Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Monday, 6 August 2007

My own food heaven

When you talk about food heavens within the Kuala Lumpur City Limits, one usually associates it with Bangsar, Sri Hartamas, Damansara and Bandar Utama. To me those are international food heavens, where the food is for so-called gourmets to show of their culinary pedigrees. To me food heavens are where food brings you comfort and you know these are the places you can still get the real thing, the way it is supposed to be prepared through the times. There are various spots associated with each ethnicity, like Jalan Alor and Jalan Pudu for the Chinese, Brickfields and Setapak for the Indians while Keramat and Kampung Bahru for the Malays. Most times these are amalgams, like the venerable Jalan Dooraisamy who is now having a renaissance of ultra-chic ethnic spots while still maintaining the old.

I shall however focus on my own spot, thus far still invisible to most but for those in the know a great place to stay, where one can have a different type of meal for each mealtime each day. The place is unfashionable Sungei Besi, and by this I include the town itself and Desa Tasik that fringes it. Where is Desa Tasik you may ask? This area may be better known as Bandar Tasik Selatan, the mysterious neighbourhood full of high-rises and army camps that you pass by on the MRR2 travelling to and from Ampang and Sri Petaling, that you don’t give two hoots as you speed along it. I stayed there at the turn of millennium, and it should speak volumes that while staying in Cheras now, literally over a peak away, we as a family still make trips there to have good food. Although various stalls has moved on, more because the proprietor has moved away rather than lack of customers because these are usually the camp and quarters habitants, they are usually replaced by equally good food sellers that bring their new touch to the scene.

One of the new outlets that have my family hooked is Apai chicken rice, where the chicken is not your roasted, steamed or fried variety but double roasted honey glaze barbecue chicken. The reason I say it is double roasted is that the chicken is firstly spit barbecued on a rositerie, before it is cut up and barbecue again to ensure that the meat is well cooked, but certainly not overdone. Served with a simple chilli sauce with the normal greens but missing the normal soya sauce that it does not need, the taste is smokey and utterly delicious. So well marinated that the taste seeps into the meat unlike certain BBQ chicken elsewhere, the best part is the skin naturally although even the white parts of the chicken is now as well flavoured as the usually tastier dark meat. The shop also does a mean daging panggang utara or northern style roast steak, served with a divine sour sauce that is nicely piquant and hot, without overpowering the steak that is served already filleted into bite sized bits for easy eating so you do not need to worry that you need a steak knife to cut through the meat. Biting into a morsel, the first thing you notice is that it has a melt in the mouth quality, chewing is neededonly to get a taste of the sauce squirting into your mouth before you swallow it with the same chicken rice that it is served with. Yup instead of chicken rice, you actually are eating beef steak rice. Yummy! The shop starts serving their good stuff from noon although they are open earlier in order to start barbecuing their meats. That’s right folks, all barbecuing are done on the spot using barrel barbecue pits, no reheated stuff here. Depending on the day, the latest time you can get some is around nine at night, as they stop serving once the last chicken is sold, thus no leftover stuff also. Try it before the secret breaks and queues starts to form during meal times.

Every Sunday we make it a point to go to Sungei Besi Market. You can buy provisions for the whole week that is fresh, reasonably priced and with enough variety to boggle your mind. The fish that we get from my regular fishmonger are direct from the fisherman, so much so I always say that he is slaughtering the fish when he cleans it as blood spurts out like when you are slaughtering livestock. It is that fresh so no need for me to go all the way to Kuala Selangor to get my fresh fish supply. But I digress, the real reason we go there is to get a really good breakfast at least once a week. Much as I see Taman Connaught is becoming a breakfast hot spot for the Chinese community on weekends, the Desa Tasik Sungei Besi area has been a favourite breakfast hot spot for the surrounding folks. From any of the MRR2 turn off heading towards Bandar Tasik Selatan up the main road to Sungei Besi, you will find various food stalls lining the road sides, serving traditional nasi lemak and kuihs, roti canai, various states breakfast specialties and even mee soup with your choice of meats early in the morning. There are two stalls that is famous here, one near the above mentioned Apai Nasi Ayam beside Bandar Tasik Selatan commercial centre, and the other beside the original apartment complex housing the moved squatters opposite the mosque. For lunch I would prefer the other, but for breakfast I prefer the Desa Tasik stall as they also serve the best 1 ringgit banana wrapped nasi lemak this side of the city. This nasi lemak naturally has the necessary fluffy santan flavoured rice with nicely sweetly hot sambal, but the kick comes from the salted fish bit that comes with it. I argue with the wife on whether it is catfish or eel, but no reasonable conclusion can be had to date. I can usually finish three packs in one seating, while the family either has one or more in combi with the noodle soup. As for the soup that comes with your choice of meat or noodles, the broth is subtly spiced that a small kid can appreciate it, with the flavour of the meats and bones that has simmered in it coming through nicely. Who says you need more spice to get good flavour as you actually only need a good blend and that would be good enough. You need more heat you say, just add the chilli soy saucelah. Mind you this is really blitzed bird chillies mixed well with soy sauce so its consistency is actually quite thick.

The stalls that are in the market itself offers a variety of choices, with the soto noodles here comparable with the soup stalls mentioned before except their MSG level do not permit me to indulge as I will get a headache, but the kids love it though. I prefer to eat the bakso mee or Indonesian meatballs noodle soup at the next stall, occasionally varying my breakfast with their mee rebus or fried rice or noodles. Otherwise I may eat puri from the Indian stall next door or roti canai from the recently arrived roti canai specialist at the back of the stall if they have not sold out, which is usually around eleven. But a good choice would be the nasi lemak with a choice of lauk or side dishes that goes with it, with their freshly fried flour coated chicken with a spice mix that beats the Colonel’s hands down a usual favourite. Cannot say their beef rendang or sotong sambal or liver does not come in as a close second though but to have all four in one meal is a bit over indulgent methinks. A disappointment in the market though is the mee jawa, as it seems that the original old man proprietor is no longer around the quality and taste has gone down the drain.

However the real reason we make this area our weekend breakfast haunt is the mee rebus power stall at the main road and market road junction, under a tree which is a sure sign great food available here right. The mee rebus has a great taste of its own unlike no other, generous with the boiled beef bits that is a great treat to bite into. On par with the mee rebus but grossly unpromoted is the Penang asam laksa, where there is no way people will say they use tissue to thicken the gravy. You can find real kembung fish bits in it, and they are not stingy with the petis as they have a bottle on the table for you to flavour your laksa as you like it. My kids like their sizzling noodles and northern style vermicelli noodle soup and you can have Pak Hassan cendol just next door served with your meal, a malay style cendol that is as rare as the phoenix made using real gula melaka and thick santan. Heaven I tell you. After finishing your marketing, do not forget to buy the malay kuih from the stalls in front, where you can also get the best apam balik in town where I usually buy the special with extra crushed peanuts, creamed corn and sugar. The proof is this apam balik will not get all rubbery when you chew it hours after the purchase, and that just shows how good the batter mix is. And if you still have a hole in your stomach, you can always tapau the best sample of northern style roti canai from the mamak stall along the same row.

All these are just a little sampler of what is available from this little food heaven of mine. I must confess that there are still many stalls that I have not tried, but these that I have are good enough to satisfy our needs. Who knows if any of them close down in the future, a food hunting we will go surely to find a new favourite spot. Until that culinary journey begins, we will stick with the safe harbours that we have identified.

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