Eid in Malaysia – the nation that unite and love for food

Eid al-Fitr is to mark end of fasting month of Ramadan. It is an individual personal achievement for completion of 30 days of fasting from dawn to dusk and observing additional night prayers. A productive month indeed where mind is over matter. For moi, like ultra-running – it is hard to comprehend, but in reality it is easy to execute once in the regime. The ending is marked with compulsory Zakat al-Fitr that is a charity amount specified by local authorities given to the poor by head of the household. In UAE, this is performed at Red Crescent Dubai, Bait Al Khair Association, Al Ihsan Charity Association, Dar Al Ber Society, and Dubai Charity.

Having returned from a short trip in Malaysian to celebrate Eid with family; I’ve pulled together a round-up of food to savour, places to eat and to stay.

Firstly, this mini guide takes in perspective of the Peninsular Malaysia, not the East Malaysia with focus on area of my birthplace – Kuala Lumpur, the Greater Kuala Lumpur, and Klang Valley. (I am of mixed ancestry; Malay, Indonesia and Arab from the North and South West coast of Malaysia).
Malaysia is diverse in culinary offering from: a melting pot of ethnics (the Malay, Chinese, and Indians), other South East Asian neighbours (Thai and Indonesians), and from the heavy to light influences of colonisation (Portuguese, Dutch, and British). These are made complex further by Mamak cooking style from the Indian Muslim and the Nyonya cooking of the Chinese-Malay intermarriages. Dare I to say that due to of all these factors, Malaysian cuisines are unique and there are distinct differences between other South East Asian neighbours to some extent – an unsung hero that deserve to be renowned.

Within Malaysia itself because of the geography locations, proximity to neighbour countries, colonisation and settlements of immigrants, every state has their own way of cooking and preparing dishes that are distinguished from each other. An example is laksa (noodle soup dish) from North is totally different from laksa in the South or East. In the North itself, there are variations to laksa from Kedah state and Penang state. And yes those commercialise laksa that is famous in Sydney (my previous residence prior Dubai) is a curry base type of laksa – more of East Malaysian type.

So what is served on Eid day? Typically one should expect a carbohydrate dish like lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo), ketupat (two varieties: rice cooked in coconut leaf chequered pouch casing or triangular tube glutinous rice cooked in fan palm leave ), or nasi impit (compressed rice) which eaten together with a savoury dish like lontong (vegetable coconut milk curry), serunding (floss meat dish) or rendang (slow cooked dried dish in coconut milk and kerisik). Furthermore, there are varieties type of Eid cookies and traditional desserts like dodol (sticky sweet made from rice flour and coconut milk), bahulu (sweet eggy button shaped mini cake), or pineapple jam tart.

Enough with the Eid food, June to August is the season for tropical fruits – mainly durian ‘The King of Fruits’. As we travelled South across states and passed by local villages, red rambutans hanging from trees in abundant and roadside stalls stock the fruits fresh from orchards. Yes, SOTG satisfied her durian desire, and eaten her heart out. This stinky thorny fruit comes with flesh that is bittersweet, silky, custardy and creamy like crème brûlée or ice-cream. Beware of its high sugar content- people with diabetes should limit the consumption. As for the etiquette in eating the durian: purchase from reputable street vendor who will help to pick the best fruit and then cut open for you, use rubber gloves to eat if possible, drink lots of water to wash down (never drink coke or coffee after eating durian I was told) and never consume or bring out in closed public places. Click here for SOTG’s first video on Instagram of durian adventure.

To fully appreciate and experience Malaysian’s love for food, one has to head off the beaten track. Eating out in Malaysia is a lifestyle, just like any Asian cities it can be enjoyed at hawker stalls, street vendors and night markets which offer better local specialties. However, during Eid holiday period these are hard to come by as these vendors need a break too! After a day or 2 of festive Eid foods consumption, the usual foods come into play – roti canai (fluffy pastry flatbread or flying bread), teh tarik (stretched frothed milk tea) and nasi lemak (rice dish cooked in coconut milk served with sambal and various condiments) for breakfast are back on top on the list. (I laced up for a quick run on day 2 of Eid – how could not I after all the indulgence?)

The easiest place and yet authentic to enjoy the Malaysian cuisine during holiday period is at the Rest & Relaxation along the express way or highway or in the local shopping malls. In the mall, most kind of food from every states of Malaysia can be found under one roof without the need to travel far – usually in food-courts or specialise restaurants. As example, thirst quenching drink – the Penang famous Teochew cendol (rice flour jelly in coconut milk and palm sugar) can be found at 101 City Mall in Putra Jaya, Kuala Lumpur. SOTG first visit at Mid Valley Megamall brought to a discovery of putu piring (a round steamed rice cake filled with melted palm sugar in the shape of plate served with salted grated coconut) – check out the video of putu piring making here.

Here are some recommendation for places to eat:
Restoran ZK–people queue up for the famous fish head curry in Kampung Attap Road. Zabarullah K, the owner cooks the curry himself daily. Shop ready to take customers at 11am. The curry attracts expat Malaysians as far as UK who pack the curry into container to takeaway with them.
Restoran Tom Yam Kung–authentic Thai cooked by chef imported from Thai (2 locations in Putra Jaya).I’ve not tried and tasted but come foodie recommended.
Imperial Chakri Palace-a Thai place in Suria KLCC where the signature kadok leaves roll is must have for appetizer. Crispy fried garoupa cooked to perfection and stir fried squid with salted egg gravy came in a velvety sauce melted in mouth.
Restoran Wong Solo-a literal translation of ‘people of Solo’, is famous for grilled chicken with sambal (chilli based sauce) and other dishes like: eggplant in sambal, fried catfish, tempeh goreng ikan bilis (fermented soy beans patty with anchovies), kangkung goreng belacan (stir fried water spinach or morning glory with shrimp paste) and sambal udang petai (prawn chilli paste with bitter stink bean)-to name a few. This authentic Javanese chains has 4 outlets in Klang Valley and Selangor.
Restoran Rebung– for traditional and satisfying Malay food co-owned by a celebrity chef and Malaysian first astronaut, this joint offers a wide variety dishes of lunch and dinner buffet – a good one-stop-taste under one roof for savoury (rice and noodle), condiments, desserts (sago gula Melaka – pearl shaped starch with palm sugar in coconut milk and ais kacang-shaved ice with numerous toppings). À la carte carte is served for dinner.
Belanga Cafe–modern comfortable setting in Mid-Valley Megamall famous for East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia delights with signature dishes like nasi dagang (rice steamed in coconut milk and fenugerek seeds, fish curry and extra ingredients such as hard-boiled egg and vegetable pickles) which is served on Eid day in Kelantan and Terengganu state, nasi kerabu (blue-coloured rice eaten with roasted coconut, grilled chicken, crackers, pickles, other salads, and fermented anchovy sauce) and nasi ulam (steamed rice dish mixed with various herbs, salted egg, grilled chicken and crackers) as well as variety of local desserts. Also serve nasi tumpang (multi-layered rice alternating with sambal, serunding, curry and egg in banana leaf cone) and laksam (white rolls of noodles in a blended flesh of fish broth with creamy coconut milk curry).
• For award winning fine cuisine – Bijan and Enak are among the top Malay fine-dining restaurants in KL (I’ve not tried and tasted but come foodie recommended).

Kuala Lumpur is never short of international chained hotels, cool and chic boutiques stay. Here are SOTG’s favourite:
JW Mariot – situated in the Golden Triangle, this hotel has direct access to Starhill Gallery Mall. A great choice for travellers interested in shopping and local food.
Villa Samadhi – Standing in a fine garden, this boutique property is set in an Asian style architecture in a quiet residential area. It is close to Kuala Lumpur’s most important landmarks and attractions. All of the hotel’s rooms have direct access to the lagoon pool.
Traders Hotel – this minimalist deco hotel part of Shangri-la Group offers the best panoramic view of city’s skyline with indoor pool and famous rooftop SkyBar. It offers direct covered access to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and is within walking distance to Suria KLCC Shopping Mall.

For intrepid travellers, stay at local homestay in a ‘kampung’ or traditional village surrounding. The homestay programme in Malaysia is getting popular among tourists seeking to encounter first-hand experience of local norm and culture in a serene and tranquil setting – be it on a foothill, paddy-field, by river or seaside. Learn cooking from the hosts. Here are a couple of SOTG’s favourites just outside of Kuala Lumpur city, and more here:
Kampung Pelegong Homestay–this homestay is a Komuter train away from Kuala Lumpur in state of Negeri Sembilan offers a variety of simple pleasures of life. Marvel at the rattan weaver, enjoy a good trek into the rainforest, discover cascading waterfalls and being pamper to a massage.
Firefly Villa–About 1.5 hours drive from the city, this cross between hotel and homestay is a brilliant comfortable stay and suitable for visit to firefly park. There’s a small swimming pool within its own private gated compound, fully air-conditioned and come with modern amenities.

Privilege to be surrounded with great home cooks within my families – now every visit is about refreshing the cooking lessons, rekindle taste buds and discovering new things as Malaysian food and eating-out scene not just revolve but evolve. Here are some foodie things-to-do:
• Street food tours: Simply Enak and Food Tour Malaysia organizes variety of programs on foot tours through alleys and narrow ways of Kuala Lumpur and others states too (Penang and Ipoh). Slot this at the beginning of trip in order to guide you and bring to speed on Malaysian’s food and ingredients.
• Cooking classes: LAZat Malaysian Coking Classes offers lesson in a home located in Penchala hill, a peaceful suburb just outside Kuala Lumpur city.

And now for some travel housekeeping:
We flew from Dubai by Qatar Airways– thanks to the good fare and pleasant short transit at Doha Airport. Both Emirates and Etihad offer several direct daily flight to and from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Peninsular Malaysia. It’s a seven hours and twenty minute’s flight. Malaysian Airlines also has the direct service there.

KLIA is 55km (34 miles) south of the centre, 33 minutes by KLIA express train (RM35) or 1 hour by express coach (RM10) to KL’s Sentral Station. KL Sentral is the most connected transit point in the city of Kuala Lumpur. Convenient way to travel serve the city by reliable public transportations (Light Rapid Transit, Monorail and KTM Komuter line). Excellent roading network make it convenient to hire a car or hire a metered taxi. There are also no frill airline services like Air Asia and Firefly to explore the rest of Malaysia.

Malaysia has a classic equatorial climate with high temperatures (around 30 ºC) and wet months throughout the year. Avoid Monsoon season November to February if travelling to East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia. Ideal time is between March to October to avoid the worst of the rains and there’s less humidity, or during the festival seasons – like Eids (the end Ramadan is larger foodie celebration than the Hajj one) and Chinese New Year. For moi, a visit around the marathon time or other sporting events like Ironman Malaysia in Langkawi are always on the list.

I flew back with some of traditional foodie treats and local titbits in my luggage (thanks to mum’s backyard and dad’s visit to Kedah famous’s Pekan Rabu – where previous Prime Minister was once a trader there). The taste of Malaysia coupled with similar cousin from Indonesian or Singaporean can be found at Rasa Sayang, Dapoer Kita, Betawi (in Karama, JLT and inside Emirate Tower Metro Station), and Singapore Deli. For Malaysian Chinese dishes, Noodle Bowl in Satwa is a must visit. A special mention for Cahya Café – a Malay food joint in Mankhool located within the Malaysian consulate compound offers daily menu for breakfast and lunch. For taste of roti canai and teh tarik, the food court’s Mamak corner at Yas Island’s Adnoc is another hangout though not 24-hour like back home (the Dubai corner at Mamzar is to be opened soon).

Should this mini guide is insufficient, here’s a few more features and books on Malaysia for further bedtime reading:
• A brilliant food and history resource–MalaysianFood.Net and on tropical fruits–International Tropical Fruits Network
• Another good resource from Malaysian Kitchen USA worth to look at.
• Kuala Lumpur’s five areas food trail guide (Brickfield, Jalan Alor, Kampong Bharu, Old Kuala Lumpur, and Pudu) highlighting details of must visit 7-8 outlets – KL Food Trails Guide.
• The tourism authority’s website – Visit KL and Tourism Malaysia.
• Cookbooks that exhibit the colourful of Malaysian foods –Norman Musa’s Malaysian Cookbook (UK bestseller), Christina Arokiasamy’s The Spice Merchant Daughter, award-winning chef Carol Selvarajah’s Malaysian Cooking, and celebrity Chef Wan’s The Best of Chef Wan. Chef Wan was recently at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair for cooking demonstrations.
• Amateur cooks who made nation proud on international TV series – Masterchef: Ping Coombes (winner 2014 UK) and Adam Liaw (winner Australia 2010).

Have you been? Would you share any other gems? If not, have I tempted you to visit?

As we say in Malaysia, ‘Jumpa lagi’ (See you again).