Tuesday, 11 November 2014

buah binjai (white mango)

Buah binjai, or white mango, at the Terengganu market.

We came across these potato-like fruits at Pasar Payang, the big market at Kuala Terengganu. Curious, we asked the vendors what they were. "Binjai" was the answer. How's the taste? "Sangat asam." Very sour. "Makan dengan sedikit garam, sedap." Eat with a little bit of salt, it's delicious.

Convinced, we purchased a few to try.

Over a few days it ripened further and gave off an increasingly pungent scent. My mum was not impressed by this turn of events, and we were finally persuaded to take the plunge...

Mangifera caesia, also known as: white mango, binjai, jack, wani, yaa-lam, bayuno.

So we finally peeled it, sliced it and ate it - yes, with a touch of salt, as suggested by the fruit vendor. The first bite, and a few subsequent ones, had an intense acidity that made me cringe, but then it grew on me and became more tolerable, even addictive. It has the texture of a mango, and tastes like a super-sour version of a soursop.

I'm glad that we tried this, and hope to see it again in the future so I can buy more - with a texture that lends well to blending, and such a strong, assertive flavour, I'm thinking this white mango could be pretty amazing in a mixed fruit smoothie.

Intensely tart white mango with a sprinkling of salt.

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Friday, 31 October 2014

more in terengganu: hawker food and a market

This is part two of our time in Kuala Terengganu - after we returned from our lovely stint in Redang Island.

We drove across the Sultan Mahmud bridge to Duyung island for a saunter. It is a serene and pretty place.

Duyung island.

We enjoyed more street eats.

Such as this pulut lepa, for breakfast - fish floss in sticky rice, wrapped in banana leaf, and grilled over charcoal flames.

Pulut lepa, fish floss in glutinous rice.

ABC (air batu campur), or ais kacang, the popular Malaysian shaved ice dessert with assorted beans, jelly, palm seeds, sweet corn, drizzled with syrup, and in this case also topped with ice cream...

ABC or ais kacang, a shaved ice dessert.

More keropok lekor. Can you tell it's our favourite snack around this parts? They taste different each time, too. At this stall, it's slashed and slightly hollow, which makes for greater crispiness.

Keropok lekor.

We had blood cockles with a chilli dip...

Blood cockles, which we Malaysian Chinese call see-ham, served with a chilli sauce.

And squid slathered in sambal sauce.

Squid with sambal sauce.

We also took a stroll through the big Kuala Terengganu market called Pasar Payang.

It's busy, and colourful with things like these assorted pickles...

Various assorted pickles.

And cute little dodols. This is a sweet, chewy confection made with glutinous rice flour, coconut milk, and palm sugar. The brown ones are the original plain, and the green ones are pandan. You can also get other flavours, such as durian ones.

Little dodol sweets.

Also, in case you were wondering, this is how keropok lekor looks like before they are cooked. You can buy it to boil or fry at home.

Uncooked keropok lekor.

The produce at this market were plentiful and exotic. Some I hadn't even come across before, like the tampoi fruit. This may also be referred to as ngeker.

Baccaurea macrocarpa (known here as Tampoi or Ngeker).

They also have pulasan, which is reminiscent of the rambutan, but instead of a hairy appearance, it has more solid-looking blunt spikes.

Nephelium mutabile (known here as Pulasan).

All in all, Terengganu has been a great experience, and I suspect I shall remember this segment of the trip as one that introduced me to the traditional fish snack, keropok lekor, and subsequently where I fell in love with it, as well as all the fun (and occasionally haphazard) times we had exploring this Malaysian state together - me, Simon, and my parents.

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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

kuala terengganu: laksa, keropok lekor, roti paung

Having spent quite a few days in Kuala Terengganu, I think I'm going to give it at least two posts. Here's part one, which is the food we pounced on during our first 24 hours there.

For dinner we had a special local fish snack called keropok lekor, made with fish meat and sago flour/starch, then deep fried and served with a chilli sauce.

Fried keropok lekor.

Every state in Malaysia has their own take on laksa, and in Terengganu, they have, in fact, two versions - "kuah merah" (red broth) and "kuah putih" (white broth).

The one has the rice noodles in a reddish, curry-like soup.

Terengganu laksa kuah merah (red gravy/broth).

In this one, the rice noodles are in a whitish soup, and it has a lighter taste, which I prefer.

Terengganu laksa kuah putih (white gravy/broth).

The next morning, for breakfast, we tried keropok lekor again, but this time, the fish sausage was boiled or steamed.

Steamed or boiled keropok lekor.

We also indulged in the soft, sweet and buttery "roti paung", served with extra butter and kaya on the side.

Roti paung - butter buns.

After this, we took a ferry to Pulau Redang - but we came back for more later, as you shall see!

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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

redang island adventures

Arriving at Pulau Redang...

Hello, Redang Island.

Pineapple juice.

Thank you for welcoming us with your warm weather and icy-cold fruit juices.

Mango juice.

Thank you for Teluk Dalam beach, which was like our own little piece of paradise...

Teluk Dalam beach.

Even if we had to stay alert to keep our belongings safe from lurking monkeys who like to steal.

Monkey in the jungle bordering the beach.

Thank you for the gorgeous village kittens who were so adorable...

Adorable kitten.

And so endearingly playful.

Playful kitten.

Thank you for the hospitality we received at the restaurants, such as this man who came out dancing with a fish, just because we expressed curiosity about what an "ikan ebek" was.

Man at restaurant, with a big fish - an "ikan ebek", also known as indian threadfish or diamond trevally.

Thank you for the very, very delicious keropok lekor...

Keropok lekor - local fried fish sausage.

And all the very freshly caught and cooked fish we consumed everyday.

Grilled fish wrapped in banana leaf.

And where we stayed, there wasn't much nightlife, but we had pleasant walks in the quiet of the night, and we watched strangers catch fish for their dinner...

A stranger's catch.

And we went around sighting tokay geckos, for they are very cool nocturnal creatures who don't seem to mind too much if we discreetly hang out with them.

A tokay gecko.

And thank you for letting us swim with the colourful fishes in your clear waters, I only wish I had bought an underwater camera to capture those glorious moments.

Thank you for everything, Redang Island, we had a wonderful time.

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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

a day in kuantan

Fresh local coconut.

We kicked off a trip up the Malaysian Peninsula east coast in late August, and while it's not the first time I've gone to that part of the country, I feel like I've discovered a different side to some of these places that I didn't see as a child.

Our first stop was Kuantan. Truth be told, we considered it to be more of a resting place before we continued on to our next destination, so we didn't do much, but it was certainly pleasant enough.

We happened to pass by a shop called No.1 Egg Tart King on our way to our hotel, so I popped in to get a couple of their signature egg tarts. They were actually very nice - there is a sweet, gentle whiff of fragrance that led the way as I tucked into the flaky pastry and tender custard.

A tasty egg tart.

We went for a walk along Teluk Cempedak beach. The place is absolutely swarming with monkeys! By the way, if you're planning to visit, my advice would be to just keep your distance and admire them from afar. They can get pretty aggressive - I saw a guy who only intended to share a few of his potato chips but somehow got mugged for the whole can. You have been warned. If you can avoid being caught up in the monkey business, though, they can be fun to watch.

Monkeys grooming each other at Teluk Cempedak beach.

That night, we had dinner at Hai Tian Restaurant. Our experience was slightly mixed, but really it was just one overly salty tofu dish that strayed - the two seafood dishes we had were good.

We chose to have the assam fish with "ikan kembung" - Indian mackerel. Spicy, sour, satisfying.

Assam fish with "kembung" fish, i.e. Indian mackerel.

The coconut prawn curry was impressively presented in an actual coconut. The prawns are large, and the curry gravy was quite intensely rich.

Coconut prawn curry, served in a coconut!

After dinner, we called it an early night, and slept well to prepare for the drive up to Terengganu...

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

back to the beginning: eating in klang

The night we arrived in Malaysia, my parents whisked us from the airport, back to our home in Klang, and on the way we stopped to get some takeaway fried chicken from a street stall.

Fried chicken.

Klang is where I grew up. It seems fitting, then, that my sabbatical starts here.

I had some ambitious plans for this sabbatical, but to be honest, I haven't been terribly productive since I quit my job. Still, I have been eating my way around Malaysia. On this front, at least, I've done quite well.

There are food items that had barely crossed my mind, but I instantly recalled them with affection as my parents started dishing them up to me. Jianshuizong - which literally means "alkaline water dumplings" - is one of those things. Made with glutinous rice and lye water, it may not sound all that great, but there's something about the sticky texture and the alkaline taste that is oddly alluring when paired with something sweet - sugar, syrup, or honey.

Jianshuizong - alkaline dumplings, served with honey.

Then there is chee cheong fun, rice noodle rolls with assorted goodies such as beancurd skin, fishballs and vegetables, all slathered with a savoury-sweet sauce.

Chee cheong fun.

I am also in tropical heaven. When I was in Australia, I gravitated towards cheap,local, seasonal produce, and even though I missed the tropical fruits I grew up with in Malaysia, I usually didn't fork out the money for them. Here, however, I didn't need to hold back! Mangosteens, longans, dokongs... all can be enjoyed for just a few ringgit per kilo.

Mangosteens, longans, and dokongs.

We ate out often enough, too. One of the first highlights was this deep-fried salted egg tofu dish. Here, wobbly, silken tofu is masterfully held together in a crispy salted egg batter.

Deep-fried salted egg tofu.

Then there is the place where my dad says has the best roast pork he's ever eaten. I can believe it. The tender, juicy meat is topped off with probably the most satisfyingly crunchy crackling I've ever experienced.

Roast pork.

Last but not least, Klang is famous for its bak kut teh - which literally means "meat bone tea", and here, we like having it for breakfast, a truly carnivorous start to the day. Nary a vegetable in sight, just bowls full of various cuts of pork in a rich dark broth, to go with oily plates of rice. You may opt for lean meat, or you can go for a fattier part such as the pork belly, or chew on the gelatinous skin to your heart's content with the pork leg. Or, like me, you might choose to throw yourself at the pork stomach and intestines. Don't knock it till you try it...

Bak kut teh - the offal version.

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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

an exploration: our malaysian garden

Well, we're now in Malaysia!

It has been nearly 5 years since my last visit. But home always feels like home.

The day after my return, my dad took me for a tour around our garden, complete with commentary. Some things have changed, some things stay the same. I enjoyed re-acquainting myself with the old, and discovering the new.

The first stop was the mulberry plant. Mulberry fruits are quite sour, and my parents tend to either make a fermented drink out of them, or throw a few into a mixed fruit smoothie for a nice hint of tartness.

A mulberry fruit.

Bird's eye chilli probably needs no introduction. With its fragrant, intense heat, these little chillies are a case of good things coming in small packages.

Bird's eye chilli, commonly known as cili padi in Malaysia.

We also have a kaffir lime tree. Though I had been oblivious for a long time, apparently this name has politically incorrect connotations in some parts of the world, so an alternative name is makrut lime. My mum makes an awesome salad and she often includes thinly sliced lime leaves for their sharp, distinctive flavour. I've also used it a few times in recipes that have featured on this blog, and my favourite original creation is this tofu dish.

Makrut lime (more commonly known as Kaffir lime).

Pandanus shrubs (also known as screw pine) thrive in the garden. Pandan leaves, which impart a gentle mellowness to dishes, are commonly used in various Southeast Asian desserts. Here is a simple pandan beverage you can try, if you are after something delightfully easy and thirst-quenching.

Pandan plants.

Then there's what we call Pegaga growing as ground cover. It is otherwise known as Centella or Gotu Kola and is purported to have excellent health benefits. It can be blended to make a refreshing drink, and it is also often sliced and thrown into salads.

Pegaga, aka Gotu Kola or Centella Asiatica.

Last but not least, here is the pretty blue pea flower. It has the rather cheeky scientific name of Clitoria Ternatea, referring to the flower's resemblance to a clitoris. Questionable naming conventions aside, the flower yields a gorgeous blue dye, so it is the perfect natural ingredient to colour rice for sweet glutinous rice cake desserts, as well as the savoury dish called Nasi Kerabu.

Blue/butterfly pea flower.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our garden in Malaysia - there are many more plants that I have yet to mention here, but I think I'll have to leave them for another time. I might do a post on our garden herbs in the future, once I learn more about them via my parents' wealth of knowledge, so watch this space.

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

zimari, prahran/windsor: a cretan restaurant

Warm pita bread at Zimari.

Another catch-up meal, this one from late July. By then, Simon had arrived in Melbourne, and my friend June happened to have an unshakeable craving for Greek food, specifically saganaki cheese, so I suggested the three of us make our way to Zimari (268 High St, Prahran/Windsor) for lunch.

Zimari's Facebook page describes themselves as "a modern Greek Restaurant with clean, simple flavours influenced from the Greek Island of Crete."

The decor is clean and simple, too; there is an airy feeling with the space and lots of natural light during the day.

The waitress who served us suggested that we try their assortment of dips with warm pita bread. We didn't end up ordering this, however they gave us a complimentary little sample plate anyway, which was lovely, in more ways than one. The pita was gratifyingly warm, dusted with spices and dotted with olive oil. The dips - a pretty purple beetroot dip, and a pale pink taramasalata dip (made with cured fish roe) - tasted fresh, and we happily mopped it all up.

Beetroot dip and taramasalata dip, served with warm pita.

Of course we also started with saganaki. Here, they fry it with graviera cheese, which is a specialty of Crete. It had a nice crust, texture, and the expected saltiness without being too over-the-top salty, which I appreciated.

Saganaki - grilled graviera cheese with lemon and oregano. ($12)

Their spanakopita - which boasts a homemade pastry and a filling of spinach and mizithra cheese, another famous Cretan cheese - is also delectable. 

Spanakopita - homemade pastry filled with spinach and mizithra cheese. ($9)

For something green and healthy we had the marouli salad with mixed greens, pear, dried figs and walnuts. Nothing remarkable, but fresh and pleasant.

Marouli salad - mixed greens, pear, dried figs and walnuts. ($13)

This stifado from their specials menu that day was homely and comforting - a braised beef stew cooked in red wine, tomato and shallots, served with potatoes on the side.

Stifado - beef braised in red wine and tomato salsa, shallots and oven potatoes. ($19)

We really enjoyed the tigania - pork fillets in a honeyed, herbaceous lemon-mustard-oregano glaze, so charmingly sweet and tender.

Tigania - pork fillet in a lemon, mustard and oregano glaze. ($14)

For desserts, we wandered over to the counter, where the options were explained to us. We were drawn towards the portokalopita, an orange yoghurt filo cake - something different and interesting to us. I had always associated filo pastry with crispy baked goods, but here it is soft, syrupy, and unexpectedly luscious. We went at the cake again and again with our spoons, which quickly disappeared. So glad we tried this.

Portokalopita - yoghurt, filo and orange syrup cake. ($7 by itself, $9 with ice cream)

As we paid for our food, we had a chat with the guy behind the counter, who I think is the owner. He tells us he came here from the island of Crete, Greece, and has now lived in Melbourne for about five years. I tell him that this was my first time to Zimari, and that I wished I had discovered it sooner. Next time I'm in Melbourne and craving Greek food, I know where to go.

Zimari on Urbanspoon

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