Tale of Two Cities: Shanghai - A taste of home

MALAYSIAN cuisine is gaining popularity among people living in Shanghai. The hot and spicy food that Malaysia is known for raises the country’s profile not only as a beach paradise but also as a food heaven.

Food operators who saw the potential of this unique cuisine have seized the opportunity to open Malaysian-style restaurants in the city centre and neighbourhoods resided by the international community, especially Singaporeans and Malaysians.

Patrons who have visited Malaysia before miss its food and crave for the unique dining experience it offers.

Such, is the reason Malaysian-styled restaurants or those labelled South-East Asian restaurants have become an instant hit with the locals here.

During my visits to these restaurants in this metropolis, I often observe that many Shang-hainese are daring enough to opt for hot dishes such as curry chicken, laksa, sambal belacan and nasi lemak.

However, there are still some “reserved” customers or the non-adventurous type who would rather stick to their usual Chinese dishes, available at many Malay-sian-style restaurants who offer that local touch to those unfamiliar with our cuisine.

It may take a bit longer for those who have never been to Malaysia to enjoy our food, but I am sure more locals will be enticed by Malaysian cuisine because of referrals and recommendations from Malaysians or friends and colleagues who have tried it before.

Most Shanghainese have lesser expectations of Malaysian cuisine, compared with Malaysians living and working in the city.

As a Kuala Lumpur boy, I grew up with an abundance of good food from all parts of Malaysia. Frankly speaking, at first, I was not quite used to the “modified” Malaysian food served at a few Malaysian-style restaurants run by Malaysians.

But, after a while, I have accepted the less perfect food as it needs to be adjusted to suit the taste of the locals who still make up a bigger share of the food operators’ potential market.

One thing is for sure – the Malaysian food served in Shanghai is different from those we get in Kuala Lumpur or other parts of Malaysia.

For instance, the bah kut teh here is less aromatic and pungent than that of Klang’s famous staple, with the use of white mushrooms instead of button or black mushrooms used in Malaysia.

The curry chicken here is sweeter and less spicy while the cendol is a big letdown because of the inadequate supply of fresh coconut milk in Shanghai.

“It’s different,” said Malaysian Ann Koh who followed her husband to China three and a-half years ago. “Back home our satay sauce has chunky peanuts inside and tastes sweet, but over here, it’s very gluey and salty. So, I think the taste here has been adapted to suit the locals.”

She said despite the less authentic Malaysian food here, it is still next to the best a person could get.

Karyne Yeo rated the Malaysian food here as just “so-so”. “We haven’t tried all Malaysian-style restaurants yet, but so far for those I have tried I haven't found very good Malaysian food yet. Maybe I have to explore more,” she said.

The Malaysian chefs working here admitted that the ingredients used are rather different from those back home because it is difficult to obtain such ingredients due to the lack of supply in China.

Rendezvous Restaurant master chef Tong Yeow Nam said: “We still cannot get many ingredients in Shanghai. We have to bring them from Singapore and Malaysia.

“If the Chinese chefs do not know how to make a proper Malaysian dish, I will teach and train them. I will prepare the ingredients and sauce beforehand and all they do is follow my instructions.”

He said he would have to control the food quality as there was bound to be changes to the way of cooking the dishes by the local chefs and if that happens the restaurant would not able to win the hearts of its customers.

“It’s really hard to maintain the most authentic taste of our Malaysian food here. This is because both Chinese and Malay-sians have different ways of cooking their dishes and have distinguished tastes for food,” he said.

Kampung Kitchen master chef Lee Chau Kong pointed out that Shanghainese favour salty food and he had to adjust his way of preparing Malaysian dishes to suit the locals.

He said certain ingredients such as mint and curry leaves were still scarce and expensive in Shanghai and that he would look for ingredients from certain suppliers.

“We can also use other ingredients to substitute the typical Malaysian ingredients,” he said.

Its restaurant manager, Eric Har, said: “We have modified our menu where 80% is authentic Malaysian taste and 20% is modified to suit the taste of the locals.

“But, when serving Singaporean and Malaysian customers, we will ask the chefs to prepare the dishes in a more authentic way.”

The Malaysian food here comes with a higher price tag compared with local food. On average, each dish costs between RM13 and RM25 while a glass of teh tarik may cost as much as RM7.

Apart from Malaysian-style restaurants in Shanghai, several hotels where Malaysian managers are working at also serve some ethnic South-East Asian cuisines.

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Nail that rice?

NASI Paku? Rice with nails? Yes, there is such a dish, it seems, though many people haven’t heard of it.

Nasi Paku is actually rice with several side dishes placed on a banana leaf and wrapped with a piece of newspaper. A two-inch nail is poked through the top of the wrapping to hold everything in place.

Nasi paku was very common in Kelantan some 30 years ago but now, it is rare.

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Mee goreng champions

PENANG, the much-acclaimed food haven of Malaysia, is also a paradise for halal food – if you know where to find it. Among the most popular halal fare is mee goreng (fried noodles).

This Indian Muslim-style mee goreng or formerly known as mee goreng mamak comprises yellow noodles fried with boiled potatoes, bean sprouts and squid, fried tofu and garnished with cucur udang (prawn fritters) and browned onions.

Usually, sambal is added to give it a kick. Depending on the method of preparation, the resulting noodles can be soggy or dry, with a variety of tantalising textures from the ingredients.

Mee goreng can be found in many places, and stall owners battle among themselves everyday to win more customers and more business.

Edgecumbe Road Famous Mee Goreng

In the 1960s, Padang Brown, straddling Jalan Burmah and Jalan Datuk Keramat, was a hive of nightly activity with the clang of woks and the aroma of smells drifting from tureens.

That was the original business spot of Haji Kamaluddin Muhamad Ibrahim, another “Iron Chef’ of mee goreng. Later, when the popularity of Padang Brown waned due to a change in traffic flow, he moved to Edgecumbe Road. He fine-tuned his recipe further and garnered more fans.

When Kompleks Makanan Persiaran Gurney was set up by Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang in the early 1900s, Haji Kamaluddin was among the first stalls to move in.

Today, the “Edgecumbe Road Famous Mee Goreng” attracts an impressive crowd of lunch-time customers. Its mee goreng is spicy and extremely rich in flavour. Opening hours are from 8am to 7.30pm. It closes on Fridays.

Kafeteria Larut

Arguably the best mee goreng is found in Kafeteria Larut on Jalan Larut. Started in the 1940s, the stall did a roaring business at Northam Road before shifting to its present location. It is presently run by the founder’s son, Shah Jehan, and his two brothers. A word of warning to those who don’t eat beef: Apart from the usual ingredients, the mee goreng here also contains slices of tender beef which are often mistaken for squid. This gives a stunning contrast in texture to the noodles. However, you can ask for beef to be excluded.

The noodles are fried just right, not too soft or dry, and has enough sauces to give it a zing. Apart from mee goreng, Shah Jehan also serves mee rebus with a thick gravy. Opening hours are from noon to 6pm and it’s closed on Fridays.

To get to Kafeteria Larut, drive along Jalan Burma and park at Penang Plaza. A five-minute stroll from the back entrance of the plaza will bring you to Kafeteria Larut. Alternatively, one can come from Sultan Ahmad Shah and proceed to Jalan Larut where the most convenient parking is at the Sheraton Hotel.

Jones Road Famous Mee Goreng

Another excellent mee goreng stall is in Sin Hup Aun Coffee Shop at the junction of Solok Moulmein and Jalan Pasar. Stall owner Liakat Ali, 46, says: “The stall was started by my uncle in Jones Road 40 years ago. Then my father took over the business. Five years ago, when I took over the stall, I shifted here. I have not changed my uncle’s recipe. Eat here once and you will come back again.”

Liakat Ali’s mee goreng is spicier and soggier than that of Shah Jehan’s. The secret lies in his sambal while Shah Jehan’s tour de force is in his frying technique. Liakat Ali has not changed the name of his stall and it’s still known as “Jones Road Famous Mee Goreng”. It’s opens from 7am to 7pm, and closes every Tuesday.

Parking at Sin Hup Aun Coffee Shop is quite easy as there is an open field near the Pulau Tikus Wet Market. Visitors from outstation may find it easier to park at Bellisa Row on Jalan Burma, cross the the road and take a five-minute walk to the coffee shop.

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Cooking through generations - Malaysia's Culinary Heritage

FOOD has always been a common topic of conversation for generations. It is a normal thing for Malaysians to associate food with friends and family and there is no better reason to get together than over a meal.

Being a multi-cultural society, there are a variety of recipes, and fusion dishes adapted from various cultures.

If you are as passionate about food, then you will appreciate the effort of three women who have compiled recipes and produced a cookbook to preserve traditional recipes before they are lost forever.

This cookbook, Food From the Heart: Malaysia's Culinary Heritage contains recipes contributed by renowned local men and women with snippets about the history of a specific recipe and the story or the person behind it.

These stories make the book a lively and entertaining read. This 200-page glossy cookbook offers 86 recipes, divided into starters right up to desserts.

The idea for a heritage cookery book was thought up during a birthday lunch in 2003, when Tunku Soraya Dakhlah, Joan Foo Mahony and Jacqui Chan were munching on some delicious popiahs.

"It got us thinking about all those traditional dishes handed down from generation to generation that have been taken for granted. We then decided to preserve it in a heritage cookbook," says Chan.

They eventually became editorial directors for the book. Except for Mahony, who is a retired lawyer, established author and publisher, the others did not have any publishing experience. However, this didn't curb their enthusiasm for this project.

Tunku Soraya has worked as a producer and director for various international companies and now owns an investment company, Melewar Apex Sdn Bhd. Her company and Mahony's JF Publishing Sdn Bhd have jointly formed Cross Time Matrix Sdn Bhd, which is publishing this cookbook.

Chan, a retired proprietary trader, is actively involved with fundraising projects for various charity organisations.

The amazing thing is that all three women are not trained chefs but rather food lovers who are trying to compile their favourite recipes remembered from childhood.

This cookbook explores the interconnections of Malaysian food, its people and a multicultural country that plays a major part in culinary influences, each voicing its signature dish or unique preparation methods and style.

The primary purpose is to rediscover and rewrite heritage recipes back into history.

Mahony explains, "This book is comparatively different than other cookbooks, due to the fact that it has additional interesting quotations from the people who contributed the recipes."

Among the recipes and their contributors include the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Fauziah Binti Al Marhum Tengku Abdul Rashid (Ikan Singgang), Geeta Jayabalan (Spicy Fish Briyani) and Brinjal & Prawn Salad by Datuk Tunku Mizan (in memory of his grandmother, the first Queen of Malaysia), and Chef Wan's Kerabu Meehoon, just to name a few.

The proceeds of this cookbook will be channelled to noted charities, which are The Budiman Charitable Foundation, The Salvation Army, Sri Agathiar Sanmarka Sanggam, Spastic Children's Association of Penang, Rumah Charis, House of Peace and Women's Aid Organisation.

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Nasi Padang from Sumatra to Malaysia

Minang, Nasi Padang (Padang Rice style) is probably the longest-running nasi padang stall on Penang island. Another reason for its fame is its authentic padang dishes.

The family-owned business is a stall located in a Chinese coffee-shop at Transfer Road and has been in business since the 1940s. For the uninitiated, nasi padang refers to a style of cooking that originated from Western Sumatra, Indonesia.

Down History Lane

First, here’s a bit of history about Transfer Road to whet our appetite. The area was originally inhabited by the Jawi Peranakan community. A canal linked Transfer Road to the Prangin River, allowing boats to come up to the area.

In the early 20th century, the Jawi Peranakan community moved out and was replaced by Tamil Muslims from Kadaiyanallur. However, pockets of Indo-Malay houses still remain in the area.

In 1867, when the Straits Settlement Government was transferred to the Colonial Office in Singapore, Transfer Road was so named to commemorate the occasion.

What’s Special

The signature dishes are rendang Minang, fried keli (catfish) ayam bakar (grilled chicken) and crispy fried beef lung. Ooh, the rendang Minang practically melts in your mouth! I also ate acar (pickled vegetables) and sweet potato leaves cooked in coconut milk. They provided a much-needed relief to the richness of the rendang.

For a nice kick, eat the fried keli with sambal belacan. The prawn-with-petai was also a love-at-first bite affair. The list is long, including ikan bakar (fish marinated in tamarind and grilled), cincaru sambal (horse-mackerel stuffed with sambal), sayur lodeh (mixed vegetables in coconut milk), chicken korma, tempe, etc.

Though Padang cooking is characterised by lots of chilies, lemon grass and turmeric, surprisingly, most of the dishes are not very hot.

For salad lovers, there are various types of ulam, young jackfruit, sliced cucumber and several kinds of sambal. There are also other vegetable dishes such as beansprouts in coconut gravy, brinjal in sambal and long beans fried with shrimps.

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