Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kulim fish escapade

There is this quaint little restaurant somewhere near Kulim in Kedah that amazes me. It is not only a good makan place. It is an adventure by itself.

My brother-in-law in Penang told me about it. Nine of us drove there in 2 cars. He led the way and I followed behind. We drove across the Penang bridge, headed towards Kulim on the highway, passed Kulim town, and drove towards some place - I don't know where. Then we turned off the main road and after awhile found ourselves on an unpaved gravel country road.

We rocked and rattled for about 2-3 kilometers. We nearly missed a turn on the gravel road. Fortunately a signboard of a big tilapia fish pointed us to the right direction. We passed some cows, some oil palms and finally parked in a kind of forest clearing.  We got out of our cars and lo and behold, we were in a beautiful fish farm.

There are several ponds in the farm. Each one was teeming with fish. They were swimming and splashing at the surface and we could see that they were really big. There is a small fast flowing, clear water river in the midst of the ponds. Upstream of the river, we could see a small waterfall. Surrounding the ponds and the river is the lush forest. What a beautiful sight.


The restaurant is located in this environment. The scenery is pretty, but the restaurant is not. It is a wood and zinc structure with earthen floor - no cement. There are no lights, so I guess they only serve lunch. But surprisingly, several fans whirled overhead, apparently powered by a generator nearby.

The name of the place is Restoran Kolam Ikan. It has a very limited menu - 5 types of fish and 1 type of vegetable (lettuce), 1 type of drink (Chinese herbal tea) and rice. That is all. No chicken, no pork, no prawn, no crab, no tofu. Nothing else. The fish they serve come directly from the surrounding ponds. So you can imagine how fresh they are. 

We ordered 4 fish dishes, the vege, the drinks and of course rice. We wanted the 5th fish as well, but the guy said enough, too much for the nine of us.

The first dish was the Thai style tilapia. The dish did not come with too much garnishing, just some onions in the unmistakeable Thai chilli sauce. The fish was deep fried and it was so well done that the head, fins and tail were crispy and could be eaten, bones and all. The sauce was great. The good size and freshness of the fish made it such a very nice dish. It was probably the best Thai style fish I ever had.

The sultan fish was deep fried in soy sauce together with the scales. This is the first time I encounter a fish served with the scales. The scales were crispy and the flesh tender. This apparently is a house speciality. But I did not appreciate the scaly texture, however well done it was. I also thought that a such a good fish like the sultan should have been steamed rather than deep fried.

The steamed dish was a fresh water cat fish - pak sou kung. It was a big fish. We were served only half the head and belly, and the tail. It was steamed in a soy sauce with some ginger garnish over it. The belly was delightfully smooth. Because the fish was so very fresh and farmed in a pond, there was not a trace of fishy taste or muddy smell. A most enjoyable steamed fish.

The best of all was the eel. The meat of the eel was stir fried with dried chilli and onion. It was so very delicious. The eel was so fresh and tender that it practically melts in the mouth. I cannot describe the feeling. I thought the Japanese prepare their unagi very well, but this eel in Kulim beats them all - hands down. If you have to drive 300 km to Kulim to eat just one dish, this has to be it.

All in all, the fish meal in Kulim was a unforgettable experience. The pleasure of having a meal in a lush green forest, surrounded by ponds and a running river and on fish that were probably still alive when you made your order, is one that I will relish for a long long time.

The restaurant is apparently very popular. On weekends, you will have to wait for your table. The amazing thing is how people even come to know about  this place. It is located in a god forsaken forest. The guy who runs the restaurant apparently also owns the fish ponds. Still he must had been either very enterprising or very brave to start a restaurant in such a place.

If I have to drive back to the restaurant by myself, I most definitely will not get there. So I won't be able to give you any directions. I can offer a rudimentary map that is at the back of the proprietor's business card.

But forget it. Don't even try. You won't get there. If you are desperate enough, you can take a drive to Kulim and call the owner, Ah Yew. He is contactable at 013-4379606. By the way, they are closed on Mondays.

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