Merdeka Flavours – Food That Defines Malaysia (Part 2)

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.


12. Serabai Istimewa, Penang

On a state most known for Chinese food we find a traditional Muslim kueh not to be overshadowed. Jamilaton and Jamaliah Hassan are part of three generations of making and selling serabai; a traditional Malay kueh, which has gained some much deserved notoriety. Shukor, a local Penangite and frequenter of Serabai Istimewa, has been eating breakfast here for years. “The taste you find here is the same from my parent’s time,” he says, “I usually eat three for breakfast and take as many as ten with me to the office to share with friends.” The Hassan sisters trace this traditional taste to their homemade rice flour, which, while very time consuming to make, provides the freshness that has made their kueh famous. Made from simple ingredients of rice flour, coconut milk, and yeast, this dish has a light coconut flavor, which mellows into a mild sour finish. It is particularly nice dipped in the rich kaya-like sauce. This is a must try for any kueh lover.

Address: No. 18, Kompleks Makanan Hilir Pemancar, 11700 Gelugor, Pulau Penang.




13. Laksa Buyung, Penang

In 1971 HJ. Mohmad began selling laksa. Each day he would cook ten kilos over a wood fire, then load it onto his bicycle and pedal to his clients. Today his laksa business would be better referred to as an operation. With a factory and four lorries, he produces and sells approximately 200 kilos of laksa, that’s 1,000 bowls, each day! The trademark of this product is the buyung, or clay pot, which the laksa is cooked in on site at many of the night markets of mainland Penang. It is said that the clay absorbs the very aroma and taste of the laksa so that when cooked in these clay pots, the laksa flavour is intensified. Even with such a dramatic increase in quantity over the years the quality of Laksa Buyung remains the same. With this laksa sold in so many locations chances are you may have already tried it, but if not it’s very worthwhile.

Address: Many night markets in mainland Penang.




14. Medan Selera Sri Tambang Mee Udang, Penang

A better spot for prawns may be hard to find. Mee Udang is situated on the very river where the prawns are caught and kept alive on site until the moment the customer chooses which he will eat. This place on the river is unique in that fresh water and salt water collide, creating a breeding ground for both fresh and salt water prawns. This is exactly why Safiee Bin Sareff chose this spot. Starting from the bottom of the restaurant industry by cleaning tables and mopping floors, he worked his way up to the position of acting manager. With his experience both in managing and cooking he decided to open his own restaurant with his own recipe. That recipe, mee udang, is served in both soup and dry varieties. The soup is similar to mee jawa while the dry version is akin to mee goreng. In either case the taste is unparalleled with the amazing sweetness from the prawns.

Address: No. 2, Pengkalan Tambang, Permatang Pasir, 13500 Bukit Mertajam, Penang. | Opens daily from 12pm – 12am.




15. Sungai Dua Char Koay Teow, Penang

For those looking for a meal and a show your search has come to an end. At Sungai Dua Char Koay Teow the flames make the flavor. While waiting for your order take a look over the kitchen’s dividing wall to see the flames leaping out of the pan and almost to the ceiling. Not only is this location good for entertainment, the food is fantastic. Many have not tried the wet char koay teow, which is truly unique in taste from the more common dry variety. The gravy permeates through the dish carrying with it the fire’s smoky essence. The prawns are generously portioned, giving a nice tang to the dish. For those unable to make the trip to Butterworth, you may be happy to know there is a comparable alternative at Mali’s Corner in Wangsa Maju, KL. The price is higher and there is less fire leaping  from the pan, but the tastiness comes close to Sungai Dua.

Address: 3640, Jalan Sungai Dua, 13800 Butterworth, Pulau Pinang. | Opens daily from 5pm – 3am, closes on Wednesday.




16. Kareem Pasembur Rojak, Penang

Whether customers eat in or take away they are sure to find good things in small packages at Kareem Pasembur, which is located at Union Street next to Standard Chartered Bank, it may seem like any makeshift hawker stall in Penang, but anyone who walks pass the stall will be attracted by the cucur udang that piles up like mountains. These are not just any typical prawns fritters, they are literally made with generous amount of small sized prawns cohered with light batter before frying. While most ingredients used are typical to northern pasembur, it was through trial and error that Kareem perfected his pasembur sauce, which is the real key to this unique concoction. Many other pasembur vendors use only pre-made sauces for their dish, but Kareem’s sauce is truly a creation all his own, making it the perfect light meal for office workers nearby, which explains the stall is choc a bloc packed at lunch hour, with a long queue of office workers from nearby office. With so much success from his pasembur, Kareem has added in many fried items such as tofu, fish balls, fried eggs, braised squid, fish cakes, sausages, popiah and many others, which are quickly gaining a following as well. Established in 1945, Kareem’s stall was a familiar sight at the Customs Building on Gat Lebuh China in the 80s – 90s before he moved to Lebuh Union.

Address: 7, Lebuh Union, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang. | Opens daily from 11am – 6pm, closes on Sunday.




17. Char Kway Teow, Lebuh Presgrave (Non-Halal)

Chinese Style Char Kway Teow, literally "stir-fried ricecake strips", is a popular noodle dish in Malaysia. The dish is considered one of the national favourites of our country. And the Island of Penang is known to be birthplace for this critically acclaimed dish. There are so many stalls offering the best CKT in and around the island but there is one we believe should be joining the A- listers. Like so many other Char Kway Teow in Penang, the secret to perfection lies in the flat rice noodle being flash-fried over very high heat with light and dark soy sauce, chill sauce, a small quantity of lard, whole prawns, deshelled blood cockles, bean sprouts and chopped Chinese chives. However, this particular stall adds in a dash or two of cockles brine along with really fresh prawns and then serves it over a piece of banana leaf on a plate, so as to enhance the aroma of the noodles

To know more about Penang specialty soy sauce. >> Penang's Favoured Culinary Son

Address: No. 15, Gat Lebuh Presgrave, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang. | Opens daily from 7am – 10am, closes on Sunday.




18. Traditional Chicken and Prawn Hor Fun at Thean Chun Coffee Shop (Non Halal), Ipoh

Thean Chun Coffee Shop has been around since the 1950’s; it goes without saying that this place is easily one of the pioneer coffee shops in town. It's also the backbone of a Tricycle Chicken & Prawn Kuey Teow stall that delivers an original taste of Kai Si Hor Fun. A unique Ipoh noodle dish where silky flat thin noodles (hor fun) served in a flavourful chicken-shrimp broth, topped with slices of poached chicken, de-shelled shrimps and chives. The broth of hor fun is very different from others noodle dishes found in the northern states; the broth is not overpowering and is clear and has an orange-ish hue because of its long hours simmering of chicken bones and prawn-shells. Due to the unique setting of Ipoh town and the Cantonese influence, the hor fun is served with flat rice noodles instead of yellow noodles commonly found in the Hokkien influenced Northern states.

Address: No. 73, Jalan Bandar Timah, 31650 Ipoh, Perak. | Opens daily from 8am – 4.30pm, closes on Thursday.




19. Nasi Lemak Ujang Corner, Taman Greenwood, Kuala Lumpur

Ever felt as if you have just had a meal that somehow brought fond memories back? This is definitely the case when one dines at Nasi Lemak Ujang Corner, located at Taman Greenwood in Gombak. This stall has been around for nearly twenty-five years, making it one among some favourite dining spots for residents around the area. The nasi lemak here is cooked from scratch without artificial flavourings, thus bringing about an authentic and traditional feel. Apart from that, having a vast variety of side dishes is also an attraction, as customers can choose from different types of dishes to suit their preferences. One of the unique dishes served in this stall is its 'quail egg sambal'. These little gems are hard-boiled and mixed into a spicy sambal which gives one a pleasantly hot, yet oddly sensation from the very first mouthful. Apart from that, it is the rice that makes this stall absolutely inimitable. Steamed with the perfect amount of coconut milk, the rice is infused with flavour, though one does not feel excessively fatenned from the coconut milk. Now, one who enjoys late night nasi lemak will definitely visit back this stall after the first try.

Address: No. 1, Gerai MPS, Gerai Taman Greenwood, Jalan Batu Caves, Taman Greenwood, 68100 Batu Caves, Selangor. | Opens daily from 6.30pm – 6.30am, closes on Sunday.




20. Village Park Restaurant Damansara Utama, Kuala Lumpur

Tucked away in a row of shoplots, this Damansara Utama restaurant looks about as ordinary as its neighbouring restaurants. What one fails to notice, however, is that the masters of Malay cuisine within its kitchens serve what is perceived by many to be one of the best tasting nasi lemak platters in town. In passing, the restaurant is jam-packed with customers, especially during fateful lunch hour breaks. Tables and chairs are arranged outside the restaurant to make additional seating for the crowd. The rice in this restaurant is undoubtedly unique as it is steamed with a perfect amount of coconut milk in a wooden cooker, a traditional Malay cooking method which is hereby adopted. The sambal is cooked for eight long hours, thus giving it an intense flavour with just the right amount of sweetness and spice. However, the signature dish for this restaurant is definitely their fried chicken. Perfectly marinated with special (and secret!) ingredients, this fried chicken is both tender and succulent. In addition, the nasi lemak is also served with bits of excess fried chicken skin; an innovative move that adds crunch to soft, crumbly rice. This crispy skin boasts the strong taste of spices, and is absolutely delicious down to the very last bite.

Address: No. 5, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. | Opens daily from 6.30am – 7.30pm.




21. Nasi Lemak Famous Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur

If you are in Bangsar in the evening and looking for nasi lemak to satisfy that perennial Malaysian craving, there's no place other than Nasi Lemak Famous to offer complete satisfaction. The stall is easy to spot, with its yellow sign board and its location at the corner of the food court. Open from 5 pm until early morning, this stall sees its fair share of visitors who drop in after office hours are over. It also serves as a hangout for friends to gather, and is a popular supper spot for those who seek that comforting fill of carbs after spending the night partying at one of the nightspots in Bangsar or elsewhere. One of the highlights at Nasi Lemak Famous is their fried chicken. Many claim that it has the best fried chicken in town and one tends to agree -with the proviso: eat the chicken there. Fried fresh throughout the night and constantly refilled in a large banana leaf-lined basket, the chicken is juicy on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside, having been marinated with just the right amount of spiced marinade that flavours and seasons the outer part of the chicken yet retaining the original fresh taste of the meat inside. Delicious indeed.

The other highlight is their fragrant coconut rice. Scooped out from a huge wooden tong used for nasi lemak kukus the rice is served wonderfully hot. If you visit this stall earlier in the evening you are likely to get rice with separate grains; later on in the night, the rice may clump up a bit but it is still fragrant and tasty without being overpowering or too rich in coconut milk, as some nasi lemak can be.

The final test of a nasi lemak is of course, the sambal. The one here is sweet and very spicy! Dark in colour to show for the long hours that have gone into the cooking, it complements the rice and other condiments very well. Also available is an array of other delights, from sambal sotong, to cockles in sambal and even fried tempeh.

Address: No. 8, Corner of Bangsar Selera Food Court, Jalan Telawi 1, 59100 Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. | Opens daily from 5pm – 5am.




22. Yee Kee Beef Noodle, Seremban

Seremban Beef Noodles had very much been a part of Seremban local heritage. It all started in the 1930’s when Mr. Poon Yee from Hainan Island’s Dai Dong Po village in China, set foot in Seremban. He brought with him a unique recipe for preparing beef noodles which incorporates scrumptious ingredients such as tender beef slices, beef jerky, beef tripe, pickle cabbage, sesame, peanuts and green onions and most importantly, its delicious thick beef gravy. Now, Yee Kee is into its 3rd generation. With modernization and the desire to better serve loyal customers, Yee Kee has evolved into a new conceptual restaurant with better interior for better comfort. 

In 28 July 2007, Yee Kee, open its doors to customers with a new concept In 2009, Yee Kee has been awarded “Premis Makanan Pilihan" by Jabatan Kesihatan Negeri Sembilan. Only a handful of restaurants received this award in the whole of Seremban. In July 2011, Yee Kee 2nd outlet is opened in the growing township of Seremban 2.

Address: No. 44, Jalan Dato Lee Fong Yee, Bandar Seremban, 70000 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. | Open daily from 10am – 7pm.


>> Part 1   |  Part 3

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