Food Obsession in Malaysia
By Franz Scheurer
One thing I have learnt in the short time I have spent in Malaysia is that all Malaysians are foodies. They spend a considerable amount of time thinking about, discussing, arguing the merits of, and searching for, the perfect dish. It is not unusual for them to drive a considerable distance to find and eat a particularly good example of the dish they’re hungering for. They will all have their favourite Chicken Rice, Laksa, Nasi Lemak, etc. and fiercely argue that their’s is the best you can find. This works very much in your favour when you’re new in town and want to eat well. All you have to do is ask a couple of locals where you’ll find your favourite dish and you can almost be assured of a happy ending.
I was in Malaysia doing research for Simon Goh’s upcoming book, ‘Mixing it Up in Malaysia’, which I am co-authoring, a story of Malaysian history, culture, the Malaysian people, their food and music. The journey took us to Ipoh, a town renowned for its terrific food. The food in this town is heavily Chinese influenced, and we were invited by Simon’s brother and his wife, Heng and Anna Goh, to eat at Yum Yum, their favourite in a town of favourites.
The food at Yum Yum is absolutely superb, world-class in fact. A dish of ‘Asian Curry Fish Head’ is full of flavour with an unctuous, gelatinous texture (the eyes are just gorgeous), perfectly balanced by the ‘Assam Prawns’ spicy-hot bite and the tang and crunchy freshness of the ‘Kerabu Mango with Sotong’ salad. The ‘Yum Yum Tofu’, a house specialty, is incredibly smooth, silky tofu pieces, deep-fried until crisp and sprinkled with a fermented yellow bean sauce and roasted sesame seeds. Apparently the water in Ipoh is particularly soft, making for beautifully smooth tofu and, according to legend, extremely beautiful, smooth skinned maidens. We also order a plate of fresh bean sprouts, wok tossed with blachan and the piece de resistance, an incredibly succulent and tasty ‘Pandan Wrapped Chicken’. This is one of the best chicken dishes I have ever tasted. They take a piece of dark chicken meat, smother it with a spicy, red chilli based sambal, top it with white chicken meat and wrap it into bite-size pieces using pandanus leaves. Then these parcels are treated a bit like pot-sticker dumplings, being fried and steamed at the same time, dark meat side down, so that the meat soaks up the sambal and the white meat on top doesn’t dry out. Heaven! Everything is washed down by lime, lemon or coconut juice and the heathens order local beer, which, by the way, is excellent. Service is friendly, informed and efficient. This restaurant could easily hold its own in any major city of the world. I certainly would welcome it in Sydney. If you’re in Malaysia, do what the locals do and travel to Ipoh and sample Yum Yum’s food. What an exquisite lunch!
Yum Yum Restaurant
Darul Ridzuan, (605) 2537686)
Heng convinces us to change our travel itinerary and follow him to Lumut and inspect a Todi manufacturer. Todi is an alcoholic drink made from the sap of coconut palms, made twice a day, with the morning brew being lighter than the afternoon ferment. It’s approximately 15% alcohol, a cloudy liquid, which is still fermenting when you drink it. As it keeps fermenting in your stomach it can keep you drunk for hours and can have the nasty side-effect of severe diarrhoea. Nevertheless it’s a pleasant drink and Heng advises us that even if we don’t like the taste we should simply mix it with beer so that we don’t miss out on the effect (I’m not entirely sure of his sense of humour).
In typical Goh fashion we are deemed to be starving (it’s by now all of an hour since we’ve had a huge lunch) so we stop in an open air eatery called ‘Restoran Hai Tien Di’. It’s a fabulous place in the midst of palm trees and the specialities are fresh sea snails and clangfish. Clangfish, locally called Hae Korh, is a deepwater monster, looking like some alien creature halfway between a giant prawn, a Balmain bug and a Komodo dragon. It is also called Mantis Prawns and is occasionally available in Australia, or so I’m told. It’s as sweet as it is ugly. This crustacean is extremely rare and we are lucky enough to be at the restaurant when they have a couple in one of their tanks. They are quickly dispatched, battered and deep-fried to perfection and utterly delicious. This restaurant is a fun place to be at. Although open air, it’s shady enough to offer some comfort from the heat and the seafood is all live, which guarantees freshness. Cooking methods are simple, deep-frying or steaming, but they do it to perfection. This is another place on the ‘must visit’ list when you’re in Malaysia.
Restoran Hai Tien Di
Mr. and Mrs. Koh Tion Chuan and Koh Tiong Seng
522 Kampung Cina
Perak (05) 6924679)