The great, great foods of home
Home food home
It is an indisputable fact that no matter what foods entrance, enrapture, and enchant us on our travels, it is the food of home and hearth that ultimately holds the keys to our culinary hearts. Ergo, after the exotic foods enjoyed—and enjoyed immensely, I concede—whilst I was on holiday, I am now revelling in the foods I always MUST eat whenever I am in Malaysia. Is it habit that compels such compulsive behaviour? Perhaps, but the fact remains that, like Pavlov's well-trained canine, the minute I set foot onto tanah Malaysia, it is these eateries to which I carve a beeline. I've often joked to friends that they simply have to head to any of my regular haunts to find out whether or not I'm in town, and indeed I discovered the joke had become gospel when, the last two times I arrived at Shangri-La (7, Jalan Batai, Bukit Damansara) for my pork noodle fix, the proprietor smiled knowingly and asked, "You came back yesterday, issit?" Because it's true, the first meal, invariably breakfast due to unpropitious flight times, has been Mui Cheh's pork noodles, now run by her unflappable son Heng. After months of enduring 'white' breakfasts—how many corn stacks with sour cream and bacon can one endure, for goodness sake?—nothing but nothing beats a bowl of silken, perfectly sauced kway teow that's crowned with delicate pearls of lard, that has as its faithful companion a steaming hot bowl of soup laden with such good things as pork balls, shredded pork bits, a whole soft-boiled egg, and perfectly cooked vegetables.
That is, unless it's the fish ball noodle soup at Say Huat (1083, Jaan 17/27, Section 17), a close contender for my first meal choice, and which loses out by a whisker just because it's marginally further and which dearth of parking doesn't really lend itself to the hit and run approach I love at Batai. The fish ball noodle soup also has a couple of other black marks against it: a hawker whose personal hygiene I've always suspected is short of the mark but which I haven't been able to conclusively confirm, and a general griminess in the coffee shop that makes one queasy about introducing derriere to oily seat. Be that as it may, the noodles are fine, the soup is full-bodied and studded with fried garlic, lard, and spring onion bits, and I am an unabashed glutton, so I continue to return, albeit always reluctantly.
Because a great deal of my work entails dining at restaurants (I know: #firstworldproblems), my off duty meals tend to veer sharply in favour of hawker food, but there is a Chinese restaurant I discovered only a few months ago which I have become absolutely besotted with, and despite a rather nondescript name—Kajang Hot Pepper Soup (1F Centrepoint, Lebuh Bandar Utama, +603-7733 1220)—it's currently got me in its thrall good and proper. And since it's located next door to BFM where I go to record Feeding Time, I have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from its seductive siren's call. What does one order when dining there? The eponymous hot pepper soup, whilst not requisite, lends a feisty start to the meal, and is laden with meat, offal and goji berries. Eschew the claypot pork belly with salted fish at your own peril as it is, to me, a podium finisher in a menu studded with stars. The crispy fried pork belly slices is another star, not least because the crisp of the fried meat is perfectly juxtaposed by the quietly explosive fat. And lest you accuse me of being a carnivore, I always order the three seasons steamed egg which is smoother than a baby's bottom, and slips down the throat with the sneaky alacrity of the most adept eel. Is it good, I hear you ask? Let's just say I sometimes wake up dreaming of it when home in Sydney and weep, knowing relief is a mere 3,000 miles and an eight hour plane ride away. And that, dear readers, is why I stuff my face like every meal is my last, because we don't truly appreciate just how good food in Malaysia is, until we no longer have the privilege of eating it every single day.