A few Sundays ago, a rather ancient plane served me decent satay and plunked me into a country where three civilizations have been trying to teach the others to cook for generations. And they usually get it right; Malaysia is a great place for foodies, and I had hardly had my fill on the plane.
The aircraft finally diisgorged us bang on the evening of rhe IPL final and with Kuala Lumpur strangely disinterested in cricket, even with all that fixing, we were stuck hotel room watching it on Youtube. Luckily the room service menu had Malay food; a very nice nasi lemak duly landed up on a pretty little tray, but the other item was a nicer surprise. mee mamak - official name mee goreng mamak-style – the Mamaks, it seems were Tamil Muslims who came to Malaysia centuries so this was basically Indian Chinese Malay-ishtyle.
Day Two, however, started badly. Having neglected to reset my watch for time zones, I woke up for early lunch instead of late breakfast. A short walk down the promisingly named Asian Heritage Row got me to corner bistro serving biryani to a fair crowd of lunch seekers, and who can ignore the promise of a biryani. Disappointment followed; both the mutton biryani and the accompanying lamb shank had been crushed under the weight of a heavy, heavy hand with the spices (none of that beautiful delicacy of a top-flight biryani here). It came with a “korma” a bowl of unimpressive gravy and a rather nice sweet-n-sour plum chutney that tasted very Parsi. A rojak at a mall some time later was equally lame; only a chicken claypot mildly redeemed the morning.
The night, of course, meant night market in Chinatown (or Petaling Street), and things started looking up again, foodwise. Satay still on our mind, we headed to the biggest satay stall in sight. Now we do kathi kababs in India, but here they will put anything moving on a stick – and plenty that does not move too. The spread is pretty typical for chinese street food anywhere, but the local twist came from the sauces – the expected peanut sauce, the regulation soya sauce and a rather nice chilli sauce. We ordered a bunch of grills; my favourites were the baby squid, the duck and some kind of mushroom. A grilling station caught our attention next; they called it portuguese baked fish. It turned out to be a sting ray wrapped in foil with bhindi, chillies and some kind of gravy. Unfortunately, it was less interesting what we thought, but next door was a chicken claypot rice that blew the socks off anything we had in the morning.
The formal dinner at the hotel the next night was all Malay – roti canai, murtabak, a much nicer biriyani and loads of satay prominently advertised as “Satay Kajang”. Now Satay is one of those universally popular ambassadors of all that is Malay, and it seems Kajang, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur about an hour from the city centre, is the best satay there is. By this they probably mean the classical Malay variety – marinated strips of chicken, lamb or beef on a skewer, slathered with peanut sauce. The real test of the Malay variant is really in the perfect peanut sauce – something that must be left to simmer for hours before it really packs a punch. The hotel’s version was quite good, but so was the versions in the airport, the lounge and the flight on the way back the next day. I must have had at least twenty helpings of satay in the few days I was in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s hard to stay sated with satay. Maybe I’ll make it to Kajang the next time.