When Seremban met Kelantan
A (food) love story
Each time I go to KL, my mental "must eat" list is inevitably considerably more substantial than the carry on luggage I limit myself to travelling with, and before the wheels of the plane have even begun to scrape the tanah of my beloved Malaysia, I've already mentally determined my first 10 meals or so. Two eateries that I've adored for years but never get the chance to dine at as frequently as I'd like for no reason other than the fact that I have to depend on the largesse of friends to take me there (I get hopelessly lost otherwise) are Famous Seremban Favourites (FSF) and Kesom in the unfathomable suburb that is known variously to me as Sunway Mas Commercial Centre and Aman Suria. Are they one and the same or just adjacent to each other?
I probably will never know (or care), but I do know that, despite being as different as night and day in the food they serve, FSF and Kesom have both got me in their thrall good and proper. In the same way that some get ready to dine at their favourite fine dining restaurant—a great outfit, plenty of memory in the phone camera, say—I prepare for a foray to Kesom and FSF (it's hard enough to get there, so why not kill two birds with one stone when you have the chance, for heaven's sake?) with meticulous care. That is to say, I ensure my stomach is entirely void of food, or as much as I can reasonably manage at least, and I am attired in clothing that is loose, with pants that are capacious, and have further room to expand at the waistline. That's because I know the imminent deluge of food will be unrelenting, and at a pace that will have lesser mortals cowering in fear.
Stop one: FSF, where certain rules must be obeyed in order to glean the most of your dining experience. They are: arrive early in order to a) find parking and b) secure the largest table in order to have the maximum surface area on which to place the best cuts of pork that you will be privy to if you have followed the rules. You must also give due respect to Bill, the proprietor, who is a Masters degree holder and the best man to know to pave the way for amiable future visits. You will be sorely tempted, but do not be sidetracked by side dishes. Noodles, roast pork and a trove of seductive Seremban Favourites abound, but you are there for the char siew, and the char siew alone, because it is unwaveringly the star of the show. Should you be ashamed when you ask for second and third serves? Perhaps, but that's why I forestall the burn by ordering the largest plates available the first time round.
Down the road and around the corner, Kelantanese food has a quiet but extremely efficacious ambassador in Kesom. Chef Susan is unassuming, but get acquainted with her, for she has a heart—and hands—of gold, and the food she conjures from the kitchen is nothing short of exquisite. Do not attempt to visit Kesom without ordering the nasi dagang gulai 'Raja Berangkat' with acar, boiled egg, sambal ikan, sambal belacan and keropok. The wild rice is the perfect foil for the curry, which in turn is flattered by the dulcet sweetness of the pineapple and voluptuous santan.
But that's not to say that you should eschew the nasi kerabu, for it rightfully shares top billing at Kesom. Basmati rice is first dyed with blue pea flowers, individually steamed, and then adorned with such accoutrements as acar, salted egg, shallots, four angle beans, kerisik, ulam, serunding, and sambal belacan. The resulting flavours form a perfectly juxtaposed symphony that can only be appeased by yet another heaped mouthful, and protest as my turgid belly might, I never have the will power to not order the sambal petai or the keropok lekor.
And 'ere I forget, do not make plans for dinner if you have designs on an excursion to FSF/Kesom territory, because when you finally drag yourself out of Kesom, food coma in full technicolour glory, all you can do to recover from this food fest is to lie groaning on the sofa, with only your fingers doing the walking on the remote.