The first thing you realise when landing in Kuala Lumpur is that everyone is obsessed with eating, at every turn you will see hundreds of hawker stalls selling everything from the standard fayre of rice and noodles, to the freshest fish pulled out of the water that morning. Over the next 5/6 weeks we would be travelling around Peninsular Malaysia to the island of Borneo, hoping to track down all the best local snap.
Some call Nasi Lemak Malaysia’s unofficial national dish. Everyone else calls it delicious. Nasi Lemak is a typical breakfast which can be seen on every street corner around the country. Nasi (rice) is cooked in coconut milk, then packed in to a banana leaf along with anchovies, peanuts chilli sambal and a boiled egg for good measure. This is then wrapped into intricate little parcels and picked up by passers by on their way to work. Whilst this little tasty breakfast might sound nothing like what we’re used to at home, for 4 ringgit (£0.82) its no surprise they’re normally sold out by 10am.
Another food which I’d never heard of before, the region of Sarawak in Borneo has a reputation for selling the best Laksa known to man. Almost like a cross between a Thai curry and a noodle soup, a coconut curry broth is mixed with rice, vermicelli noodles, sour tarmarimd, lemongrass, galangal, beansprouts, fiery sambal belacan (chilli shrimp paste) and topped with fresh prawns and a squeeze of lime. Laksa is eaten anytime of the day but generally as a breakfast/early lunch. At only 6 ringgit (£1.25) for a bowl of the good stuff, its bound to keep hunger locked up till lunch.
The Kelabit Highlands is an area in the middle of Malaysian Borneo only 5 miles or so from the Indonesian border of Kalimantan, and only accessible by a 16 seater plane or a long slow grueling ride through the jungle. The area is renowned for excellent home cooking and hospitality and upon our arrival to our family homestay, we were greeted by the smell of a wild boar which could be seen smoking over a small fire. After chatting with the chef/owner/hunter, I found out that every week he would pop into the jungle with his pals and a few tinnys to hunt for a wild boar which he would then cure with salt for just over a week then BBQ for his guests/family. As he could see we were very interested in what he was doing, he invited us to his back kitchen where low and behold, a full pig was sat in the kitchen sink half butchered ready to have the black hairs singed off his little pot belly and to be hung out for tea over the next week or so. Being salted and barbecued, the boar has a distinct cured meaty taste like you would find in something like a jerky/biltong however, the texture and moistness is just like slow cooked ribs – a sure Kelabit (and living on beans) favourite.
While hunting for wild food in the Borneo jungle is something every Kelabit man does on a daily basis, the area is also famous for two vegetarian options. The first of these is the Bario pineapple, a small sweeter than sweet pineapple said to be the juiciest of its kind, eaten whole, juiced or even better served along with the wild boar in a sweet yet spicy curry. No Kelabit meal would be complete without rice, and in the village of Pa’Lungan the rice here is known as the best rice in the world. The wet humid conditions and well fertilised land, means this rice is exported at 16 ringgit (£3.31) per kilo. Slightly nutty in flavour and with more of a bite than normal rice, this, teamed with the wild boar, spicy pineapple curry and a side of jungle ferns is one meal worth travelling to the middle of the jungle for.
Everyone loves chicken so there’s no surprise to see this chicken sold pretty much everywhere in Malaysia, at anytime throughout the day. Ayam (chicken) is taken, generally on the bone, then is percick’ed, percik in Malay means drizzle/splash/sprinkle, which basically means the chicken is slathered in a spicy chilli, garlic and ginger sauce mixed with coconut milk then barbecued to perfection to ensure a moist, tasty piece of meat. Generally around 4 ringgit for a piece of chicken (£0.82) with the right amount of percik sauce, this staple Malaysian stall food packs more zing than anything the Colonel can muster.
The first dessert to appear on the food blog, but as you can see by our pictures definitely not the first dessert we’ve eaten, Kek Lapis meaning striped layer cake and its truly a work of art. Kek Lapis are made by taking wheat flour, egg, prodigious quantities of butter and flavourings such as pandan leaves, blueberry or melon, then baked one layer at a time. One Kek lapis cake can contain 30 or more layers, and with each layer taking 5/6 minutes to bake, a single cake can take up to 5 hours to prepare. Taking 5 hours to make you’d wonder what all the fuss is about but once you’ve had a slice (or in our case a full cake) you’ll appreciate what the wait is for. A full cake will cost from 20 ringgit (£4.14) and could cost two, three, four times as much depending on the bakery.