Nasi lemak and other Malaysian culinary treasures

NEW BEGINNINGS (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2012 - 12:00am

No trip to any part of Malaysia is complete without sampling the nasi lemak. This simple steamed rice dish with coconut milk and served with peanuts, anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, sliced cucumber and sambal (spicy chili paste) is very popular that it’s been called the national dish of Malaysia.

When Makanan Lazat, the Malaysian food festival at the Diamond Hotel, opened two Mondays ago, nasi lemak was the first thing I looked for. I was not disappointed. In fact, my gustatory membrane had an excursion at the Corniche restaurant of the hotel because many other sumptuous Malaysian dishes were being offered.

Truth is, this authentic gastronomic feast, meticulously prepared by guest Malaysian chef Cheong Yan See, the culinary head of Enderun Colleges, is available until today, for lunch and dinner.  

Chef See graduated from Les Roches in Switzerland with a Diploma in Hotel and Restaurant Management. He also earned his Certificate in Business Administration, with honors, from Washington State University. On top of his credentials, See has 20 years experience in the field of culinary arts worldwide, having worked at the Kempinskli Hotel and Traders Hotel in China and at Bahnhof Buffet SBB Basel in Switzerland. In the Philippines, he has left his signature in the many kitchens of deluxe hotels. He also underwent training at Alain Ducasse Formation in France. See warms up easily with his guests because he speaks English, Bahasa Malaysia, Cantonese, Mandarin, French and Filipino fluently.

When savoring a Malaysian fare, See says, it is best to remember that the cuisine is influenced by three cultures: Malay, Indian and Chinese. Therefore, the burst of flavors in the palate is expected. Satisfaction is guaranteed as Malaysian cuisine offers one of Asia’s finest food finds.

The curry laksa at Corniche is a delicious dish of egg noodles cooked in coconut curry broth. It is so tasty that a serving, topped with prawns and diced crabsticks, is undeniably not enough.

Tender is the meat of the snapper fish cooked in curry (kari ikan). The fish meat melts in the mouth, and it becomes more flavorful with each bite because of the herbs used in cooking it. If you like your kari ikan a little bit spicier, it will help to ask for sambal. Trust me, a slight yet sumptuous rapture will take place in your palate.

The mamak (tanguige) fish head curry is another conversation piece because of its sumptuousness. Ditto with ikan asam pedas or hasa-hasa fish in spicy tamarind gravy and the stir-fried chili clams (lala goring pedas). If you wish to stay away from the spices, the ikan kukus (steamed apahap with sour plum sauce) is suited for you.

Those who favor poultry dishes will find nasi ayam ipoh (chicken rice) and satay ayam (chicken satay) mouthwatering. The chicken kurma stew is made more mouthwatering with the hint of mint and coriander.

My BFF Christine Dayrit, who rarely eats red meat, swears by the yumminess of the dalcha kambing (lamb shank curry with lentil). The meat, devoid of acquired taste, is so soft it separates from the bone with just a slight maneuvering of the knife and fork.

The beef rendang (slowly-cooked beef stew with coconut milk) is also a favorite among Filipinos who are initiated to the Malaysian cuisine. A not very famous Malaysian dish (at least to this writer) but very tasty and delightfully appetizing is the babi masak taucheo dan balimbing or stewed spareribs with fermented soybeans, chilies and kamias.

Meat dishes are best eaten with roti. (Though I have to confess that on that day we were at Corniche, I ate my roti with condensed milk. That was already my dessert!)

Speaking of dessert, I must confess that the manga dan sago gula Melaka (sago pudding with mango and Malaccan coco caramel sauce) is to die for. The Malaysian version of halo-halo called airbatu campur is also a refreshing sweet ending to a savory meal.

Truly, Malaysian cuisine excites the palate.

(Makanan Lazat Malaysian food festival runs until today at the Diamond Hotel on Roxas Boulevard cor. Dr. J. Quintos street. For more information, call 528-3000 or 305-3000.)

(E-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. You may follow me on Twitter @bum_tenorio.

Have a blessed Sunday!)

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