Merdeka Flavours – Food That Defines Malaysia (Part 1)

The hunt for unique yet traditional Malaysian flavours presents a conundrum of sorts. While everybody yearns for flavours capable of rekindling fond childhood memories, authenticity of years gone by is becoming increasingly difficult to find. At the same time, the food industry is becoming more and more streamlined and SOPs driven. It might seem like a contradiction, but it is when the society progresses that traditional dishes become highly sought-after. To discover the flavors that represent Malaysia, there was a thought that surfaced: that one should expand one’s food trail from the northernmost town to the southernmost border of the peninsula, as to be fully inclusive. It this series, we take a closer look at the iconic foods from different states to find out the different cuisines each region has to offer. We offer here 32 must-eats from different locations spanning from North to South along the Malaysian Peninsular, which we believe will induce recollections of original flavours and at the same time inspire new taste buds. We basically chose these premises based on three main criteria: Quality, Originality and Authenticity. Whether this pursuit takes you back across town or across the country food is the perfect incentive for a Merdeka Holiday road trip.


1. Ah Beng’s Laksa, Perlis

Ah Beng’s laksa is a typical small-town hawker shop: makeshift aluminum tables, stall owners who wear shorts at all times, flower-patterned-glass plates stacked in a corner. But the laksa is definitely of a higher level, made from a thinner rice laksa noodle and served with choice of “asam” or “lemak” broth, generously topped with slices of red onion and lots of mint leaves. Unlike its Penang counterpart, Ah Beng’s laksa boasts nuances of Southern Thai influence, as fresh coconut cream is added to the “asam” broth, which inadvertently adds a distinctive but not overpowering richness to the otherwise sour broth, making this a unique version in its own right.

Address: Food Stall at Roundabout, Jalan Bukit Lagi, Kangar, Perlis. | Opens daily from 1pm – 6pm, closes on Monday.




2. D’ Adna Laksa House (Kak Chah Laksa Beras Asli), Perlis

With each state serving a laksa of its own one might think that the differences would not stand out but blend into a haze of piquancy. Thankfully that has not proven true in our survey of the northern states. The Perlis laksa of D’ Adna Laksa House volunteers yet even more exceptional elements, which make it inherently unique. Kak Chah’s handmade rice noodles are superb and could be a meal even on their own. They are hearty and substantial; exemplifying what the Italians call ‘al dente’ or ‘to the tooth,’ firm but not hard as you bite down. The garnishing plays a terrific role in making this dish stand on its own. With yolk from the hard-boiled egg dissolving in the hot soup, and the celery leaves giving off their own crisp zest, the fish base can be savoured in new ways. As you eat, take a guess at their secret ingredient. Our lips are sealed.

Address: No. 41, Jalan Serawak, Taman Bukit Kubu Jaya, 02000 Kuala Perlis, Perlis. | Opens daily from 10am – 7pm, closes on Wednesday.




3. Indonesia Curry Rice (Non-Halal), Perlis

There is no shortfall of lunch-hour worthy foodcourts sprinkled throughout the little Kangar town, from family-run hawker joints to economical stir-fry eateries, but few offer quite the same display of offbeat selections as Nasi Kari Indonesia, a famous curry rice stall founded by the deceased father (popularly known as “Ah Hua” by many Kangarians) of the current owner. Its name tells us that the dishes are inspired by the flavors of Indonesia, which according to many locals, are recipes created by the wife of the founder himself; the lady who started this remarkable fusion of Malay, Thai and Indonesian curry. Almost all dishes are powerfully spiced, intricately flavored and extremely addictive. From the fiery wild boar curry to the lean hunks of tender kampong chicken thighs lounging in the mellower turmeric chilli gravy, almost everything served here is one of its kind. Sitting in the corner of a coffee shop, this humble stall has been serving lunch to hungry locals for over twenty years now, with people still queuing up daily for their food.

Address: No. 5, Jalan Kangar, Taman Mutiara, 01000 Kangar, Perlis. | Opens daily from 9am – 2pm, closes on Thursday.




4. Hai Thien Seafood Restaurant, Perlis

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As the name implies, Hai Thien literally translates to ocean and heaven; in fact, this land bound outlet is the reincarnated version of the original restaurant that was located at the nearby beach, with a dining platform which extended out over the sea. For over 30 years, Haitian Seafood restaurant in Kuala Perlis has offered some of the freshest seafood meals with 1990’s charm that appeals to a crowd of local and neighboring state regulars. A standard repertoire of orders includes their signature deep-fried battered squids, usually proffered on a stainless plate, its delicate texture somewhat complemented by tangy and sweet Thai style mango kerabu. Another must-have is their classical Teochew-style steamed grouper and Singapore-style fried meehoon. Fans of the old establishment will be glad that nothing has changed beyond the ambience. The menu, which has always been a mixture of local and Southern Thai remains pretty much unchanged.

Address: Jalan Jeti Baru, 02000 Kuala Perlis, Perlis. | Opens daily from 5.30pm – 11.45pm.




5. Gulai 7 Kawah, Alor Setar

Deep in the heart of Kedah, there is a nondescript sort of roadside stop. At least, that’s what one assumes driving past, en route to Gunung Keriang. But it is when one stops, that one realises it is the means to a feast. Gulai 7 Kawah boasts plentiful seating, likely necessary given its proclivity to produce authentic northern fare – curries that boast spice and flavour, cooked using game meats that one would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Large woks filled with the likes of venison, local turkey, goat, duck, kampong chicken, and beef curry stand in a row over fire pits, bringing to mind primeval feasts of old. When in season, the seven-curry line-up is completed with Porcupine curry – certainly something to try if you’re up to the challenge. And that’s not all. The establishment also serves roast meats, venison and chicken, which are glazed with fragrant sweet sauces reminiscent of the North. All this, coupled with mounds of fresh ulam greens and various accompaniments to complete the meal, soups and all, essentially ensures that Gulai 7 Kawah is an experience not to be missed for all travelling foodies.

Address: Jalan Gunung Perak 9, Taman Gunung Perak VI, Alor Setar, Kedah. | Opens daily, closes on Friday.




6. Zakaria Laksa Teluk Kechai, Alor Setar

Complete with tablecloth and a cool breeze, Zakaria Laksa is distinct in ambiance as well as cuisine. At first glance this laksa might look much like any other. It has the usual ingredients and the rice noodles typical to Kedah. Things look rather predictable until you spot the spoonful of something orange on the side. You have to taste it to believe it, but that something orange is a mixture of sambal and santan. These two seldom-combined ingredients make this dish the rare prize that it is. The sambal gives a slight sharpness and spice which is smoothed-out by the santan. It’s faint sourness is palatable, tempting one to have another bowl. Be sure, though, to leave room for the ais batu campur which is refreshing and distinct in its own right.

Address: 250, Jalan Kuala Kedah, Teluk Kechai, 06600 Alor Setar, Kedah. | Opens daily from 12pm – 10pm.




7. Restoran Mee Abu, Alor Setar

Even at odd hours of the day you can find a steady flow of customers seeking out the mee rebus and mee goreng of Restoran Mee Abu. Today Hj Seeni Mohamad operates this local favorite. Sixteen years ago his father’s uncle Abu hung the trademark green and pink signboard and started cooking. Here you will find many from all races digging into mountains of steaming noodles, which are unique in both taste and texture. The broth of the mee rebus is subtly sweet and sour, while the mee goreng zings with an edge of spice. Here they don’t skimp on the goodies, surprising the regular mamak-goer with generous amounts of deep-fried fritters, beancurd, bean sprouts, and fried shallots. Mee Abu is a step up compared to other mamaks with its diligence to offer indulgent portions of quality ingredients.

Address: 2968-R, Jalan Sultanah, 05350 Alor Setar, Kedah. | Opens daily 7am – 9pm, closes on Friday.




8. Nasi Lemak Haji Ali, Alor Setar

A perfect melding of two cultures, Nasi Lemak Haji Ali will impress even the most eminent, such as the Sultan of Kedah. Having begun just one year after Malaysia’s independence Haji Ali has created something never before seen. The nasi lemak is cooked using the Malay method, but it’s not served with the usual sambal, fried anchovies, and peanuts. Try to imagine nasi lemak, at a mamak, with as many as 43 dishes to choose from! Each dish is composed using top quality spices direct from India. The seasoning hits in waves and every part of your tongue will know, this is a standard of quality that isn’t seen everyday. In its beginnings only a few dishes were offered, but as time went on more and more were added to their number. One thing is for sure –  here you are spoiled for choice, and no matter what you choose you can’t go wrong.

Address: 1160A, Jalan Seberang Perak, 05100 Alor Setar, Kedah. | Opens daily from 4.30pm – 2.30am.




9. Wantan Mee – Under the Mengkudu Flyover (Non-Halal), Alor Setar

As the name implies, this family run wantan mee store is located below a flyover, and is operated within a family house, the wantan noodle served here is very typical of the Northern version, where the noodle is white in color due to lesser dark sauce being used. Though the focus is on wantan noodle, but the crowd puller dishes are actually the char siu(BBQ pork) and poached chicken. We have been told that the char siu is possibly the best roast pork ever made in the entire Northern regions with some even claimed to be the best in Malaysia, well, to be honest, the char siu is very well marinated and roasted to perfection, meaning it will melt just nice in your mouth. The poached chicken is another must try dish; soft,  smooth, tender and flavoured with garlic oil and home-made sauce. The house is actually situated along Jalan Alor Mengkudu but will be a challenge to locate it for non-locals. One needs to make a U-turn before the flyover heading to McDonalds at Jalan Alor Mengkudu.

Address: Stall 1001B, Bee Bee Park, Jalan Alor Mengkudu, Alor Setar. | Opens daily from 7pm – 11.30pm, closes on Saturday.




10. Tan Jetty Thai Food (Non Halal), Penang

One of Penang’s hidden treasures, this Southern Thai food restaurant does humble origins proud. Given its proximity to the Northernmost Southeast Asian nations, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the food to be found at this establishment is authentic as they come. Tan Jetty Thai Food combines the ambience of a fishing village, complete with the salty sea breeze with food that is the very embodiment of Southern Thailand. Tom yam is a must, of course – and theirs is rich with taste and aroma, like a sweet, herby, spicy Siamese prawn bisque. It’s delicious, particularly when coupled with a variety of other Thai-influenced flavours. Chillies and basil feature prominently in the menu, lending fire and flavour, which, when had in conjunction with an ice-cold beer or fresh coconut, is nothing short of a feast.

Address: 56A, Pengkalan Weld, George Town, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang. | Opens daily from 11am – 2pm, 5pm – 10pm, closes on Tuesday.




11. Sri Ananda Bahwan, Penang

Indian food in Penang is quite commonly found – especially in the Little India district, as is to be expected. Yet there are a few shining stars that more than stand out in the crowd, and Anandabhawans is one of them. If authentic South Indian cuisine is your beat, get ready to dance, because Anandabhawans does it, and does it good. With outlets in Tanjung Bungah, and two in Little India – one specially catered towards vegetarian diners, the Anandabhawans name is one that is fast gaining traction in Penang. With a wide array of foods that do India’s many herbs and spices proud, Anandabhawans provides a feast for the senses. If it’s stuff like palak paneer, butter chicken masala, biryani rice, mutton vindaloo, fragrant breads and banana leaf rice you’re after, you need look no further. And because every meal needs to be ended on a sweet note, remember to try their authentic Indian sweets, the varieties of which are simply too many to name.

Address: Little India Penang, No. 55, Penang Street, 10200 Georgetown, Penang. | Opens daily from 7am – 12am.


>> Part 2   |  Part 3

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