very clear directions.