No new discoveries in that coffeeshop-style eating is the way we roll here in KL. Nasi padang is a style of dishes originating from Padang in West Sumatra and the Malaysian version is served in coffeeshops across the country. Trays and trays of meat, fish, vegetables, achars, salads, sauces are set out for punters to help themselves to after taking a scoop of rice from the shop owner who's usually standing over a massive container. What's characteristic of nasi padang is the strong coconutty element that tends to run through alot of the dishes, and the spicy chilli achars and pastes to bring kick to the plainer dishes.
Much gentrification is sweeping across KL's coffeeshops, almost in a bid to give our oldest eating institutions some new clothes. As long as original fittings from colonial times haven't been sacrified, I enjoy the nouveau-ness of places like D'Cengkih in Taman Tun. Black-and-white posters of when Malaysia received Independence from the British, low lighting, and painted birdcages give this place a cosy and I daresay brasserie-esque feel.
It's incredibly hard not to overload your plate when in front of all this gorgeous smelling spicy food. D'Cengkih has one of the more impressive selections with lots of varying textures as well as tastes. I saw lots of crispy fried fish, chicken and even liver if I'm not mistaken, and many mixed tofu and vegetable dishes. There was also a nice choice of fresh salads and dishes resembling simple rojak (fresh Malaysian salad).
The freshly pounded sauces are used mostly to spice up steamed or boiled items though you can really dollop them onto anything you want. Usually you get two types of chilli sauce but D'Cengkih pushed the boat out with four. Here we had a three variants of sambal, a rather dark one looked like it might have been made out of cili padi (birds eye chillies, i.e. proceed with caution!). The fourth was more like an achar made out of raw papaya, chilli and a good squeeze of lime.
I almost always pick potato leaves in a turmeric and coconut sauce for it's firm texture and slightly sweet milky flavour and raw vegetables with plenty of chilli sauce. Asian chilli mixtures have that perfect balance of heat, sweet, sour tang and salty making them so addictive. The raw papaya achar was lighter and fresher with definite limey notes. I also really enjoyed the salty fried ikan bilis (anchovies) with green chillies sauteed in soy sauce, and steamed fish with sweet sambal.
As well as classic Malay kuih (rice flour desserts) like ondeh-ondeh (pandan flavoured dumplings filled with molasses then rolled in grated coconut) and kuih keria (sweet potato doughnuts), there's a small selection of Western sweets like creme caramel and tiramisu. On a quintessential hot and sticky Malaysian day, a refreshing and faintly sweet creme caramel does the trick. I'll save the Malay kuih for the next visit.
I am always semi-fascinated by how nasi padang shop owners pay diligent attention to their customers when it comes to counting up the bill. They always appear right at the moment you just start to dig in to scribble down the amount on a bit of note paper and pop it on the table discretely. Eyes everywhere! For a choice of 4 items, 2 drinks and one dessert, the damage was circa RM 13. If you're a nasi padang fan with a good lunch time appetite, I'd highly recommend D'Cengkih for their good selection, fresh ingredients and quick service.