Sunday, June 29, 2014

Face to Face Pan Mee

It was a Sunday evening. We had just returned from Sungei Petani and after a long tiring drive, cooking was absolutely not in our agenda. Still we had to eat. This pan mee noodle shop is in our neighbourhood. And on that weary evening, it seemed to be the most apt place to go for a simple meal.

面对面 literally means "noodle facing noodle", but a clever play of words can make it to mean "face to face". And that is the name of this shop.  It is located in the centre of Dataran Ara Damansara, in PJ. This dataran has grown to be a real busy commercial centre in Ara Damansara - with many eateries and shops, and far too many car workshops which illegally hoard parking spaces, making car parking a real nightmare on most times of the day. During lunch time on weekdays, this is not a place to be in.

We have seen and passed by this shop umpteen times but had never bothered to go in. Until that evening. Inside, it was a pleasant respite from the craziness of the locale. The atmosphere was cool and unhurried. It had simple furnishing, comfortable enough to get a quiet meal in a more sane environment.

Pan mee (板面) is the mainstay in the shop's menu. This hand made noodle is unique to Malaysia. Some people are crazy about it, so much so shops like this are now all over the Klang Valley. Not me. I can eat it, but it is not my first choice.

Besides pan mee, the shop also offer other noodles and rice dishes - even char koay teow. They also have a variety of side dishes to choose from.

Many eateries now make their patrons tick and write their orders in printed slips. I guess it saves on labour. I like the idea. I can take my time to browse the menu and select my options without anyone hovering over me to make a decision.

My choice was drink was the good old iced lemon tea. My wife's was a cold honey lemon.

On our table was a host of condiments. There were 3 types of chilli pastes and a sambal. And of course the mandatory soy sauce and pepper.

I had this bowl of dry (kon lo - ) fine pan mee. It came with a poached egg, minced pork, fried ikan bilis and a bowl of soup. It wasn't great. The texture of the noodle was rather soggy and did not have the al dente springiness. The ikan bilis was kind of stale - not totally crunchy - surprising since this was a pan mee shop and their turnover of deep fried ikan bilis should be high enough to ensure constant supply of this good crunchy favourite.

They provided a plate each of chili paste and sambal with the noodles, which were already on the table.

My wife's choice was this bowl of chicken soup mee suai (面线). I had a sip of the soup to check its flavour. Again, it was not great. The soup was kind of murky. 

This bowl of sayur manis soup we ordered was really quite unnecessary. Sayur manis or potato leaves to the Chinese, is the usual soup served with pan mee. The bowl we ordered had an egg in it. The soup was not bad. I liked the flavour of the sayur manis and the egg gave it a smoothening effect. But since my noodles came with a bowl of soup and my wife's bowl was all soup, this was rather redundant.

I thought this side dish of fried sui kow (水饺) was the best of the dishes we ordered that evening. It was piping hot when it arrived at our table. The stuffing was good and the skin was crispy. Sad, we came in for a meal, and it was this crummy side dish that I enjoyed most.

In spite of being in our neighbourhood, I don't think we will be back in this pan mee shop any time soon.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Song Kah, Sungei Petani

We were in Sungei Petani on the last weekend of the recent school holidays to visit the in-laws. Almost everybody from the extended family was there. Dinner that Saturday evening was a little problem. There were 30 odd people and nobody was prepared for do the mass cooking. So it had to eaten out.

The most convenient place to be was a home restaurant which was a short walk from my parents-in-laws' place. It was a home restaurant in every sense of the word. The place was actually a single storey semi-D house in an housing sub-urb of Sungei Petani. I don't know how they managed to set up a restaurant in this locale for it was really a nice respectable housing area. I wondered if the neighbours had complained.

I have been to Song Kah on a previous trip back to S.P. a few months ago. I did not bother to write about it then. But I found the food pretty good then. So this time around, it made it to my blog.

The restaurant is apparently managed by the family living in the house. The 2 young men who took our orders and acted as waiters looked quite alike. So I guessed they were brothers. And they were apparently quite versatile people. At a corner of the restaurant was a counter, making and selling talismans.

And if you have a problem with your computer, you could come here too.

 The drinks they served were mostly home brewed. But the chrysanthemum was far too sweet.

Dinner was rice and dishes.

The first on our table was this sambal brinjal (egg plant). It was actually very tasty. The brinjal was stir fried in a rich mixture of sambal and minced dried shrimps. It was spicy. The brinjal was were cooked and was soft and smooth.

The dark sauce pork was another credible dish. It was lean pork stir fried in a dark soy sauce. The sugar in the dish made it kind of sticky and flavourful. They added in some spices and curry leaves. The final outcome was a very pleasant dish that went wonderfully with our rice.

This was chicken in a hot plate. Below the chicken was a layer of eggs, They fried the eggs on the hot plate and poured the chicken over it. The chicken was spicy but tasted good.

The curry fish was the best of the lot. The fish very fresh and there was plenty of okra, long beans and vege. The flavour of the curry was also very nice. It must had been the curry powder or curry mix they used, for the flavour was quite unlike the ordinary curry we find in most Chinese restaurants. This was more Indian in flavour. Anyway, we were scrapping the bottom for the last spoonfuls.

The fried cabbage was very ordinary.

The final dish was the mantis prawn. It was deep fried and then stir in a mixture of tau chu (醬 - soya paste) and other spices. I felt the mantis prawn was lost in the rich mixture. I couldn't tell it was the crustacean. The flavour was good but I felt it was a waste of nice mantis to be cooked this way.

It was simple good meal. And not that terribly expensive. It gave true meaning to a home cooked meal away from home, in a home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Al Qasr Cyberjaya

Located speck in the centre of Cyberjaya, along Persiaran Multimedia is The Street Mall. It was built on the concept of a mall within a garden and is apparently very popularly for office workers during lunch time. And there were many restaurants there to cater for this need.

There were Italian, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Malay, etc.

On the Saturday evening that we were there, the place was largely empty. There was nary a soul. We strolled through deserted walkways and peered into empty restaurants. It was kind of eerie. But then, Cyberjaya is not exactly a hustle bustle type of place. If I had a restaurant and can have it filled with day time (office worker) guests, Monday to Friday, I would perhaps be quite happy. At least there would not be late nights and weekends are all mine. But don't listen to me. I am a lousy businessman.

We eventually arrived at the objective of our being there - an Arabic restaurant named Al Qasr. I believe Qasr is pronounced Kaser.

It was a charming place. It had a typical middle-eastern decor. It was bright and vibrant. My wife took this panoramic shot with my iPhone. The effect was spectacular.

This place was not as empty as the other eateries in the mall. They had a few Muslim guests that evening.

The place was operated by a team of Middle-eastern men. Our waiter said he was from Yemen. They spoke to each other in a lingo I recognised as Arabic. Even the cashier who was an old man looked foreign. But he spoke to me in perfect Malay; so I knew he was local. He said the restaurant was newly opened and was jointly owned by Arabian and Malaysian businessmen.

The menu presented us did not look new. It was worn and tattered. My wife suggested that they might had moved there from another location. Perhaps.

We started our meal with some juices. I opted for water melon. It was concentrated and sweet, and unadulterated - very refreshing.

The pita bread they served was hot from the oven. They made their own breads and are offered without charge to all guests. It was superb. I would drive 40 kilometres to this place again just for this bread. I love fresh bread. This freshly baked Arabic pita was near the pinnacle.

We shared a lentil soup. Again, the word to describe it was superb. The soup was thick and smooth. The flavour was delicious - much like a good dahl, but unspoilt by spices. The soup was served with a slice of lime. I didn't know whatever for - the soup did not need additional flavour. The crisps that accompanied the soup was also very nice. I forgot to ask the waiter what they were.

The Greek salad we ordered was just so-so. It had various diced vegetables in a sourish dressing and overwhelmed with shredded feta cheese.

The lamb kebab was delicious. It was served with french fries, some shredded salad and a cup of sour cream. They all sat on a large piece of flat bread that looked and tasted very much like our roti canai. The kebab was outstanding. One of the best kebab I ever had. The meat was tender and aromatic. Very well done indeed. My wife is no fan of mutton and beef. She does not like the gamey taste. This kebab was a little gamey. Yet my wife tolerated it and enjoyed the dish. The underlying "roti canai" was also very nice. I was tearing out the bread to wrap the meat. There were 2 wonderful types of bread and it was kind of hard to decide which to go for.

Our second entree was this "madfoon chicken". It was a quarter of grilled chicken served with a most wonderful rice. The chicken was served wrapped in a metal foil. I had to unwrap it to have this picture taken. The chicken was OK, not a wow. But the rice was fantastic. It was obviously long-grain basmati rice, cooked much like the biryani; only the flavour was much better. The rice was fluffy and had a kind of savoury sweetness. Like the fresh bread, I enjoyed the rice thoroughly.

After a hearty and most satisfying meal, I decided on some Arabic tea. I had read that the Arabs make very good tea. I was eager to try some, given that the meal so far had been very authentically Arabic.

But I was somewhat disappointed to see the Lipton label on the pot. I didn't think Lipton was in any way Arabic.

Sugar was separately served. I also read that the Arabs take their tea very sweet. To be authentic, I guessed I had to follow suit, and helped myself generously to it. The tea turned out to be very nice. There was a very pleasant strong flavour of mint in the tea. Strange. I didn't think Lipton made mint tea. I opened the lid of the pot. In it were fresh mint leaves.

The Al Qasr was a very enjoyable Arabic experience. I must return to this place. And when I do, I have to get a bigger crowd. The two of us did not get to taste much of the variety they offered. A bigger group will allow us to order more. And when I do, I may just write about it again.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Great Nature Vegetarian

We visited this vegan restaurant many months ago. The pictures were sitting in my hard drive, together with those of several other restaurants, waiting for my story to be written. Most of these "archived" makan places are not worth writing on. I reviewed them recently and decided that I could do a feature on this restaurant after all.

The Great Nature Vegertarian Restaurant is in Klang - Jalan Sungai Putus. I haven't the faintest idea where in Klang this is. But with present day GPS, Waze and other apps, getting there should not be such a big deal.

The restaurant was quite ordinary. There was nothing fanciful. They tried to - like installing this ghastly "chandelier". But it did not work.

The thing I liked about this place was the spaciousness. They did not try to squeeze in too many tables into the 2 shop lots. There was ample room. As the result, it wasn't unpleasantly noisy.

And business was not bad. Most of the tables were taken up. Somehow, Chinese vegetarian food is popular. People think it is healthy. But it may not necessarily be so. Some, cooked and fried in abundant oil, can be just as sinful.

Tucked in a corner were shelves selling vegan products. Not an uncommon feature in vegetarian places.

And some "bak chang" (肉粽glutinous rice dumplings). Was it during last year's bak chang festival? I really cannot remember.

What I can remember was that we were there for a simple meal of rice and dishes. Edwin brought us there.

We started with some honey roast pork ribs. How could I remember it was honey roast? - you may ask. Simple. Each time I take pictures of the food, I also shoot the names of the dishes in the menu. Anyway, the ribs were good. They even had bones on them - pieces of sugar cane. Clever wasn't it? At least they feel a bit like the real thing. And you can even chew on the "bones", if you like.

The crispy tofu was "home made". It was simply deep fried. The skin was crispy and the tofu inside was of course soft. The chilli sauce wasn't bad either.

I remember the curry fish as pretty authentic. The curry was tasty with a nice santan (coconut milk) flavour. The "fish" even had some fishy flavour on it - from the seaweed wrap that was the fish skin. The vegetables were plenty. It was served piping hot in a clay pot.

This was braised mixed fungi in a pumpkin. Unfortunately I do not have much impression of the dish. I did not even remember that it was a fungus dish until I referred back to my menu pics. But it looked good, didn't it?

This was a mix vege dish - the loh hon chai (羅漢斋). This was a popular Chinese vegetarian dish comprising simple vegetables, mushrooms, dried tofu and fu chuk.

Our final dish was this rather messy yam pot. In the deep fried yam basket was a stir-fried mixture of diced vegetables and mushrooms. Ordinary but not bad.

This "archived" restaurant was not a bad place at all. I wonder how it got lost in my many blog fodders. There may one or two more of such "hidden" places. When I find them, I will definitely tell you about them.