Adventures in Food – Malaysia

My third day in Malaysia and I am still coming to terms with the culture shock when I am informed that lunch tomorrow is at a local restaurant. Cool, I love curry and now I get to taste the local culinary delights. Actually, I was not quite ready for Malaysian dining.

Dragon Temple Lane, not it’s real name but one given by local expat community, is a pulsating mecca for street food in Butterworth. The satay guy grills spicy chicken and beef strips on his home-made hibachi, while his wife delivers the orders to diners in nearby restaurants. Another seller pours his fresh squeezed juices into plastic bags, tying them shut around the straw to create a small juice carry-bag. But this is my first time here, and we are headed to Maju.

Maju is run by a Malaysian Air Force SNCO and his family, and his wife welcomes us in as old and valued customers (my friends come here often). The building has more in common with a stable than any Australian restaurant, the blue paint peeling off the rough wooden walls and the vinyl floor covering creaks and groans as our party overloads the flimsy floor boards. We gather at a long rustic, dilapidated really, and seat our selves on the long benches. Our host is in the corner washing banana leaves in the grubby sink before placing one in front of each of us.

I select a mutton curry, only latter did my friends point out that Malaysia has no sheep and that mutton is goat there, from the menu and my friends added a bewildering array of accompaniments to my order. Currying potatoes and beans appeared on my banana leaf along with cucumber salad, rice and frightening looking fried fish, cooked whole blackened by the spices and I’m informed eaten whole, head and all. I don’t think so, I will eat the rest then claim to be full–I’m sure no one will object.

Despite my misgivings about the cleanliness and food choices at Maju, I tucked into the curry. Our Malaysian colleagues deftly handled their food with practised finesse, creating a small ball of food in their fingers from the assembled choices. A few expats tried to emulate their dexterous eating style, food slipping from their hands to their clothes, imitating the eating style of small children. I stuck with a fork and spoon to shovel in the food.

After three servings–the fried fish still sitting forlornly on my leaf–my clothes started to tighten on my expanding middle and called a cease to my gorging. We headed back to work, and I quietly hoped that my first Malaysian meal did not result in my first food poisoning.

I survived and quickly attained status as a valued regular at Maju, eating there almost every week until tragedy closed its doors. I say tragedy because that is how we felt but the proprietors had to move to Kuala Lumpur for the husband’s continuing air force career. We headed down for one last meal, thanking out hosts and friends for their wonderful food. We had lost our place, we ate elsewhere in Dragon Temple Lane but Maju was special, and as we hugged them goodbye I had to fight back a tear.

Oh, and that fried fish – never did eat one.


Fifty Best Restaurants in the World but…

Restaurant Magazine and S. Pellegrino have announced the World’s Fifty Best Restaurants for 2008, a who’s who of the culinary world but are they the best or just the most famous? Did any Academy voting panel consider the simple joy of a neighbourhood restaurant that produces great local food? Probably not, and that is a great pity because for most of us dining at just one of the Fifty Best Restaurants is unlikely to occur more than once in a lifetime.

The Number One choice (three consecutive years) is El Bulli, the innovative home of Ferran Adrià whose approach to culinary excellence is inspirational for foodies like me. However, his favourite restaurant is a small one man seafood place that only cooks the best, freshest seafood and does not open if the markets produced an inferior catch that day. Maybe it deserves consideration for this honour? To that end, I nominate the following restaurants for our consideration to be one of the Fifty World’s Best Restaurants in 2009:

  1. Banana Leaf Apollo – Singapore
  2. Salumi – Seattle
  3. Robert et Louise – Paris
  4. Soho Spice – London
  5. Yarrow Bay Grill – Kirkland (Washington, USA)

Seattle Favorites

Mary Jo at The Seattle Traveler listed her Seattle favorites for us, and it got me yearning for my former home. So, here are my Seattle area favorites.

Favorite special occasion restaurant: Yarrow Bay Grill. Simply the best food, service and view combination we found in Seattle.

Favorite casual restaurant: Serious Pie for Pizza.

Favorite fast food restaurant: Joe’s Gourmet Grilled Dogs. Sorry Mary Jo, a dog outside Safeco Field before a game beats Dick’s every time.

Favorite steakhouse: El Gaucho, Belltown. I’ll go with Mary Jo on this one.

Favorite seafood restaurant: Yarrow Bay Grill

Favorite ethnic restaurant: Blue Nile Restaurant for great (and cheap) Ethiopian food.

Blue Nile Combo #18

Favorite view restaurant: I agree with Mary Jo, Salty’s Alki has an unbeatable view.

Favorite out of town restaurant: Sip, Issaquah. Go on Wednesday for half price wine from their extensive cellars.

Favorite Hotel: We only ever stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn on Lake Union.

Favorite Museum: Museum of Flight, where I spent many lunch hours indulging my passion.

Favorite thing to do in Seattle on a sunny day: Take me out to the ball game, a $8 bleacher seat and then find a standing position behind home plate, priceless.

Favorite thing to do in Seattle on a rainy day: There are no rain delays for Mariners baseball, just close the roof and play ball.

Favorite drink after work bar: Cascadia Restaurant serves great drinks and fun bar food.

Favorite music venue: The Showbox lets you get up and personal with your favorite band.

Favorite touristy thing to do: A visit to Pike’s Place Market.

Favorite day trip from Seattle: The Summit at Snoqualmie to snowboard.

Favorite weekend trip from Seattle: Portland, Oregon


Five Unbeatable Dining Experiences

Every destination offers varied and new dining experiences, some haute cuisine others bizarre local delicacies but all become priceless memories. These five restaurants captured my heart and shaped my palate, and I thoroughly recommend them all to you.

Zur Forelle – Ulm, Germany

The old centre of Ulm offers some of the finest food in Southern Germany, and Zur Forelle is our favorite sitting beside the Blau (Blue) River this cramped little restaurant serves traditional Schwäbische fare including the local egg noodles (Spätzle) and trout from the Blau. After completing our meal with strudel (cliché, perhaps but homemade and extraordinary) and coffee, we headed out into the night to stroll along the banks of the Danube. A magical night for my wife and me.


Dragon Temple Lane – Butterworth, Malaysia

A nondescript side street off Butterworth Road is home to a diverse array of Malaysian cuisine served by colorful locals. Taking an outside table, we order satays from the husband and wife team grilling chicken and beef strips on their small scrap iron hibachi. Sending someone to buy watermelon juice across the road, we order our fill of curries, rice and the local specialty chili crab from the restaurant providing our table. It is scene played out in makan areas throughout Malaysia, small specialty providers working together to give you a fantastic meal.

Robert et Louise – Paris, France

A small traditional French restaurant serving simple comfort food cooked over an open fire, Robert et Louise featured in an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. Try the boudin noir (blood sausage) or côtes de boeuf (rib steaks) cooked over the open fire in the back of the restaurant for a great French bistro experience.

Bouchon – Las Vegas, USA

Bouchon at The Venetian, a reprise of Thomas Keller‘s Napa Valley bistro serves traditional French cuisine with a finesse that is unmatched anywhere. We worked our way through a magnificent array of French favorites, rich in everything that makes food worth eating. Keller takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary without destroying the simple elegance of the food served to you. We arrived with high expectations that Keller’s staff exceeded to make the most memorable anniversary dinner of our marriage.

Cascadia Restaurant – Seattle, USA

The five o’clock queue surprised us but we found a nice corner of the bar to enjoy our burgers and Cascadia’s signature drink, the Alpine Martini. A small Douglas fir snowball bobbing in Absolut Citron vodka, slowly releasing its sweet goodness into the liquid for an evolving cocktail that tastes like Christmas trees.

Do Cascadia’s miniburgers live up to their Seattle> cult following hype?

We sampled four toppings; barbeque lobster, black truffle butter, blue cheese and green pepper salsa, and each gave the lean beef patties a unique flavor experience. You can also choose wild King salmon or veggie patties if beef is not on your forte. We loved them; the barbeque lobster is a decadent delight and the green chilis a burning sensation but I would pass on the black truffle butter in favor of Oregon blue cheese.


Make Food Central to your Trip

Has food been an important part of your travel experiences?, asked Beth at This Just In…

Food is often a central theme to our travel plans, and a good restaurant can provide you:

1. Cultural experiences,

2. Opportunities to meet locals or fellow travellers and share travel tips,

3. Entertainment (professional acts or just the locals at play), and

4. Naturally, great food.

We seek out great restaurants everywhere, and I’ll post a list of our Top Five Dining Experiences latter this week.