With the SEA Games in full swing in KL, Ewe Paik Leong samples the national dishes of the participant countries that are available in the Klang Valley
Malaysia: Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak Bumbung, Jalan 21/11B, Sea Park, P.J. (Pix 1695)
This stall is tucked away down the sidewalk of a corner store. The nasi lemak comprises rice with chicken drumstick, sunny-side egg, roasted nuts, anchovies, cucumber slices and sambal. A mouthful of The coconut-milk riceis fragrant; a chomp on the chicken with sambal sends a thrilling tingle to your tongue as the crispy skin crackles, giving way to a soft and moist interior. The sambal gives a jolt ofheat andspices.
Singapore: Hainanese Chicken Rice
Restoran Loke Yun, No. 158 Jalan Besar, Ampang Town (Pix 9048)
This dish is prepared with utmost care. Cooked with chicken stock, the rice grains are soft and moist, yet they remain separate. The tender chicken pieces are subtly gelatinous, while the thick bean sprouts, lightly seasoned with pepper powder, deliver crunch. The chili sauce has a ginger tang, and gives a lift to the dish.
Thailand: Pad Thai
Khrua Thai, Rooftop, Sky Park One City, Subang Jaya (Pix 9694)
Both pad thai and tom yum kung are regarded as the national dishes of The Land of Smiles. This restaurant’s pad thai is rice noodles stir-fried with tofu, egg, prawns, bean sprouts, roasted nuts and shrimps and the ensemble is punched up with tart tamarind paste.
The firm noodles deliver a multi-layered flavour. The thrill starts with the blush of tamarind, followed by the smokey crunch of roasted nuts, and finally, the moderate wallop of chili, which testifies to the kitchen’s light hand at seasoning. Chives and raw bean sprouts provide much-welcome bright spots in the dish.
Cambodia: Nam Pong
Banh Mi Tit, Jalan Metro Perdana 7, Taman Usahawan, KL (Pix 8721)
When the French colonised Cambodia, nam pong or Cambodian sandwich was born. There isn’t any Cambodian restaurant in KL that serves nom pong, but Banh Mi Tit’s ham-and-pate sandwich comes close. The snappy crust of the baguette calves easily under pressure to expose ketchup- and chili-drizzled tomatoes and cucumber slices, sprigs of coriander leaves and pate-slathered ham.
Their arrangement allows everything to be savoured in one chomp, resulting in maximum textural play – fragility of ham versus the porosity of the baguette versus the crunch of veggies -- and delightful contrasts in flavours.
Restoran Gantawin, No. 29, Lebuh Pudu, KL (Pix 9115)
Myanmar’s national dish aims to both comfort and thrill. One slurp of the thick soup makes your nostril flare from the intensity of the fishy aroma. Not surprising as catfish gives a wild, fresh flavour to the broth. The slight muddy aroma of the catfish is mellowed by the turmeric and the citrus tang of lemongrass.
The complex spices are spiked with a good portion of shrimp paste. Add to the equation slippery noodles, and the result is a luscious dish that has made Gantawin famous.
Pho Hoa, Ground Floor, The Curve, Mutiara Damansara, PJ (Pix 9700)
Pho Hoa serves Vietnamese beef noodles or pho with flank, tendon, brisket and meatball as choice of toppings.
The slithery noodles are springy and have excellent bite. The bones in the stock provide outstanding depth of flavour. Hints of star anise and clove cut through the beefy richness. Basil, mint and bean sprouts give crunch and refreshing fragrance.
Laos: Tam mak hoong
My Elephant, Jalan Sri Hartamas 8, Taman Sri Hartamas, KL (Pix 8757)
Laos’ culinary gift to the world is tam mak hoong (green papaya salad). Fret not that there’s no Laotian restaurant around. My Elephant’s green papaya salad is a very close equivalent to the Laotian counterpart. The dish is a tangle of papaya, tomato, onion and carrot strips. High notes of lemon juice and the aroma of fish sauce deliver depth. This dish ticks all the boxes: tartness, savoury fishiness, a taste of the sweet and salty, and chili heat.
Philippines: Pork Adobo
The Narra, G001 Dataran Millennium, Jalan 14/1, PJ (Pix 8903)
Adobo was recorded in 1613 by Pedro de San Buenaventura, a Franciscan priest, when he compiled a Tagalog-Spanish dictionary. Filipino restaurant, The Narra, serves pork adobo that’s absolutely nakapasarap when eaten with its near-perfect rice. The well-marinated pork pieces wade in a dark-coloured broth where peppercorn and bay leaves have lent fragrant heat to it. The meat pieces are simmered to soft fibrous tangles that give a pleasant feel. Vinegar further bolsters everything with a punch.
Indonesia: Ayam penyet
Ayam Penyet Surabaya, Jalan SG 3/19, Taman Sri Gombak, Batu Caves (Pix 0695)
This restaurant’s ayam penyet is an assemblage of smashed deep-fried chicken, tempe and veggies, and they’re partnered with sambal and dark soy sauce. The chicken has a crunchy crispy exterior -- courtesy of light batter -- and its tender meat practically comes away from the bone. Then there’s nuttiness from the tempe, fiery chili heat from the sambal and soothing warmth from the dark soy sauce. The moist rice is light and fluffy.
Sate Kajang Haji Samuri, Jalan Melati 4, Taman Melati, KL (Pix 0697)
Though ambuyat, a starch made from sago, is Brunei’s national dish, satay is also popular. Haji Samuri’s satay has few peers and is comparable to those in Brunei. Its chicken satay is grilled to a smokey chewiness and the marinade has done wonders to its flavour -- citrusy and earthy-sweet, courtesy of lemongrass and turmeric respectively.
Pictures by Ewe Paik Leong