We had two more ports in Malaysia as we cruised back south to Singapore and in deed at our first port on the small island of Langkawi, we had not even intended to stop for food. During our several hour mangrove swamp tour, stopped at a fish farm/restaurant just to see the local creatures. We were so enticed by the wide variety of novel and strange sea creatures that we ordered a plate of TIGER SNAIL with Spicy Green Mango salad which we snarfed down in our boat as we motored along the waterway laden with monkeys, eagles, poisonous vipers, bats and more.
While the snail was akin to conch, it was indeed a bit chewy, but very tasty and the spicy mango salad was the perfect seasoning foil. Needless to say, Sam took one small bite and refused any more.
Back on the mainland the next day we were in port about 60 minutes or so from Kuala Lumpur (referred to as "K.L") which actually means confluence of the muddy waters.
We had two day long tours with our guide Tony, who had introduced us to many wonderful flavors and tastes over a week before at our first port of Melaka. We started in the new administrative capital of Putrajaya which was built from nothing but oil palms just over a decade ago and now stands a gleaming example of modern ingenuity, albeit also an homage to the Islamic majority.
We stopped for a quick lunch on the huge man-made lake in the city center and ordered up. We begged Sam to have a noodle dish, but he chose a burger and fries, and he declared the meat pretty bad. Surprise, beef here is not a specialty, and definitely not a burger. Tony suggested the NASI GORENG KAMPUNG, and while Nasi Goreng is a familiar Indonesian/Malay dish to us of fried rice, the Kampung version is graced with small dried anchovies as well as calamari, shrimp, chicken our new favorite veggie water spinach (locally called kangkung--pronounced like the locals in Mexico call Can-cun), and of course red chillis. It was awesome as was the ROTI JALA, a sort of noodle net (it literally means "bread net") made from noodle flour squeezed into a net-like pancake which you tear off pieces from and dip in to a curry, in this case with a little chicken. YUM, what a novel treat, and something f the that all the locals seems to eat everywhere. CUCUR UDANG are fried shrimp with two sauces, one a superb peanut sauce akin to what we get at home with satay, and the other a sweet chilli sauce. It was fun to dip the shrimp in either sauce, or even mix them for a third exciting flavor burst. The only bad choice was the Apple Asamboi which is a sour plum drink that was cloying, sour and salty at the same time. I pulled out one of the dried sour plums and it tasted like sour salt as I sucked on the weird dried tidbit. Sam would not touch his after the first sip and I couldn't blame him, but it was better than the durian treats we had tried in Melaka.
That afternoon when we stopped at the Batu Caves, a Hindu holy place outside K.L., we tasted some local munchies which we purchased to bring back to the ship for later. Some were like donuts, others like curried crunchy fried noodles and then one like a potato chip, but apparently tamarind flavored. There was a small unmarked restaurant in the open market area where we had delicious PULLED TEA (pretty much like chai) along with ROTI CANAI, the Indian fried bread served with a suace of curried lentils for dipping. Sam loved this and ate several platters and we tried a second version which had an egg added as the roti is pulled out in the kitchen (we got to watch) and then fried.
Since our tour included the evening boat tour of the rare fireflies on the Selangor River about 45 minutes from K.L., we stopped in Kuala Selangor (confluence of the Selangor River with the Straits of Melaka), one of the larger cities of Selangor state, we stopped for dinner on the river at KEDAI MAKANAN LAUT HUA HANG, an awesome Chinese seafood place where the entry way is filled with vats of water and fresh fish caught that morning. There were a couple of other white faces, but they seemed to come in only for a beer; we were here to dine like the locals. The place was heaving and we ordered the 25 ringgit multi-course meal (Sam was full from the roti canai and skipped eating here as he really does not like seafood) which costs under $7 apiece. We had an extra course of cockles, which are larger than the ones we have had in Europe, more akin to tiny clams, which a very hot chilli dipping sauce. It was hard to open some of these little guys, but Tony was there and showed us the tricks. Watermelon juice was nice, and Will had a Japanese beer. The food began to arrive and our table was laden with so many dishes:
FRIED RICE was on a plate alone piled high for enough to serve 8, BUTTER PRAWNS were indeed buttery and came with a less spicy sauce and the FRIED FISH with vegetables that was so tasty turned out to be SHARK!! A delicious plate of Chinese vegetables just like at home consisted of black Chinese trumpet mushrooms, bamboo shoots, pea pods and more in a sauce akin to what we would see anywhere in the USA. The highlight and purpose of the meal for me was the CHILLI CRABS, local crabs just a bit smaller than their Maryland kin were smeared with a mild chilli paste an cooked to perfection. It was indeed hard work cracking the shells with my hands and teeth to get out all the meat, but well worth the effort, although Samuel and Will would not even endeavor a bite. The sauce was amazing and worth the entire trip. Tony knew how much we had come to adore the kangkung, and ordered it as we had the first night in Singapore, with sambal belachan, the spicy prawn paste, but less spicy here, coating the water spinach or morning glory. It was great to see this local family-run effort, with kids cooking and serving and the older lady even cleaning and removing the stems from the kangkung at a nearby table!
Will grabbed a yummy coconut loaded with milk and then we enjoyed the meat itself as a dessert. The perfect palate cleanser to a superb meal.
On New Year's Day, Samuel decided to stay on board in the kid's club and let us have our way with more wonderful sights and many foods. Tony chose his favorite restaurant in K.L.'s Chinatown called LAI FOONG. To call it a restaurant is not really fair, as it is a large open room where the landlord leases small spaces for the various vendors to cook their dishes in each corner. We went to several vendors and filled our table again with many superb dishes:
CHINESE FRIED NOODLES (again, several types and widths) are a staple here and always served in a spicy broth with whatever condiments you choose to add from the vendor. We skipped the tripe and other innards and stuck with beef and beef balls, which Will actually thought were cow testicles. They were tiny whitish balls of ground meat almost the consistency of a dumpling, and I reminded Will that cow's don't have balls, bulls do, and they are much larger than these small 1/2 inch round treats.
We had eaten CHAR KUAY KEOW the first night in Singapore as well, but here in Malaysia at this spot the excellent dish includes chicken, calamari, shrimp, bean curd, tofu, bamboo shoots and tiny cockles in that divine chili garlic mix with fried noodles of multiple types.
The highlight of this meal was the BBQ PORK which is served off the bone with a lighter chilli glaze and a spicier chilli dipping sauce. The skin was so crunchy you just wanted to get more and more of it. This had to be the best ribs ever.
My drink was a Chinese can of JDB (or Jia Duo Bau) herbal iced tea that was very tasty and refreshing. Lunch was finished with the local KOPI Malay coffee with a dash of condensed milk for sweetness.
Total cost for three with drinks was 45 ringgits or under $13!!
As if this was not enough, Tony took us to his vendor friend in the open market for the best chicken curry pies and tiny sugared peanut paste treats, also cooked inside a small pastry shell the size of a peanut shell that were so good we wanted to buy a ton, but refrained knowing we could not bring them home with us.
What an amazing taste of Malaysia our last three days on land here were.