Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sampling in Satun 2 : My Grand-uncle's Little Restaurant By The Highway

My mother told me of some wonderful cooking by my Grand-uncle every time she returns from Satun, and this time, on this trip, I get to see and taste what that was all about. His restaurant is located on the main highway that links Hatyai and Satun. I found out from our tour guide, or the van driver, that my Grand-uncle's restaurant is well known among the Malays of Satun and a popular stop by tourists. For those who are heading to Satun, ask to go to Restoran BangTuan, and they might just know where to head to.

My Grand-uncle, Tuan Mohammad, or Tuan Mat, is 45...although being only 3 years older than me, the family rank placed me as his grand-nephew. Fair and gentle looking, he spent the 1990s working in That restaurants across Malaysia before deciding to return to Satun and operate his own. The restaurant, like most Malay owned restaurant in Satun, is family owned. His wife and daughter and some relatives work there as well.

You can order your food from the menu, or you can have rice with already prepared dishes. I was also made to understand that he also makes noodle and fried rice dishes, but with what I was enjoying, I forgot all about it. Already prepared were the rice, Kari Merah Ikan Keli (Catfish in Red Curry), Kari Hijau Daging(Beef Green Curry), Asam Pedas Ikan Grukgruk (I have no way of translating that) and Daging Goreng Kacang Panjang (Fried Beef With Long Beans). We ordered 2 additional items:  my Grand-uncle's famous Sup Tulang (Beef bone Soup) and plain omelets.

On the subject of omelets, I was always intrigued with the way omelets are prepared in Thai food eateries. They seem to be perfectly done: crispy outside and really moist inside, and all my attempts at emulating that usually end up with either burnt, dry or uncooked inside. I did try to catch how they made it in Tuan Mat's kitchen. Surprisingly, it seemed as normal as I make it: eggs, a dash of fish sauce, stir it a bit, a generous coating of oil on a very hot wok. Strange that the oil seems to be smoking when he finally poured the eggs in, and the eggs never burnt. I guess that no matter how passionate your hobby might be at cooking, you still need to learn and practice.

As the tasting proceeds, my tongue exploded with fire and brimstone with the red curry. The spices are simple, but true to Thai influence, red cili padi was used. For those who can't get enough of cili padi in their diet, this will be a perfect dish for them. The fish was fresh and cooked to perfection. The shocker of it was when my Grand-uncle told me that he made the dish not as hot as it is supposed to be.

The green curry, on the other hand, was extremely mild. You can almost taste all the herbs and spices used in there. The beef was very tender, accompanied by the slightly bitterish taste of terung belanda. I'm not sure what terung belanda called in English though, it is usually mistaken as green peas in general.

The Asam Pedas is quite a pleasant surprise. It is as Malay as any asam pedas you might find, but with a twist. It is slightly hot, and the gravy is thicker. The Malaysian asam pedas usually uses Asam Keping or Asam Gelugor, but this Asam Pedas uses a lot of tamarind, or asam jawa. It's thicker and more sourish, but extremely pleasant to the stomach. The fish makes a perfect accompaniment to the dish.

Apart from the asam pedas, the fried beef with long beans is one of the most common dish one might find in Kedah, although not that many nowadays with the price of beef today. I remember fondly of my mum making it when I was much younger, and how it used to be in nasi campur stalls back then. Nowadays, the beef has been substituted with chicken liver or other bits to create the same dish. Tasting the fried beef with long beans really brought me to the past. The taste of the tender beef, opinions, soy-sauce and turmeric was very evident. Still, there is another twist to that, camouflaged among the long beans are slices of cili padi that might catch you by surprise. I must say that this dish is the only Kedah Malay dish that almost didn't evolve...if it weren't for the cili padi.

The piece de résistance has to be the Sup Tulang, or Beef Bone Soup. One might assume that being in Thai, it will have the smell of kaffir lime leaf, sourish with loads and loads of cili padi. Well, it doesn't. The meat was so tender and falling of the bones, with the cartilage almost melted. The taste is extremely well balanced: sweet, sour, hot and well salted. The broth is clear apart from bits of onions and cilantro. You won't find the "dusty" residue at the bottom of the bowl from the beef being boiled. I was told by Tuan Mat that the water must be boiling for quite some time first before putting any beef into it...I don't know whether that method really works, but I'll be trying it soon. The simple, clean yet rich flavors in the soup made it the only dish that everybody almost never stop eating.

To accompany our lunch, we had iced tea and coffee. Be warned, if you think your favorite mamak stall serves your drinks extra sweet, Restoran BangTuan tops that. Not to worry, there's always a jug of drinking water ready for diluting.

We spent almost 2 hours at the stall before finally leaving for the hotel. With food that simple and good, does it ever surprise anybody that we were back there again 2 days later, on the way back to Malaysia?

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