Friday, January 20, 2012

Mee Sham's Roti Dholl, And More

My wife kept telling me of a restaurant in Jalan Alor Setar-Gunung Keriang that is famed for a novelty dish called Roti Dholl. The dish is very popular there. I had no idea what it was all about, so, one nice Saturday, we decided to drive up there and sample it ourselves.

The name of the shop is Restoran Mee Sham, located at a shop house in Jalan Gunung Keriang, about 10-20 minutes drive from Alor Setar city. It occupies the whole ground floor with a choice of sitting inside or outside the shop. Parking, depending on time, is quite a cinch. It is an Indian Muslim, or Mamak restaurant, but most of the employees are Malay.

Roti Dholl, as I was told, originated when the owner of Mee Sham was operating originally behind AMBank in Jalan Putera. With the opening of the restaurant, they shifted their operations to the shophouse, while his nephew still runs the stall in Jalan Putera.

The dish is a piece (or two if you want) of roti canai, shredded, with an egg, fried sunny side up and flooded by the gravy, usually dal with a little sambal. It kinda reminded me of the Roti Bintang back in Satun, but Roti Dholl differs in the making and presentation and even the way to eat it.

At first, I do feel a bit odd having the roti, with the seasoned egg yolk flowing into the gravy. Somehow, it seems to add richness to the gravy and perhaps the best alternative to the plain Roti Telor.

Roti Dholl is available in the morning, until about 11:00am, then starts again at 4:00pm. True to the claim, Roti Dholl is extremely popular with the locals there. According to the owner, about 300 roti dholls are sold during the morning shift. There are several newspaper cuttings which displays media reports on the popularity of Roti Dholl in that area posted on the wall.

There are quite a number of choices that you can find at Mee Sham: they have Nasi Kandar or Nasi Lemak, as it is better known, Nasi Ayam and noodle dishes. I tried the Mee Rebus, while my wife had Mee Goreng.

The Mee Rebus has a rich, thick gravy, with bean sprouts, boiled egg, crunchy fritters, beef and topped with a slice of lime. The taste was excellent, you can taste the beef stock in the gravy and the portion was quite sizable. I dare say that the Mee Rebus can stand to be a fresh alternative to Mee Abu's.

The Mee Goreng too stands up to the mark, albeit being slightly sweetish.

The nasi lemak looks tempting, but by that time, all of us were full.

Scouting around the nasi lemak counter, I noticed that the curries were of old school Mamak style, with an addition of new ones. I might just return to sample these soon.

Restoran Mee Sham is located at Jalan Alor Setar-Gunung Keriang. If you are from Alor Setar heading to wards Gunung Keriang, the shop can clearly be seen on the left after passing by a Petronas station on the right.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Traditional Fresh Water Fish Dishes...In Kuala Lumpur?

Fresh water fish is really making waves nowadays. What used to be cheap, almost valueless item sold in the market 30-40 years ago are now some of the most expensive items on the menu. There are even farms breeding catfish, patin and several other types all accross the country that supply restaurants and marketplace.

On my return trip from Kuala Lumpur, I use to stop at R&R Sungai Perak for the Gulai Tempoyak Ikan Patin, which is my favorite. My friends from Perak and Pahang will criticize my choice as Kuala Kangsar has the dish and much better in taste. I did try the one in Kuala Kangsar, it was very hot so I reverted to the one at the R&R.

Most restaurants that serve kampung-style food in Alor Setar usually have catfish, either fried, grilled or in curry on their menu. It is not surprising as popular fresh water fish in Kedah is more on catfish, haruan and puyu as they were readily available in paddy fields and canals.

I must admit that I am not a fan of eating in KL. I feel that the Malay food there is severely commercialized and lost most of its authenticity. I do feel that Thai food has, in a way, overtaken Malay food in many ways, not to mention the advent of Indonesian food such Bakso and Ayam Penyek. Also, there's not many place there offers fresh water fish on their menu...of course, I could be wrong on this, so I apologize in advance.

My friend, Zaliny, during his trip to Alor Setar, promised to take me to a place that will change my perception about eating in KL. Now Zaliny and I have been friends ever since we were in Form 1 back in MRSM Balik Pulau, Pulau Pinang. Just like me, he looks for food that has is really good, with true flavors and authenticity. After completing my business, true to his words, he took my cousin and me out for dinner.

Zaliny took us to a restaurant called Restoran Samudra de Menara Tinjau, located at the Kompleks Pelancongan on the Jalan Ampang-Ulu Langat. I must say that the location is quite a change from the normal urban scenario, being on a hill, past the over-crowded lookout-point. The area is quiet, with a very big parking area. On certain days, the restaurant can be quite packed with tourists. Zaliny has contacted the proprietor in advance and ordered some items that, as I was about to find out, will shatter my perception.

I was made to understand that the cooking is Pahang style, but I understand it, Pahang and Perak's cooking is similar in so many way, only differed in certain preparations.

For dinner, Zaliny has ordered rice accompanied by these dishes:

1) Gulai Tempoyak Ikan Patin
I am so used to the version at the R&R Sungai Perak (northbound), which is quite watered-down and modified to suit the pellet of travellers. This version however, spares no quarter. The fish, caught wild, was fresh and firm, leaner as it is not too oily compared to the bred one used at the R&R. The spices were wholly complete and a lot of tempoyak is used, and as a result, the gravy is thicker and richer which we can either eat with rice or take it in like soup. The flavor of the fish is there and the gravy is sourish, slightly hot and slightly sweet, as it is supposed to be. We ate it with rice, and later, as soup. Simply irresistable.

2) Masak Lemak Ikan Baung with Rebung (Bamboo Shoots)
I am familiar with masak lemak, although I skip this dish in stalls and shops as they proproeters seem to be stingy on the coconut milk. Anyway, all the masak lemak I have tasted before never had fresh fish. The masak lemak is rich in flavor: spices, herbs, bamboo shoots, fish and coconut milk. The bamboo shoot is almost sweet, without much smell.

3) Grilled Ikan Krai
In some places in KL where they boast of Ikan Bakar, I find them disappointing. This was because of the lack of spice used, and sometimes when the spices are right, they were too stingy to dab them properly on the fish, maybe for cost purposes.

This dish, with a very healthy dose of spices and herbs, lathered richly onto the fish and grilled to perfection, is the most outstanding. I can just eat the fish without bothering for rice. The firm flesh, the jubilant smell of burnt spices on the fish adds richness to the eating experience.

4) Udang Galah Fried With Sambal Petai
Udang Galah is a species of fresh water prawn, and it is such a delicacy, especially in Kedah. Although it was abundant in Kedah, the 1980s saw its decline and the udang galah could not be found in the rivers in Kedah anymore nowadays. Back in the 1960s to mid-1970s, I had a grand-uncle who operates a stall in a kopitiam beside Masjid Zahir, selling a noodle dish simply called Mee Kakak. The name was derived from his nickname "Syed Kakak" where in Palembang, kakak means brother. To make his dish, he would go and catch udang galah himself.

Back to the Udang Galah at Restoran Samudra, the firmness of the flesh defines the freshness of the prawn. Despite the fact that the prawn was marinated with spices such as tumeric and chilli, the spices never over-powered the taste of the prawn. Combined with the traditional style dry sambal petai, it is a dish that you could not stop going back for more.

4) Ulam with Sambal Belacan and Tempoyak.
What's a Malay traditional dinner without ulam? Fresh ulam, consisting of cucumber, bitter-gourd and some other leafy green; now that perfects the feast. A dab, or more of tempoyak with your ulam and perhaps mix it with a little sambal belacan fills your moth with an explosion of taste and flavors. The tempoyak, or fermented durian has a sweet and sour taste, and a perfect combination will be with the sambal. You can just sit there, listening to the crunching sounds from everybody's mouth.

Despite having fresh water fish, I must say that none of them smells like grass. I guess they really know how to clean the fish perfectly.

Many years ago, I used to go to village areas such as Pendang and Kuala Nerang where they serve fresh water fish as kenduri dishes. They were very good, but they were not as rich as the dishes served at Restoran Samudra. I think I can safely say that these dishes are fit for kings, rich in tradition, overflowing in taste and flavor and a very tight quality control. Mind you not to burp in the car after the meal, unless you have a very strong air freshener.

Zaliny was right, I can get good food in KL, and what's more surprising, the cooking is traditional. Now how can I compete with that? In Alor Setar city, food outlets label themselves as "Kampung Style" just because they have Daging Bakar, Catfish dishes and ulam, the rest remains a fusion of almost every state in Malaysia. At Restoran Samudra, when they say traditional cooking, they really mean traditional.

If you want to try the dishes there, make a start to Restoran Samudra de Menara Tinjau located at Kompleks Pelancongan, Jalan Ampang Hulu Langat. If you're coming from Ampang, it should be on your right, you can't miss it. It is time to eat traditional.

I would suggest calling ahead to know what are the fishes available on that day, and perhaps cut back on the waiting time for the food.

Samudra d' Menara Tinjau is on Facebook, at this link 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Satun Revisited - The Star-Studded Roti Bintang

Much have been written about roti canai, and I have written about some of the favorite roti canai haunts of Alor Setar. It is not surprising, to those who have been to Thailand before, to find roti canai there, and in Satun, there is no exception.

Just like in other regions of Southern Thailand, roti canai is made by ladies. The size might differ from one place to another, and just like in Malaysia, roti canai has become the favorite comfort food in Satun, not just breakfast.

I've had roti canai during my previous visit. On this trip, again, I went to Asip's Roti Canai. It's a small coffeeshop located a few doors across the hotel. In fact, it is just 2 doors away from Kak Sofia's nasi lemak shop. The item I was hunting for on the menu? The curiously named Roti Bintang.

The method of making roti canai is similar enough to the ones here apart from the roti being made by ladies. The roti here is crispier and served with a light fish curry, along with some condensed milk and sugar. Along with your drink is usually a pot of herbal tea. For those who prefers something strong to accompany your roti, there's always cili padi.

What is Roti Bintang? It is basically roti canai dough, flattened with a hole in the center and grilled. Once one side is crispy, the roti is flipped on the other side. An egg is cracked open and placed in the center, fried along with the roti. Once ready, the roti with the sunny side up egg is plated and served. It might sound like the regular roti tampal at the mamak shop, but while roti tampal fries the whole egg, roti bintang has sunny side up eggs shaped perfectly in the middle.

I saw this item being made on my last trip to Satun, unfortunately, on my way out after breakfast. Despite waiting for 6 months to return to Satun to try the roti bintang, I couldn't figure out how this dish is eaten. Sure enough, it's good with the curry, but on the whole, eating it with soy-sauce (or salt) and white pepper seems to be the best. It tastes quite similar to toast and eggs, only the fact that you are eating it with roti canai. Spread the yolk all over the roti, sprinkle some soy sauce and pepper, and for once you can skip the curry...or in some cases, the condensed milk and sugar.

I am not sure whether the item is a major seller or one of the novelty dishes there, but it definitely shows the creativity side of the Malays there, just like the mamak shops here do.

As Satun is not really a tourist destination, Asip Roti Canai shop is not that crowded, although it does have its moments. You can find Malays, Thai and even Malaysians eating there. Sometimes I would see one or two cars with Malaysians plates parked outside the shop with families eating there. One thing that's a bit strange for us is, the shop sells only roti canai and drinks, although the shop looks so much like a kopitiam here. If you want to eat roti canai and your spouse or children wants to nasi lemak, don't worry; just order and they will run 2 doors down to Kak Sofia to order her nasi lemak, or vice versa.

One thing I must say about the roti canai at Asif's. The size of an individual roti canai is quite small. I would say that 3 pieces of Asif's roti is equivalent to 2 at the mamak shop. Size of roti canai varies from one shop to another.

I am thinking of asking Bang Mat at my regular roti canai shop in Jalan Stadium to make this roti bintang for me, one of these days. Who knows, it might just catch up.

The roti canai culture in Satun is quite weel spread. You can find a number of roti canai stalls along the streets, mostly run by Malays. Curiousity got me ordering roti telor from one of the stalls in front of the laksa shop. I must say that the lady was sharply dressed for a roti canai maker, but that is normal there. However, I realized that, unlike Asip's, most stalls selling roti canai do not serve roti with curry of any sort. To my horror, I noticed that when she finishes grilling the roti, she'll pour a dallop of sweetened condensed milk and sprinkle some sugar on top. Lucky for me, there was a man who was waiting for his order who can speak Malay. We explained that we do not want the milk and sugar and he quickly told her. I can easily tell you that it's not a spoonful of condensed milk that was spread on the roti but a few easily.

I realized that her customers really enjoyed the roti with the sweet condiments while watching football on tv. Life in Satun is indeed quite similar to Malaysia, even without mamak shops.

I do miss the roti bintang...I'm off to the roti stall and ask them to make one for me.