Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Eating Well Off The Beaten Track

I have always been an advocate of old school food and it is my experience that such establishments serving such food is usually found off the beaten track, where the best foods are usually found way off the next corner, most probably under a tree or off beat food courts. We do not really need a slow food movement here, as our foods can be pre-prepared but if prepared well can compare with the best of gourmet foods. So we can get 'fast food' that are tasty, but it would be a bonus if you can find it being cooked on the spot. Today I proved it to my staff when I took them to Damai Corner stall solitarily located in Jalan Damai under a tree, where we had delicious kampung style mixed rice and mee bandung, topped off with fresh made Malay kuehs. I especially like the kueh kertas made here on the premises, softly chewy rice flour cakes glazed with sugar that are usually rock hard elsewhere, as they do not stinge with the coconut milk that you can actually taste that makes the dough so pliant, making it an excellent example of a Malay style doughnut. This place proves that in a good Malay stall, you can get good pre-prepared food in their mixed rice dishes and made to order ala minute dishes that can satisfy any slow foodie, with the bonus of having just out off the frying pan kuehs.

But this post is not about Damai Corner but instead about a small haven of Malay food in Kota Cheras that I believe is virtually unknown for those not from the Cheras area. Standing in front of rows of public flats beside the main road, here you will find the local authority's stalls and self built stalls serving various Malay dishes, usually specialising in their own particular specialities. I have come here today to a Malay Kuih stall that becomes the centrepoint for the Malay ladies staying in the flats to sell their home made kuehs, as that is the traditional way for a Malay Kuih stall to operate. The stall operator may sell some of the kueh or even fry some the kuehs like banana fritters, but then he will accept for these housewives to 'letak' or put their own kuehs in his stall for a commission on their sales. This is indeed a win-win or social way of commerce that has mostly faded, as the stall keeper can increase his menu without increasing his capital, while the housewives obtain an outlet to sell their wares without needing to sink much resources to open their own stall. And for the customers it is definitely a win, as he can be assured he will get the best examples of kuehs available for the area, as naturally the kueh stall will only sell teh kuehs that gains acceptance from the public who will surely reject substandard offerings. So that is why in addition to the freshly fried fritters in the large trays, you will also find rows of different coloured plastic containers holding different types of kuehs, the colours denoting the origin of the kueh. Peek into the different containers to find your favourite kuehs, and those that has their covers permanently opened would well denote that this are the popular and best stuff to be had here.

When I look at the savoury kuehs available here, I remember EatingAsia's request for good cucur badak locations and this stall's version would surely be recommended by me. Although it does not have the traditional prawn topping, the cucur badak is made from a dough that is a good mix of mashed tapioca and tapioca flour that does not retain much oil, so biting into it will not be an oily affair. Instead you will bite into a spicy filling of grated coconut fried with pounded dried prawns chili and turmeric paste and a smattering of fresh prawn bits, a welcome bonus if you are lucky enough to have it in your cucur badak. Thus they do get their cucur badak right in that it should have a prawny filling within a tapioca bun, and not just a pasty tapioca pastry . Another savoury kueh that has a similar filling as the cucur badak is the pulut panggang, a grilled glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves that nowadays is more commonly griddled, sadly . So you no longer get the smokiness from grill's coals and the pulut is also more oily than it should be. What is also common nowadays is that the oil acts as the flavouring for the pulut, in that the rice becomes fried, when it should actually the filling that that lends the rice its flavour. Nonetheless since the filling here is flavourful and runs the length of the pulut, the pulut thus becomes well flavoured and the griddling actually enhances the flavour somewhat, compensating for the lack of smokiness. Thus to me the pulut panggang here is one of the better ones you can have in Kuala Lumpur even though it is not grilled and is quite a best seller here because if you come here a little too late, they will be sold out.

Talking about being sold out, the spring rolls or popiah here is also quite good and one of my favoured kuehs to buy and they top tend to sell very fast. Coming in both the fried and wet versions, I prefer their fried version as the wet version needs to be eaten early as it can get spoiled if kept too long. Anyway the fried version comes in way that I like it to be prepared, glazed with a sweet chilly and fried onion sauce and with crushed peanuts on top, so you do not need to dip it into a sauce the way it is more commonly eaten. The glaze also actually has seeped into the turnip filling, enhancing the taste when you bite into it. And I can tell you it is easier way to eat the spring rolls and very portable, as you do not need a dip or sauce plate to dip the spring roll into. Convenient finger food in this case. But I hate those that is fully glazed so I am glad that the glazing only the top part of the spring roll here. Otherwise it is a mess to hold actually.

So let's get on with sweet kuehs now and the firm favourite here is the kueh limas as we Perakians call it or tepung pelita as it is more commonly known. It is now sold in a pack of five pieces each as I believe it is a rare occassion for someone to buy just one as one will not be enough. Of similar layered construction as the Siamese Tako, the bottom part here is of a mixture of sugar syrup and pandan steeped glutinous rice jelly while the top is coconut milk custard. Best served after being chilled in the refrigerator, it should be eaten with all the components together so you get a mix of sweet, exotic and saltiness in a mouthful. Yummy and the younger daughter fully agrees as she can down three in one go. A caveat is that some stalls mix in 'kapur' or lime chalk as a thickener for the coconut milk custard topping and if this is not done well you will get a bitter taste instead.

And lastly I want to introduce to you a rare kueh item that I have not found elsewhere, the first time I found this was in the Ramadhan Bazaar here last year and it seems to have found favour locally as it is now regularly sold by the stall owner, and judging by the three pieces left in the container seems to be a crowd favourite. Called Apam Sarawak though the owner cheekily cautions if we to Sarawak they will have no idea what we are talking about, the apam actually reminds me of the regular kuih ketayap or kuih dadar/gulung which is a type of filled Malay crepe. However unlike kuih ketayap, the crepe here taste like kuih apam (malay sponge cake) so I guess the crepe batter mix is quite similar to an apam's batter but like kuih gulung it is flavoured with essence of pandan that gives it the green colour. The filling though is a little bit different than a kuih ketayap in that the coconut gratings are mixed with some red beans, though I must say this time there are more coconut than red beans like as when I first discovered this kueh, maybe the recipe has been modified for local tastes. The shape of the kueh is also different than a kueh ketayap whereby it is not rolled(gulung) but is crimped like a currypuff. Anyway I hope an East Malaysian can identify the actual name of this kueh as I do not think we in the Peninsular has it. It would be deeply appreciated.

Thus I come to the end to this posting without commenting on many more Malay kuehs that is available in this store, like this rare kuih bom that is the original item and not the supersized cekodok that the term is being used nowadays. What I can just say is this, since the stall collects kuehs from the various people to sell on their behalf in addition to what the stall owner make themselves, the variety available is quite large. Therefore you can make repeat visits to the stall and and can have a different kueh for tea and this includes kuehs that you may no longer find elsewhere. So if you are in the neighbourhood, turn right after the Batu 9 exit on the Grand Saga Highway if your are from Kuala Lumpur, and keep a watch out for the row of foodstalls on your left. Bon Appetit!

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