Spoilt for choice

September 15, 2010

Yours truly, it seems, has arrived. For, he has hit, as a true pro would, a writer’s block. Taking the easy way out at this juncture, he is posting an article which had once appeared in the newspaper he works for. Pardon him and please read on…

 JUST AFTER The Malaysia Savings Sale is thrown open in the chic Pavilion Mall in downtown Kuala Lumpur, scores of visiting journalists (yes, it’s a Tourism Malaysia invitation) are sweet-talked into exploring Food Republic, a titanic food court in the mall.

Armed with free food coupons, we trawl its expanse, gripped by awe (at its sheer size — 31,000 sq ft), surprise (a neat blend of a themed atrium and Asian street food), more surprise (a rather respectable-looking restaurant passing off pan-fried jumbo lobsters with rice, fried egg sunny side up, satay and other nibbles, as delicacies from Bombay) and mild disgust (frog eggs on toasts).

Eat-what-you-like fair at KL's Food Republic. (Pic: Dwaipayan Ghosh Dastidar)

I skip the frog eggs, despite a South Korean journalist suggesting it’s a poor man’s caviar (just Rs 57 a plate), and resume my hunt, marked by the blissful confusion of a child left alone in an you-get-all toy section.

A pause in front of the Taiwanese stall hawking beef noodles and dumplings, a close look at a menu card kept outside a Korean food counter and a hesitant linger near a Thai restaurant (as crowded as Bercos on weekends), i saunter into a continental joint.

Placing an order — disappointingly, i play safe and settle for fish and chips — and getting the food takes flat five minutes. Diners, even tiny tots, are deftly using chopsticks at a Japanese stall bang opposite, giving me quite a complex. Sushi and yakitori are the best for a hands-on person like me, i console myself.

“No drinks?” a waiter shatters my thoughts and produces a glass of orange juice in no time. A look at the accreditation card dangling on my chest, he breaks into a grin: “Dada ki Bangali naki? (Aren’t you a Bengali?)” I suddenly notice that all the waiters, cooks and the manager in the restaurant are shouting orders and taking them in Bengali.

Anwar, from Dhaka, admonishes me for ordering the fish and chips and coaxes me to settle for mutton bhuni khichuri (piping hot khichdi peppered with mutton chunks) and a beef bhuna (curry). Nearly as satisfying as the original version you get in Bangladesh, it transported me to a warm April evening seven years back when i polished off a similar plate at a crumbling eating hole outside Dhakas Bangabandhu Stadium, and fell for the same dish each time i went back to the country of my origin.

ABC of desserts

Durian chendol, a trademark Malay dessert. (Pic: Dwaipayan Ghosh Dastidar)

How good can a dessert taste if it’s named ABC? “Just go for it … you can have it at any time of the day, with or without anything, before, during or after the main course,” my guide said, ushering me to a Malay dessert counter.

The curiously named ABC (Air Batu Campur, or crushed ice dessert) is a national craze much like our ice gola, but looks spectacular. The lady at the counter suggests i have durian, the king of fruits, in my ABC. Before i can say aloud “smells like hell but tastes like heaven,” she plops durian pulp on an ice pyramid, sprinkles nuts on it and bathes it in myriad syrups.

The first spoon tastes of crushed ice. The next is a surprise: a fruity mush coats your tongue even as the nuts have crisp encounters with the teeth. The third washes down the ice, fruit and nuts — easy as ABC. The nearest i come to ABCs brilliance is at a cafe in Melaka’s posh Hotel Equatorial.

Durian chendol, the menu card says, is made of shaved ice with green pea flour, freshly squeezed coconut milk, palm sugar and topped with durian flesh. A superb dessert that thrives on contrasts. An observation: you won’t be cloyed by the temperate sweetness of these desserts, but in case you are, just keep sipping on a Tiger Beer.

Anyone for Bone Tea?

Teh tarik with fried oysters in Melaka. (Pic: Dwaipayan Ghosh Dastidar)

It’s Malaysia’s undisputed national drink.

You get everything from iced tea to Earl Grey, but the most interesting of them all are teh tarik and bak kut teh. Literally meaning ‘pulled tea’, teh tarik is served in all Malaysian roadside joints by ‘pulling’ the drink as it is prepared from black tea and condensed milk. The element of the chaiwallah’s showmanship lies in his expertise to drag a stream of tea as it’s poured back and forth repeatedly between jumbo glasses. The result: a not-too-hot cuppa with a frothy head. Munch on fried squid in between to prolong your pleasure. Teh tarik brewers are known to compete with each other to show off their skills.

Bak kut teh, or meat bone tea, is more of a filling soup than tea. Using spare pork ribs, sometimes herbal medicine and straw mushrooms, lettuce and abalone, its served in a clay pot to keep the contents hot.

Can’t Get Cheaper

Skewered chicken @ Rs 13 per stick. (Pic: Dwaipayan Ghosh Dastidar)

How cheap is very cheap? Well, incredibly cheap, if you happen to be in Malaysia. A glance at the room service menu of the five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur’s business district I am staying in, and i am stunned.

A signature Malay breakfast for one — vegetable juice, a fruit platter, nasi lemak (coconut rice served with shrimp rendang and satay and topped with poached egg) and a pot of Darjeeling — comes for just Rs 600. I scan the menu and find the costliest item — Australian beef steak — is priced at Rs 900. It sounds like fairytale in India.

On the road, the prices are equally unbelievable.

A thosai (dosa) at Selvam (an iconic Melaka eatery similar to Saravana Bhawan) costs Rs 13. Nasi lemak at roadside stalls sell for Rs 20 and a dish of oysters fried with free-range eggs for Rs 39.

In Melaka’s Hotel Equatorial (another five-star place where i was given a table next to Mukesh and Nita Ambani) roti ayam (panfried bread coated with egg, stuffed with minced chicken, and served with sauces, pickles and mayonnaise) comes for Rs 70 and durian cendol for Rs 74!

What are you waiting for?

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9 Responses to “Spoilt for choice”

  1. Sharmi said

    yaayyyyyy at last a post….though repeated stuff… but it’s always entertaining to read your work….What will your next post be on?

  2. netdhaba said

    Next? Allah only knows. The damned writer’s block is budging nowhere 😦

  3. Swarnava Adhikary said

    Dosa for Rs 13 and table next to Mukesh and Nita Ambani!!…I wanna go to Malaysia right now 🙂
    A plain dosa costs Rs 45 at Dosas n More here at Park Street and I can only dream of sitting next to the Ambanis here in India
    How about a Dhaka trip, maybe in December this yr?…wanna hv mutton Bhuni khichudi 🙂

  4. netdhaba said

    @Swarnava: Dhaka is a fantastic place. It’s full of warmth. You will never feel like a foreigner. And a plate of bhuni khichudi adds up to the experience.
    Thanks for the comment and please read on 🙂

  5. Sumit said

    Baap re!! Chhoooosoooo takar jolpaan…tao bolo shosta…dadubhai e je ekkare obak jolpaan!!! Topoi chhnobar upay nai!!
    R Kolkatay ajkaal plain dosa 45 takay bikochhe naki? Firey giye kota gamchha kinbo!!!

    P.S. Ekkare subaltern comment diye fellum. Gostaki!!

  6. netdhaba said

    @Sumit: Ekkebare Tajuddin-type comment! Jai hok, February to eshe gelo. Tomaro topoi bodle fele Parisian towel chhere Dhonekhali-r gamchha (Didi uses just Dhonekhali – sari, gamchha, everything) mathae tule nite hobe.
    PS: Octoberfest-e geli Munich-e?

  7. Sumit said

    Kimba sahoo…ba sabya…kei ba kom jay!! Tor ager comment-ta pore amar sukumar mone barbar ekta pun unki dichhe…kintu bolchi na…aslilotar daay!!
    Oktoberfest er agei to firey elam…and Berlin is much more interesting than Munich (Munich ami agey gechi…basically khub kejo shohor)…r tachara ei boyoshe Okto-fest e ami!! Aajkaal chupchap e bhalo lagey…boyosh hocche dadubhai!!

  8. netdhaba said

    @Sumit: Hmm. Tumio kom jao na! Pun tola thak khabar porer jonyo!
    A colleague of mine is going to berlin for 3 weeks, but just after the munich fest gets over. He’s planning trips to Budapest and Warsaw and a Baltic cruise 🙂
    Feb return on schedule?

  9. Sumit said

    Feb ei fera apatoto thik!!

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