If I was to name one phrase that sums up a portion of our journey, in Indonesia it would be “never try, never know”, which is how the care-free locals encouraged us to discover their country. But in the culinary jungle of Kuala Lumpur, “finish it!” became our new motto. The person responsible for our culinary KL odyssey was Ken, whom we met a year and a half ago in Georgia. Ken, an ethnically Chinese KL-born Malaysian, recently settled down in his home town after extensive, world-wide travels. We had the pleasure of staying at his place while in KL.
The success of the Malaysian cuisine is due to its variety and the melting-pot quality of the country where the Malay, Hindu, Chinese and Mamak (Muslim Indians) people and culinary traditions mix. While we’re still having a hard time settling down after experiencing this culinary whirlwind, we also know that it’s only the beginning… Still ahead of us is the Penang island, often mentioned in KL because of its famous food.
Be it at home or in a restaurant, we were in a large group and many dishes were served, giving us an opportunity to fill our plates with a variety of food. Whenever anyone was getting a serving from a plate that was more than half-empty, he’d be asked if he enjoyed the dish. If the answer was in the positive, a commanding “Finish it!” would be heard from around the table. Eating in KL was not for culinary pussies and after a few days the only thing I felt like eating were the plain steamed dim sum dumplings.
We also finally had a chance to try the famed “king of fruit” – durian. We’ve been catching whiffs of its smell at shops and markets since the beginning of our journey. But because it’s rather expensive and difficult to handle, we hadn’t really tried it earlier. As it turns out, quality durian is not easy to find. Ken’s dad, who sponsored the meal, also turned out to be a connoisseur of the fruit. He explained that what we encountered before were cheap(!) and low-quality examples. We felt honored and tried it… Marcin said that the flavor reminded him of “sweet, smoked eggs”. To me it was pretty good, but too intensive to make it an everyday affair. Before now, we had it only in a bread pudding and I feel durian could make a great addition to puddings and cakes, an intuition not shared by the rest of the family.
I think we like the Chinese cuisine the best. The plethora of flavors has little to do with the Polish understanding of “Chinese-style cooking”. There are plenty of green vegetables, there’s excellent fish and seafood.
I also really like the soups and the delicious dim sum, which I also found out is mostly a morning dish.
As far as Indian cuisine is concerned, we discovered the “banana leaf meals”. Not so much a meal, rather a way of serving, the banana leaf restaurants use the leafs instead of plates to serve rice, curry, dal and other sides on. Meat and fish are ordered separately. While in most restaurants in Indonesia and Malaysia we ate holding the spoon in the right hand and using the fork in the left to place food on the spoon, here we used only hands. We felt like children again, dirty up to elbows.
Finally, a breakfast classic – nasi lemak (fatty rice), the unofficial national dish of Malaysia. The rice is cooked in coconut milk and served with a boiled or fried egg, sambal, anchovies, peanuts and cucumber.
We hadn’t been able to photograph everything we tried, so you must take our word that it was an uphill battle, getting through a plate after plate of food. Expect more to come…