Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Malaysia: Seremban stopover

Since we're on the topic of Malaysia, I realized that I still have some pending entries from my June trip to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. One of the cities I got to visit was Seremban, the capital of the state of Negeri Sembilan south of KL.

It was my second time here. The last time was during SSEAYP 2002 since my host family in Malaysia was from there. This time, my host family insisted that I visit them before I returned for the Philippines. So I took a 10 a.m. bus from Singapore and arrived in Seremban at about 3 p.m.

I was met by Darryl Chan, my host brother in 2002 who himself joined SSEAYP in 2004. On the way to Seremban, during the bus stopover, I had Ipoh kway teow for lunch. In Seremban, we had some Indian bread which we dipped in curry. I also had the chance to walk around a part of old Seremban. Like many Malaysian old towns, the buildings in the historic core are preserved and are reused for modern needs.

In the evening, we had dinner at Darryl's place and met up later with my China-ASEAN batchmate Derek Low at a nearby cafe. I didn't get much sleep since I had to be at the airport by 5 a.m.

Part 1: Klang's legendary bak kut teh
Part 2: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh
Part 3: Mamak food rocks!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Malaysia: Mamak food rocks!

As the rest of the group left for Klang, we motored back to KL for even more food. The night wasn’t over since we were meeting up with Rostam, another SSEAYP batchmate. It was my last night in Malaysia and there was no way I was going to miss the mamak food!

Mamak stalls have become an important part of Malaysian culture just like the kopi tiam. The term has refers to eateries operated by Indian Muslims that have become popular hang-outs for Malaysian youths because of the affordable food and beverages plus the fact that they are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

A typical mamak would serve roti canai (flour pancakes which is served with curry sauce for dipping), roti telur (roti canai with egg), teh tarik (milk tea), murtabak (minced-meat flour pancakes also served with curry sauce dip), nasi lemak (Malaysia’s unofficial national dish which is rice soaked in coconut milk usually served with chicken and sambal sauce), mee goreng (fried noodles), and tandoori chicken (marinated in spices and yogurt) among many others.

I got myself an order roti canai as always and a tandoori chicken with had mint. It had a funny green color that looked so artificial, it didn’t look like chicken anymore. But it was definitely tasty especially with the chutney dip that accompanied it. I had fresh sugarcane juice to go with my food. And with that settled, my Malaysian food adventure was complete. If only I had some more days in KL, the choices at the mamak stalls were endless!

Part 1: Klang's legendary bak kut teh
Part 2: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh
Part 4: Seremban stopover

Friday, December 21, 2007

Malaysia: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh

The third largest city in Malaysia and the capital of Perak state, Ipoh is known far and wide for its cuisine. And we drove all the way to Ipoh just for the coffee!

Except for the modern roads and signage, driving through Ipoh old town was like a walk in time since most of its colonial buildings and shop houses are still standing. We went straight to the kopi tiam, traditional coffee shops that have left coffee lovers raving. We were out to seek the legendary Ipoh white coffee at Jalan Bandar Timah, the famed white coffee walk of Ipoh with over half a century of history.

Traditionally, black coffee roast in Malaysia (refers to the beans and not the style of serving coffee without milk) is produced by roasting the beans with sugar and palm oil margarine. On the other hand, white coffee is processed with the same Robusta beans and margarine, but without the sugar, making it less dark, thus the term white coffee.

They say the undisputed king of white coffee shops is a corner-lot kopi tiam called Old Town White Café (Nam Heong). But the other shops are equally fabled. We had some iced coffee at Sun Yuan Foong just across the street. The coffee, which you can get for a little over a ringgit or fifteen pesos, goes well with homemade peanut butter or kaya (coco jam) on toast, or caramel custard. We also got some bak chang, Chinese glutinous rice dumplings we all know as machang.

We still had one more stop in Ipoh. The group had made reservations at a popular seafood restaurant which has brought denizens as far as KL driving three hours north just to savor their delectable freshwater prawn dishes. Indeed, reservations are recommended at the Pusing Public Seafood Restaurant if you want to make sure you get a table.

Our group was after the crabs as well so the first and last dishes they served us were crabs! As an appetizer, we had a shredded crab meat and vegetable dish which we wrapped in lettuce. Then they brought in a dish of large freshwater prawns with a sweet and spicy sauce. We also had bean curd and fish cake floating on a pool of light soy sauce, as well as ginger chicken. But what kept the group eating for another 45 minutes or so were the huge steamed crabs everyone had been anticipating.

For Ipoh cuisine, the restaurant is a bit on the pricey side. But the fact that it’s never empty is a testament to how good their food is. We spent about 40 ringgit per person, roughly 600 pesos, which was not bad for the five-course dinner.

Part 1: Klang's legendary bak kut teh
Part 3: Mamak food rocks!
Part 4: Seremban stopover

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Malaysia: Klang's legendary bak kut teh

Today was Hari Raya Aidiladha, a public holiday in Malaysia. And my SSEAYP batchmate Kenneth invited me to join their road trip to Ipoh in the state of Perak, some 205 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur. With so much chocolate tickling my taste buds yesterday, the food trip today was a most welcome sequel.

Kenneth passed by for me in KL then we motored back to Klang where the rest of the group was meeting up. And as soon as we were complete, we had the local specialty called bak kut teh. He has always been raving about the bak kut teh of Klang, widely believed to be the home of this Hokkien-style herbal pork broth which translates as “pork bone tea.”

It’s a complex mixture of several herbs and spices, about ten I was told, boiled with pork ribs for hours! They served us youtiao (strips of fried dough) which was so tasty especially when dipped in the soup. The dish which is served in a claypot had other ingredients such as mushrooms, tofu and lettuce. And it’s eaten with rice.

We also tried out the dry bak kut teh which is less common but equally tasty. That is stir-fried meat with okra, dried chilies, and dark soy sauce. But the unique ingredient in this dish is dried cuttlefish. After that sumptuous breakfast, we were off.

Road travel in Malaysia is very convenient since there is a complex network of highways linking peninsular Malaysia from north to south and east to west. So the drive to Ipoh, roughly the distance between Manila and Dagupan, can be completed in less than three hours. And since it was a smooth drive, I was able to cat nap. And the next thing I knew, we were already exiting at Sungkai, a small town south of Ipoh.

We drove several kilometers further through vast palm oil plantations before reaching our destination, the Sungai Klah Hot Springs Park, said to be one of the best managed hot springs in Malaysia.

A healing center nestled at the foothills of the Titiwangsa Range, the park attracts both locals and foreigners who seek a cure to various ailments such as skin disease, rheumatism, arthritis, insomnia, respiratory troubles, and blood circulation. Being a popular destination, it gets crowded on weekends and holidays. And since we were there on a holiday, it was jam-packed with people. I was not able to pack my swimming gear since it was a business trip after all. So I was content with dipping my feet in 50° Celsius sulfuric water.

The temperatures in the different pools varied and were clearly marked since areas where the hot water bubbled up from the ground can reach a scalding 102° Celsius! In fact, those areas have been designated for boiling eggs. The hot water is said to emerge from 500 areas in the complex. A boardwalk was built parallel to these boiling streams so that people could enjoy the sulfur-rich steam that seeped through the gaps in between the planks while walking along the path. I was also tempted to try out their spa which offered the traditional Ayurveda treatments. But I didn’t want to get too oily since we still had a long day ahead, so I had to pass.

I actually skipped lunch since we were still full from the late breakfast we had in Klang. Although I had a cendol drink while in the park. After a few hours, we were off to Ipoh.

Part 2: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh
Part 3: Mamak food rocks!
Part 4: Seremban stopover

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Malaysia: Chocolate overload in KL

I'm in KL for a business trip. So the only place I got to visit today, aside from KLCC of course, was Beryl’s Chocolate Kingdom where I had a chocolate overload! The factory churns out over a hundred varieties of high quality chocolate candies at prices cheaper than those in the same quality range. They use beans from Ghana, a recognized source of high quality cocoa beans. And since there are just so many kinds of chocolate candies from durian to tongkat ali, coconut and tiramisu, they give visitors samples to help you pick!

After resting a bit, I went around nearby KLCC to kill time. I wasn't in the mood to buy anything so I just enjoyed taking photos of the Petronas twin towers.

After strolling around KLCC, I met up with the rest of the group for dinner at the Pacifica Bar and Grill of the Mandarin Oriental. For my meal, I could not resist the temptation to order Wagyu beef! So I did! Yummy!

Ciento Comico

The night before we arrived in KL, I watched the hilarious Ciento Comico, a comedy show produced by the UPAA for the UP Centennial. I had complimentary tickets since many of my brods were major sponsors.

It was a great show! Willie Nepomuceno spoofed Erap and did it so well, you couldn't tell the difference. And little did I know that I would meet the real President Estrada later in the evening at a party of a brod. Yes people, that's really him!
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