Thursday, September 9, 2010

Marking The End of the Ramadhan Chapter

A man with an out-of-the-state accent slammed his car horn and shouted at me as drove into my office compound and parked my car at the second entrance. It seemed that he was trying to park at the gate entrance of my office and was somehow blocked by my car. He would've blocked vehicles from coming in and/or out of the office. I guess that's what hunger does to people, if he is actually fasting, he wouldn't be doing that. Don't you think he might get equally upset if I park my car at the gate entrance of his house? Hunger and going for shopping in the chaotic situation of Alor Setar can really drive people bonkers.

Anyway, I realized that 30 days of fasting really went fast. I stopped my food business on Tuesday, and Chet's Nasi Arab stopped on Wednesday. We had a remarkable time there, tiring but satisfied. Despite cutting out pasta from my menu, we made significantly more from the sales, not to mention from the custom-made shepherd pies and milk puddings which orders I received for the first time ever. As usual, the total from the sales will all go to my son's bank account. Hey. at least one day he can say to his friends, "My dad sells kuih by the roadside every Ramadhan."

As I mentioned before, the crowd has been unusual this, despite the hues and cries of economic downturn.
Both Chet and I, for the first time, had a complete 100% sold-out this year as proof. In fact, the final week saw my stall stormed by customers and fully cleared by around 4:30-4:45pm. Most of that time, I didn't have the chance to put my hat on. This year also sees, for the first time, how this blog generated a few customers for my stall. Also, for the first time, a friend from my MRSM days, Faris, sought me out there as well. Alhamdulillah, there's so much of God's bounty, not just financially.

My kuih is just the side-show, the Nasi Arab is always the main event...and the show-stopper. Here are some pictures that depicts the every Ramadhan day scene at our stalls, mainly, Chet's Nasi Arab stall.

And with that, we would like to wish all:

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Maaf Zahir Batin
From: Syed Alfian Barakbah, Sharifah Rafita Shahab and Syed Muhammad Zulkifli

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In Ramadhan

In such a blessed month, I seem to relish Ramadhan so much. In retrospect, the fasting reminds all of us of the hardships suffered by those who are not so fortunate, and our zakat hopefully will, more or less, attempt to ease their suffering.

Despite the Ramadhan buffets offered by eateries in Alor Setar, I always opt to eat at home. Simply put, I cannot eat that much for breaking of fast. My break of fast mostly consist of water which I need to replenish after a hard and hot day of activities. So far, breaking fast at my parents saw me eating half plate of rice with something very simple, like sardine or dhalca...and 2 big glasses of pandan syrup.

My schedule gets more hectic during the Ramadhan month, my mornings to late afternoon spent finishing any tasks and/or assignment at the office, and I realy hate to finish today's assignments tomorrow. Around 4pm, my Ramadhan food-stall opens at Jalan Sultanah, and so far Alhamdulillah, sales has been very good. Late evenings are spent with the family and later making the Bengkang Susu.

I started with only 1 tray of Bengkang Susu and although a bit hesitant at first, I increased the supply to 2 trays. Alhamdulillah, so far I keep going home with empty trays. This year also saw Godam (Shepherd's Pie) and my sister's Black Pepper Beef Curry Puff totally sold out. I might just add another item to the menu or my Godam might run out of stock fast. Maybe Cornish Pie will be a good addition to it. I used to sell it about 3-4 years ago, and it was quite a hot item.

My stall was visited by somebody who happened to read this blog. Apparently she was looking for shepherd's pie, and found my blog, and from the blog, found my stall. Thank you for visiting my blog, and much thanks for visiting my stall as well.

Despite the upward trend trend in the price of milk, I still manage to sell Bengkang Susu at RM0.50 a slice. However I'm just hoping that the price will not go over RM40.00 next year, or I might have to increase the price, and if I do, it will be the first time I have to do it.

Before this week, I use to scout around the hypermarkets, looking for 2kg milk packs on promotion, but now I've decided to get them straight from the wholesaler. That actually saves time and I get to relax more with my family.

With all of that on my schedule, I never realized it has been 2 weeks of the fasting month already. National Day is just next week, and Hari Raya is 10 days after that. That's fast.

I guess that every Ramadhan makes me feel closer to my life=long dream, which is running a restaurant, not a posh elite one, just a simple eatery, with limited menu items. I might not have that courage and/or the resources to set that up, but running the food stall in Ramadhan? That is something I will always cherish.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ramadhan Food Stall, I'm Back...What, No Pasta??!

The traffic gets louder and louder, it seems, and when my cousin arrives with his big pot of Nasi Arab, there was a small traffic congestion. What am I doing? Oh yes, I’m back! My stall is open again, next to Chet’s (Syed Nasir) Nasi Arab stall.

I have to admit that I spent the past few months preparing the pies or godam, and the only difference this year is, there is no pasta, or baked macaroni with cheese. Yes, yes, I did get a surprised and sghast looks from my normal customers but what can I say? This year, I really have my hands full. This year I have to make the milk pudding (bengkang susu) as my wife is working and too tired to do it, and my sister’s schedule is as hectic as it is. So, after a day of crash course, as instructed by my wife, I did manage to produce my own bengkang susu.

There’s not much variety this year, only godam (beef shepherd’s pie), black pepper beef curry puff and bengkang susu. That’s it.

So, this Ramadhan, I’ll be in the kitchen after buka puasa to make the puddings, and in the kitchen again around 2p.m. to bake the pies, and I’ll be at the stall at 4 p.m., around the same time Chet arrives to set up his Nasi Arab Stall. We are at the same place like last year. Do drop by if you want to try something slightly different (in Alor Setar) for buka puasa.

See you there...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

One Week To Ramadan: Filling Them Up

Ramadan is drawing up fast; in about 1 week, Muslims around the world will begin the fasting month. As usual, I've been very busy preparing for my usual fasting month Ramadan food stall. This year, it will be slightly different: as my wife will be very busy with work, I will be taking over the making of Bengkang Susu (Milk Pudding), something which I've never done before. I'm still learning under my wife's extremely patient tutelage.

I won't be making much variety this year, among the usual dish will be Godam, or our own localized Shepherd's Pie. This item may seem to be the easiest but don't be fooled, it takes patience and time, just like the Bengkang Susu. Luckily, since I've been making them for the past 4 years, I can make them slightly faster...and "slightly" is the key word.

I will share here my favorite beef-based filling for the pie, not the original as it is a trade secret, but it is up to everybody's imagination and taste on how to make it an "exploding" affair on your taste-buds.

For the filling:

500grams of minced beef (If frozen, try Ramly's. I've tried others but there's too much fat)
5-6 red onions, minced or sliced
2 Cloves Garlic (Optional)
Ground pepper (preferably coarse)
Spice/Herbs (Depends on your taste, you can use soy-sauce, Worcestershire, black pepper sauce, cumin and many more)
Beef Stock 3-4 cups
1-2 Spoonful flour
3-4 Spoonful oil
1 cup Mixed Vegetables (Optional)

Add Pepper to the beef and mix.
Heat the wok and pour the cooking oil in.
Once the oil is hot enough, put in the onions and stir fry until slightly brown
Add the beef and brown it by constantly stirring. Make sure the beef is not lumped.
Once the beef is fully cooked, put in the intended spice/herb/sauce to be wok and mix it around, cook for a further 4-5 minutes.Pour in the beef stock and keep stirring.
Let the beef and stock boil for about 1-2 minutes before adding the flour to the mixture, pending how thick you want the gravy to be.
When the gravy thickens, add in the mixed vege and salt to taste.

Once the filling is ready, it is best to let it rest for the next 10-15 minutes before using them in any pie. I usually use it when it is at room temperature. You can use
for pies, curry puffs, pastry and/or even buns.

As I have mentioned before, everything is up to your own design and desire, you don't have to follow the recipe exactly as above, let your imagination run wild every now and then because you yourself will know how your food is supposed to taste.

Try it, and you know an even better way/method of doing this, please let me know as well.

Note: I never use mixed-vege, it always results in my filling doesn't last as long as I want it to be.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Malaysian Cultural Show in Hawaii...16 Years Later

Time flies, and most of the time, we have no idea how fast it would be. I spent last night looking at old photographs and an old video (converted into CD, but that didn't do justice) of my student days of Hawaii, which was from 1992 to 1994. I can hardly believed it myself, it has been 16 years since I came back, started work, got married, started my business, got a son, moved back to Alor Setar and started writing a blog.

Remembering my wild rebellious days in MRSM/MSM and the-still-rebellious-yet-refined PJ Community College days, I promised my parents, friend and myself that those days were over. I was determined to start anew, a low-profile, more academic life in Hawaii Pacific University. One year later, I was elected as the President of the newly re-formed Malaysian Students Association of Hawaii Pacific Universities...I still can't figure out who put me up to it...

Among the best memories ever of being in charge of the Malaysian Students Association is organizing CentreStage : The Malaysian Cultural Performances. The show was performed at the Ala Moana Shopping Centre, the biggest shopping mall in the Asia Pacific region at that time. The idea came about when my friend Neil and I went "lepak"ing there one day, and after lunch we saw a group of little girls from pre-school performing ballet there. I asked Neil's opinion about having a Malaysian cultural show at the CentreStage and Neil replied, "It's a good idea!" and the rest is history.

The idea was met by enthusiastic supports and pessimistic criticisms. Nay-sayers condemned the Malaysians as "what the hell are they trying to prove?" which was after the months of criticising. "this malaysian association never has any activities." Well, I proved nothing, but the Malaysian guys and girls who worked so hard have proven them wrong.

This event was 15 years before the broad-scoping concept of 1Malaysia, but the spirit of Malaysia was always around. The Malay dance group comprises of Malays, Indians and Chinese; the Chinese Dance comprised of Chinese and Kadazan Dusun, choreographed by a Malay and the Indian Dance were comprised of Indian, Chinese and Indian. Even the technical and supporting crew are balanced, well, including my best friend from Singapore, Sean. Sean was the tireless photographer who actually dazzled my attention while on stage for moving from one location to another to get the perfect shot. Even Neil's brother Dev, who was actually working in Hawaii and not a student, was involved as the official video cameraman.

After more than 6 months of training at various locations, where many minor incidents occurring, the show blasted off to an auspicious start, with Azura and I became the Masters of Ceremony. Tourism Malaysia, which were based in Los Angeles, helped us a lot by providing brochures, promotional items and even costumes for the show. The brave Malaysian guys and girls were graceful and mesmerizing. I was also informed by the management of Ala Moana Shopping Centre that the Malaysians were the first to perform on stage in the shopping mall. Not only that, I was told by the Malaysian Students Association's advisor that the Malaysians were the first group to actually have the courage to perform a cultural show in a public area outside of the university campus...and this was a time even before the "Malaysia Boleh" slogan. The campus were abuzz with the name Malaysia, and the guys and girls? They were the celebrities who pulled it off.

When my term ended at the end of 1993, I managed to witness the Malaysian cultural show becoming an annual event. I came home in December 1994, and I didn't know whether the show is still around every year or not. As one of the persons who wove the fabric to full, this is one of the memories that I cherish until the day I go.

To all of those who were part of the event, Che' Aa, Nana, Sri, Siva Kuhan, Chhui Ling, Karen, Azura, Radha, Bernard, Daryl, Renu, Sean, Dev, Nei;, Eric, Poh Lin and many many more (I also realized that I can't remember some of the names, I really apologize on that), thank you for the memories. Before I forget again, here's the video...the quality has deteriorated through time and the conversion to cd doesn't make any improvement. Enjoy.

As per requirements of Youtube, the video file was split to 5 parts:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kenduri Food With A Difference

It is the time of the year again, 2 weeks of school holidays. Cars, motorcycles and vans filling up the highways and roads, good restaurants crowded with people you don’t recognize, traffic jams outside my office…yes, the holidays have arrived, and I have piles of Invitation Cards to weddings of cousins, nephews, nieces etc. I guess that also adds to the reason why many people travel outside of Kuala Lumpur during the school holidays.

Who hasn’t been to a Malay kenduri? In Malaysia, nowadays, the kenduri has become synonymous with nasi minyak, ayam masak merah, kurma daging, dhalca and acar. I must say that will be the stereotype kenduri menu in towns and major cities. My favorite invitation is always to a kenduri in kampong areas. I remember in the 1980s, kenduris in the kampong area of Pendang means white rice, catfish curry, fried salted fish, ulam and sambal, and boy, that was a major feast.

This time, I had an invitation to a kenduri in Kuala Nerang, about 30km north of Alor Setar, and the kenduri location is about 8-10km after Kuala Nerang town itself. The kenduri itself was a grand celebration by itself: pencak silat, the traditional serunai and drums and the huge crowd. The food is really something worth braving the distance and the crowd.

The white rice, fried salted fish, roasted chicken and air asam were excellent, but behold the piece de rĂ©sistance, the Gulai Daging Batang Pisang, or Beef Curry with Banana Trunk Stem. I believe that there are those who have tasted this wonderful dish, and I know that even this dish can be found sold in certain places in Alor Setar. I’ve bought it numerous times from numerous traders, but usually end up being thrown out.

The food is prepared by the kampong people themselves; no commercialized catering food here. The curry is a bit more watery compared to the normal curries, and almost soup like, with not too much spice. The beef is fresh, and the “secret ingredient” here would be the banana tree trunk stem, which is the centre stem or fiber of the banana trunk. Once cooked, the risa is soft and the beef tender, some falling off the bone.

The banana trunk stem, or “risa” as it is known up north, must be taken from a young banana tree which has not produced any flower of fruit yet. If the risa is a from a banana tree which has produced fruit before, then it will be tasteless when it’s cooked. The risa is cooked together with the beef curry to produce the tasty, right-tasting dish which is enjoyed by the hundreds of guests throughout the kenduri.

After 2-3 kenduris in town area, this dish alone is a refreshing change from the heavy nasi minyak and ayam masak merah dishes.

As the dish is prepared by a group of people, coordinated by the head cook, early in the morning, it was quite difficult for me to figure out the process step by step. I guess this must be the kenduri food which I wouldn’t mind being invited to again and again. It is much, much, much better than the Gulai Daging Batang Pisang that is sold at the Bazaar Ramadan during the fasting season. But whatever it is, I doubt I can muster the skills of finding the right type of risa to make the curry.

I am not sure whether this curry is available at kampongs outside of Kedah, but I am sure that other kampongs in Kedah and all other states in Malaysia will have a unique recipe of their own.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Finding That Chicken Rice: A Crowing Game

Somewhere in 1990, in Kuala Lumpur, I managed to sample Hainanese Chicken Rice. This shouldn't be a surprise as, being in Malaysia, chicken rice is available everywhere. But this chicken rice stopped me in the tracks, the taste was very good. I was told that that was the authentic chicken rice, the way it was created and the way it should be.

Twenty years have passed, and being in Alor Setar, looking for that perfect Chicken Rice becomes a challenge. I understand that, for non-Muslims, it's no problem as there Chinese eating places that offer chicken rice everywhere. People in Kuala Lumpur should be lucky in this sense as there are now many halal Chinese restaurants available with this cuisine.

Chicken rice traces its origins from Hainan, China. Hainanese who came to Malaysia in the past introduced this dish and enriched the Malaysian F&B culture, although it can also be found everywhere in Thailand as well. It didn't take long before Malaysianized varieties took over and variations of the chicken rice rise to the fore. The Malays' chicken rice usually has more spices, such as cinnamon and cardamom in it. The rice also has turmeric in it. One of the major differences would be that the chicken is deep fried instead of boiled in the traditional bath. The fried chicken is usually a bit dry compared to the moist and tender boiled/steamed Hainanese style.

The chili sauce also plays a major factor. The Hainanese chicken rice usually has a mild sauce, a more potent garlic and ginger combination. The Malays have a stronger chili taste. There are also some shops that cheat by using bottled chili sauce. Nowadays, even the Chinese in Malaysia prefer the sauce to be hotter, causing their sauce to evolve erratically.

Chicken rice actually is not one of my favorite items on the menu. This actually is caused by the frustrating search for the more-original taste and style of the Hainanese chicken rice. I must say that I am not that fond of the Malay chicken rice as the chicken is dry and the sauces never work well. Of course, I am NOT saying that the Malays' chicken rice is not good as I find quite a number of Chinese eating the Malays' chicken rice, this is more on personal taste and preference.

Fate played a different game when I was at the Star Parade Alor Setar's Food Court. I usually go to Star Parade, a shopping complex in Alor Setar, when there are not many people around. My usual haunt at the food court would be the Lebanese Food. However, I was looking for something simpler and decided to head to the Nasi Ayam counter, and they somehow managed to surprise me with their dish.

The Chicken Rice tastes more Hainanese than Malay. The rice is lightly seasoned and fluffy, instead of the usual turmeric-colored, anise-seed scented one. There is a subtle taste of margarine and chicken fat along with stock in the rice. The chicken, although fried, is moist on the inside and retains the usual taste one would expect from the original chicken rice, served with pieces of cucumber, chili sauce and the chicken-stock based soy sauce. I have a feeling that the chili sauce has been modified for a sweet and hotter taste. You can easily detect the chicken stock in the soy sauce which gives it a more uplifting taste without being too salty. A bowl of simple chicken soup completes the dish.

By chance I met the stall operator, Encik Jamal. By experience, he was a chef who has been almost everywhere in Malaysia's top hotel before choosing to retire. I did ask him why chicken rice, despite all the experiences and knowledge gained throughout his years as a chef. Encik Jamal explained that he did try to sell Western food but the preparation hassle and people's acceptance in Alor Setar made him lose interest. I would have to agree. In Alor Setar, for most people (not all), Chicken Chop is considered the utmost western food. Spaghetti is to be eaten only with bolognaise (beef/mushroom with tomato paste) sauce. If you give them Angel Hair (pasta) with cream and parmesan sauce, they might just run away.

Encik Jamal explained that even his chicken rice met with certain antagonistic threats when he started his business. The original Hainanese chicken rice requires the chicken to be cooked in a vinegar based bath, once done it will be hung and chopped when it is to be served. People (mostly Malays) complained that this is not chicken rice or the chicken is not even cooked. He made changes by cooking the chicken in the bath, hung it, and when cooled, fried in oil to get the caramelized crispy skin texture that has become his own trademark.

He estimates his sales to be around 10-12 chicken per day on a normal day, and 12-15 on weekends and holidays. By now, he has regulars who have been captivated by chicken rice that differs from all Malay chicken rice in Alor Setar. Of course, I might be wrong, please correct me on this.

The bath for the chicken is a combination of white and black vinegar, along with maltose that give the chicken the crispy skin, and a light endearing taste. This is an extreme change from the usual crispy but dry and bland chicken I end up with at most chicken rice stalls.

Encik Jamal's Chicken Rice stall is located at the Food Court, which is on the 4th floor of Star Parade, Jalan Telok Wanjah, Alor Setar, Kedah. The stall is situated next to the Lebanese food. The stall starts around 10am until 6pm. A set of Chicken Rice costs around RM3.50.

I might not end up with the 100% authentic chicken rice, but the proximity in this case, is closer than before. Thinking about it, I think I found a Chicken Rice stall worth revisiting, again and again.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Early Morning Stuff...and I Mean Stuff

There's nothing like having roti canai as the first meal of the day. The hot, crispy, fluffy dough dipped with mixed curry or dhal with sambal tumis, along with a good cup of coffee. Well, health enthusiasts might not agree with me, but millions upon millions of Malaysians, in one way or another, have this on their menu at least twice a week.

Traditionally, roti canai is a breakfast delicacy, the Indian Muslim contribution to this nation of ours have been enjoyed in so many ways in different parts of the country. Those who doesn't like hot stuff in the morning opt for condensed milk; many Malaysians from the east coast (and west) prefer it with sugar while many others opt for the traditional method.

Food historians still argue over the origins of roti canai. The strongest theory suggests that roti canai originated in Penang by Indian Muslims who emulated the lavish Paratha, and resulted in the easier and friendlier roti canai, which is grilled with a little oil and ghee and eaten with the curries that they have in stock. The traditional roti canai is presented with either fish curry or mixed curry. From there, it evolved to the more lavish takes such as roti telor and murtabak. Like I said, it is a theory. With the Malays entering into roti canai making/business for decades, the sambal tumis was introduced to "spice up" the dhalca, or dhal. Today, this method is already merged by the Malays and the Mamaks in presenting their roti canai.

Roti canai has evolved from being just a breafast fare to a 24/7 fare. You can find restaurants and stalls everywhere selling this item anytime of the day. Me? Well, I'm a bit of a traditionalist, I prefer roti canai for breakfast and I still prefer it the old school way, with mix curry.

Old school roti canai? Okay, I understand that some people prefer the squared, thin roti canai, but I prefer the old, thicker, crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside roti. The size seems smaller but the wirhgt and ingredient is just the same.

Alor Setar has hundreds of roti canai stalls, operating all day or at different times of day. So far, there has been only 3 roti canai places which have caught my attention (and taste buds).

Ranking at number one will be the Roti Canai at Restoran Mee Abu. Mee Abu is a legend in
Alor Setar. the business itself was started by an Indian Muslim known as Pak Abu in the 1950s. His main business itself was making Mee Rebus. As time passes, he started adding his menu and his roti canai came about. Now there are 2 Mee Abu restaurants in Alor Setar, my favorite is the one in Jalan Sultanah, which has quite a reputation on its own. Some of its reputable customers are YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir, who at one time inquired why they never took their business to KL. Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary was one of their customers as well, along with past and present politicians from both government and opposition parties.

Mee Abu's roti canai seems smaller, but thicker. It is crispy on the outside but fluffy and moist on
the inside. Having them early in the morning is a blessing because they serve it with kuah
campur, or mix curry from their nasi lemak mamak menu. Even then, the roti canai there is good enough that you can even eat it by itself. Believe me, after having 2 pieces, I can easily skip lunch and tea.
As Mee Abu is a legend on its own, I will expand on this restaurant in an article of its own when I am done.

The second ranked will be the roti canai at Restoran KB Arca (formerly known as Restoran Pak Tuan, located at the opposite end of Restoran Mee Abu at the same row of shophouses. The person who makes the roti canai is a former employee of Mee Abu Restoran itself. As of that, he has a 95% similarity to the Mee Abu roti canai. However, his roti canai is served with dhalca with sambal tumis, which can some times be a bit too hot for my taste. All in all, his roti canai, just like Mee Abu's, is exquisite and best eaten while it's fresh of the grill. The mamak who makes the roti canai passed away a few years back, now his business is being continued by his wife and children, and trust me, the quality of the roti canai remains the same.

The third might surprise some, as this time it is made by Malays. I'm not saying that the Malays make bad roti, but it is surprising even for me that they can make old-school roti like the Mamaks. Located at Restoran Monas in Jalan PKNK or Jalan Tun Razak, these guys sell roti canai to the masses that frequent their shop from early in the morning until around 11:00am. Usually by that time, there'll be none left. The roti is crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The roti is served with a combination of dhal and sambal tumis. I do find the dhal a bit too watery but then again, at this shop, I usually eat the roti only.

The holidays witness the fame to these outlets when it is usually full and I have to find another
place to have my breakfast as well.

I must also confess that the best roti canai I had is the one I cannot buy. I have a good friend, Zaliny from Ipoh, Perak, and his mother makes what I consider the best roti as it is homemade. He usually brushes me off by saying that the roti is "biasa saja" but who can blame him? He is so used to it, I guess. Not many Malays can have a mother who makes her own roti canai at home. I'm just hoping that his wife might take over the trade as I believe that we should never let cooking skills and secrets fade away.

For those who would like to try the flavors of Alor Setar roti canai, here's a rough guide on how to get there. 

To those who knows other places with good roti canai, do contact me at

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kedah's Food Treasures - Nasi Lemak Royal Pantai Johor

I have nothing against mamak food in Penang. They have established themselves as the prominent nasi kandar producers in Malaysia. However, I must say that, after living in Penang for more than 10 years, things have taken a frightfully different turn. The emergence of the "new school" nasi kandar restaurants where they serve a dizzying array of food, ranging from local to western, may have an effect on their own nasi kandar. I am sure that many people love eating at nasi kandar Pelita, Nasmeer and many more. Their brightly lit restaurants, with a festive-like ambience and big television sets and open 24 hours daily are certainly crowd pullers.

I always prefer what people may say as "old school" mamak food. Instead of the usual roti canai with dhal gravy with sambal, I prefer the one with kuah campur (mix gravy). There's one too many choice to be made at these modern nasi kandar restaurants, I'd prefer a simple one.

Alor Setar never escaped the invasion of these modern nasi kandar restaurants. However, there is one dish that these restaurants could not match up with even until today, the Nasi Lemak.

Historically, the Malay and Chinese version of nasi lemak is made with the basic rice, coconut milk and ginger concoction, eaten with the traditional sambal tumis ikan bilis, cucumber and hard-boiled egg. The mamak nasi lemak is different as they have more herbs/scpices and less or never use santan in their rice at all. I recognize the smell of karapolay, or curry leaf, pandan, cinnamon, cloves and even serai in the rice, but nobody can confirm whether there's coconut milk is used or not. The rice is eaten with a selection of curry and meat you can choose from. What makes it even rarer is, nasi lemak is only available in Alor Setar, then and now.

In the 1970s, there were many mamak outlets with their own nasi lemak menu. With the rapid development of Alor Setar town, many old shops were torn down and these shops make way for new buildings. Many of the legendary mamak shops such as No. 36., Nasi Lemak Royal and Nasi Lemak Empire disappeared from the legends of Alor Setar's mamak cuisines. In the late 1990s, there was quite a resurgence of these nasi lemak mamak where they reappeared in numerous places.

I would say that Nasi Lemak Mamak is one of Alor Setar's treasure trove where they have been luring tourists and visitors from outside of Kedah, and even locals to visit them again and again, as it is a taste that they always remember.

Just like any restaurant, nasi lemak mamak's taste differs from one place to another. The legendary Nasi Lemak Ali at Tanjung Chalee is quite known for being very spicy, while Nasi Lemak Mi Abu has little selection for curry but heavenly. One thing in common that all of them have is, their curries are "old school." I'll try to explain this old school curry when I am done studying the cooking method of it. 

One of my favorite mamak haunt for nasi lemak will be "Nasi Lemak Royal Pantai Johor", located in Pantai Johor, about 10km from Alor Setar City, and about 500-800 meters from Istana Anak Bukit, the DYMM Tuanku Sultan Kedah's palace. There are about 4 or 5 other stalls who are selling other type of food in that area. From my observation on my nights there, I can safely say that about 75% of the patrons there go for the nasi lemak.

They have quite a spread of nice side-dishes to go with the nasi lemak. I would recommend the fried chicken. The spices which they use to marinate the chicken penetrates into the flesh and each bite is full of flavor. My selection for the night? Nasi lemak with fried chicken, lady's fingers and "kuah campur"(mixed gravy).

One thing we need to know is that, as a rule of thumb, never tell the mamak what gravy you want, always tell him "kuah campur". For this, the mamak knows which and how much of each gravy to mix into the rice. It's his personal touch that enhances the eating experience at any mamak shop.

As I was saying before, there are quite a number of side dishes. There's chicken, beef, egg, liver in different types of curries and gravy. Strangely, there's not much choice on vegetables though. There were some cucumber acar (pickle) and boiled lady's finger or ochra.

I would say that the food is quite family-friendly. It's not that hot in taste, just slightly spicy. I think maybe that's why there were a lot of families eating there that night. The rice is always hot, and there's always a line. The price is quite standard and you can choose whether you want to eat there or take out.

So, if you are in Alor Setar and looking for a place to eat, I'd recommend Nasi Lemak Royal Pantai Johor for a nice sumptuous treat. See you there.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Spaghetti With Meatball in Simple Tomato Sauce

After a long period of hesitance and delays, I feel that it is about time I get back on the road, of my blog, I mean.

As I have mentioned, one of my main hobbies is cooking. Despite getting a degree in Travel Industry Management, I never formally studied cooking. However, due to my interest and curiosity, I try to emulate and evolve methods and styles of cooking. Firstly, I used to watch my mother cook in the kitchen. She dishes out some of the best, and whose mum doesn't? Copying her cooking methods and recipes, adding to the fact that I was studying in Hawaii where I have to cook for myself, I started out with simple dishes and later on moved on as my confidence grew.

One of my favorite comfort food will be spaghetti with a simple tomato sauce. Actually, I can always substitute the spaghetti for any sort of pasta. Here's a simple recipe for Spaghetti with Meatball in Tomato Sauce:


One packet Spaghetti - cooked al-dente
1 medium onion - chopped
1/2 cup olive oil (Normal cooking oil is ok if you don't have olive oil)

A. Meatball Ingredients
500gm minced beef
1 medium sized onion (Indian or french is ok)
About 1 cup of breadcrumb (Better if you make it yourself)
Half cup of milk
Salt & Pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 egg

B. Tomato Sauce

1 can of whole tomato in juice
2 cup of Beef/Chicken Stock
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of oregano
Salt & Pepper
1 teaspoon sugar

Making Meatball

1. Combine breadcrumbs with milk. Let the breadcrumb absorb the milk. If you make your own breadcrumb from bread, skip this part.
2. Place minced beef into a bowl, mix in onion, cumin, egg, salt, pepper and the breadcrumb and mix it all together. Do not over-knead them.
3.Using your hands, divide the combined mixture and roll them into medium sized balls. You can make between 10-12 meatbals, depending on size.
4. Set them aside to rest

The Sauce

1. Combine all the ingredients into a blender and blend them all into a smooth, slightly watery paste.

Heat oil in pan/wok
When the oil is hot enough, fry the meatballs, browning both sides.
Once done, place the meatballs into a bowl/plate with a napkin to absorb the oil
With the same oil, sautee the chopped onions until soft (or slightly brown if you wish)
Pour in the blended sauce and put the meatballs back into the pan/wok.
Let the sauce simmer for the next 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened up, depending on how thick you like your sauce to be.

Place spaghetti in a bowl or on a plate, pour in the sauce and meatballs.


Note: I am not a chef or a certified gourmet/cook. My recipes will differ from professionals and definitely have no garnishings. Actually, I never believed in making food look good, i believe that we should let our ever-ready senses should do the work.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Al-Fatihah: Syed Arif bin Syed Alfandi Barakbah and to those who have passed.

Nobody can see nor guess what the future holds. There is a strange "superstition" or "thinking" in certain members of our clan who stated that, whenever one member closest to you passes away, there will be 2 more. In short, whatever they were trying to say was that when death happens in a particular clan/family, it will happen 3 times, and 3 members of that clan/family will pass away. But why would anybody believe this? I'm not the one to believe such matters. I always believe that everything that lives, passes on, in accordance to the plan and system devised by God.

In December, my 79year old aunt, Sharifah Rofeah bt Syed Salim Barakbah passed away after a battle with lung cancer. Not even one week later, another uncle who was also my primary school teacher, Syed Faisol Barakbah, passed away. I must say that the most tragic news received was when we lost 2 cousins, Sharifah Hasanah Al-Junid and her sister, Rafeel(their mother is one of our aunts) in the horrifying Sani Express double decker bus accident in Perak which also claimed 8 other lives.

It was on the 23rd of January 2010, I was cooking while at the same time listening to the news when i received a call from my sister in law, Suraya Yaakob. She was frantic and near-hysterical and I couldn't understand much of what she said, but the last part was clear when she said, "Arif meninggal."

The news floored my wife and me. As my brother was still at the hospital arranging for his son's body to be released, I had the arduous task of informing my father, mother and sister of this news. No matter how the news is, we accepted the fact Syed Arif has passed away. It seemed that Arif had an accident on the morning of the same day and was only known somewhere in the evening. He had cycled to his friend's house and was hit while on his way back. The scene was about 1-1.5km away from his house, on the notorious Jalan Kuala Kedah which is always busy and dangerous. The police and hospital did notify the public for assistance in identifying him through Radio Alor Setar.

Syed Arif is the second son of my brother, Syed Alfandi Barakbah and his wife, Suraya Yaakob. Suraya is the Assemblywoman for Sungai Tiang, under the parliamentary of Pendang. Arif seems to be more like the father, usually shying away from people apart from his friends and quiet as well.

Guests flooded my brother's house since 9pm, and I was making calls andreceiving calls from relatives, friends and individuals who were inquiring. The body arrived at the house somewhere around 10pm, along with my brother. Suraya arrived about 15-20 minutes late. Both of them, understandably, thoroughly distraught.

The funeral process proceeded well amidst the sadness in the atmosphere. The body was brought for prayers at Masjid Aman at Jalan Kuala Kedah and was later brought to the Kawasan Perkuburan Islam Kompleks Al-Bukhary and was laid to rest at 11:30am. Among the dignitaries who attended were the DYMM Sultan and Sultanah of Kedah and Tengku Intan Safinaz. Also present was the Menteri Besar of Kedah and (I think) several state assemblymen.

I spent the whole night thinking about the incident and how my son is growing up, being over-active, scheming to get his way through. Just like any boys, he loved cycling. I live in a housing area which is not that far from the main road, which also connects the Alor Setar Utra-Selatan highway exits and the road to and from Perlis. It is horrendously busy. There is always that fine line between controlling my son and letting go. I am just hoping that he might just learn from what had happened.

Alfandi and Suraya still have Afiq, their eldest son and Aiman, the youngest. I only have a son. Some people never understand why I can be a bit overprotective.

Ucapan takziah kepada Syed Alfandi Barakbah dan Suraya Yaakob. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat ke atas Allahyarham Syed Arif.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Road So Far...Am I That Far?

Believe it or not, my son's finally in Standard One! Yes, I find it hard to believe that 7 years have passed by...which also explains the lack of hair on my head nowadays.We registered him for the Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Taman Rakyat, Alor Setar, Kedah. It is one of the top 2 schools in Alor Setar...or is it in Kedah? It seems that the Taman Rakyat school competes with Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Taman Uda for the top spot in UPSR results. Last year, it was Taman Rakyat, and this year, it's Taman Uda.

Anyway, after 2 years of preparations, such as kindergarten, pre-school, headaches and hypertensions, we managed to get our son to the basic education...yes, the one he'll be doing for the next 15 years or so.

I was at the school this morning, checking out the usual hurly burly concerned parents who came to make sure their children's entry into the school system goes well as planned. There weren't any crying this morning as I'm sure pre-school has prepared them for it. It's nice to see the change: no more children feeling hard to let go their parents when they go to class for their first time...although i did notice that there were some parents who find it hard to let go. Anywhooo, my son's day started with an assembly and a speech by the Headmaster. I find him quite interesting as he reminds me of my Principal back in MRSM Balik Pulau. Yes, they tend to talk on and on and on. The difference is, nobody really knew what my Principal was really babbling about back then. One of the basic similarity they held is, when they say, "To end this,..." that means another 10-15minutes minimum.

My son seems to be happy, and he didn't really want me around. I don't interact much with him at school, I just stayed on the sides, watching until recess, after which I left for office before coming back to fetch him around 1:15pm.

A groundbreaking day for a late parent like me, but like I always do, treat it as another day. I pray my son will be a good student and grow up wise and intelligent to chase his dreams. My wife? I think she's slightly over-excited as I saw her clicking pictures away early this morning of my son in the uniform.