Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Truffle Macarons from Les Deux Garcons

Over the weekend, some friends turned up with a pretty green box.

'Fine French Desserts' it said underneath the words 'Les Deux Garcons'. As an adopted Londoner, Malaysia to me is still Land of Street Foods like Nasi Lemak and Char Kuey Teow. Great foods no doubt, but on the other end of the spectrum to fine french desserts. So imagine my very pleasant surprise when inside lay six perfectly formed truffle macarons.

That arresting waft of truffle always stops me dead in my tracks. I held one up to my nose and was like a sniffer dog on crack, finding crack. How a heady, savoury flavour can translate so well into a typically sweet biscuit is beyond me. What I liked the most was the cream filling being truffly enough and not overly sugary.

Like the rest of the world, KL has been hit hard by this macaron epidemic. I hear lots about Natalie's Gourmet Studio and Baby Cakes Sweet Shoppe (here's a good summary by Masak-Masak about macarons in KL), but not so much about these two gentlemen behind the green and gold box. From the little I know they operate out of Taman Desa and have an order ahead policy. Sounds like a Hungry Female inspection is in order.

I would also love to try their wasabi macarons. My mind starts dreaming up all the amazing Malaysian flavours one could put into these almond meringue wonders. Teh tarik, pandan or mangosteen perhaps? Till those come along, it's all about the truffle ones for me. Thank you K and C for introducing these to me!

Les Deux Garcons
16, Jalan 2/109E, Taman Desa, 58200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603 7980 0200
Visit their Facebook Page here

View Larger Map

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pantai Seafood: A Shore Winner | Selangorlicious Blogging Competition Entry

My eyelids droop as I finish this write-up. Last week was a long one for work and play but I feel content and happy. One reason being my second and final entry for the Selangorlicious blogging competition at a really interesting venue with old friends. It's also been great fun reading other entries and ogling at the mouth-watering photos. It'll be another adventure in itself to try even a fraction of these places, and in the meantime fingers, toes and anything crossable crossed.

The Malay word “pantai” commonly translates into “beach”.  So with a name like that for a restaurant it’s amusing to find it nowhere near a coast but hidden in the depths of Kampung Kayu Ara. A sandy driveway leads up to the sprawling building amidst palm trees and its décor is somewhat beach-like. But walk in through the main entrance and you realize the menu really resonates with the second part of the name.

Like a walk-in aquarium, Pantai Seafood could charge an entrance fee just to let customers marvel at the incredible looking creatures in huge water tanks. I adore seafood and consider myself well-versed in most things that come from a body of water but this is something else. I mean, what on earth is a geoduck?! Objects resembling overgrown mutant tails lie flaccid on top of each other with a sign saying ‘RM 178 per kilogram’. Those better be some tasty mutants. And that is just one find in a great selection: from Australian Abalone to Canadian Oysters and everything else in between.

This style of Chinese restaurant typically allows you to take your pick of seafood and choose how you’d like it cooked. Being spoilt for choice we actually ended up with some very classic and delicious options. Marmite pai quat (spare ribs) were tender but still slightly firm and evenly glazed in that popular sweet and sticky sauce. Thai-style fried chicken were strips of chicken fillets coated in batter and fried so well it left a crunchy skin that even ­Colonel Saunders would envy. Strips of mango, shal­lots, chilli and lime zest on top gave it a distinctive Thai tang.

A symphony played on my tongue from the Kum Heong Lala (Clams with a “Golden Fragrance”). They were plump and well seasoned with dried shrimp, curry leaf and spicy sauce.

As sides, kangkung belacan (Spicy Water Spinach) and Kung Po Chicken didn’t disappoint. What did fall short of expectations was the sauce for our Butter Crabs. Butter sauce should be glossy and rich with an aromatic curry leaf element. This sauce was gloopy and unnaturally yellow. We suspect foul play! Perhaps curry powder had been used instead. A shame considering the crab meat was, otherwise, wonderfully succulent.

What did put Pantai back in pole position was a gorgeous deep fried pork knuckle. Meat fell easily away from the bone and the crispy skin was bursting with porcine goodness. Served with a lemon and white pepper sauce, it was divine. One person in our party felt it his duty to completely dissect and maul the knuckle till the joints had been wiped clean.

“Pantai” also translates into “shore”, and aside from the Butter Crab sauce hiccup this place is a shore winner. From the mesmerizing sea creatures, the prompt service and excellent cooking it’s a perfect venue for a large group of adventurous eaters. For all the above dishes and drinks, it was a well spent RM55 per head amongst seven people.

Pantai Seafood
Jalan Cempaka
Kampung Kayu Ara
47400 Petaling Jaya
Tel: +603 7725 5099

View Larger Map

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mum's Place: Selangorlicious Food Blogging Contest Entry

Just six more days to go to the closing date of the Selangorlicious Food Blogging contest! Run by Storm Studio and sponsored by Tourism Selangor and the Digi WWWow awards, it's a search to find the most interesting restaurants in Selangor, my home state. I read in awe of the other entries, there are some really fun places here. I of course had to put in my (first) entry so fingers crossed. Read about it on the Selangorlicious site or right here on Hungry Female...

Such a name inspires scenes of the home, a gracious elderly auntie at the door to welcome you, into a cosy and intimate space. The place we rocked up to was quite the opposite. Nestled in a row of shops in Damansara Perdana, the huge Malaysian flag hung outside was in vast contrast to the homey picture I’d painted in my head.

It was like eating in a massive Neo-Chinese furniture shop. Every table was sectioned from the next with heavy wooden screens, most articles still displaying their price tags. Pseudo antique signs were plastered all over the walls, with cheesy bartending messages like “10 Reasons a Beer is better than a Woman”. One section off the main dining area had what appeared to be pictures of high-standing public figures, all framed and hung up close to each other. The eclectic décor, had a kitsch-ness that seemed to grow on me.

The menu touted Portuguese-style food, which interpreted by Malaysians, couldn’t be farther from a classic bacalhao or feijoada. What we have today are the remnants of an old colonial time, when the Portuguese settled in Malaya, couldn’t find familiar ingredients, so resorted to meddling with the local offerings. I found the results resembling those of Straits Chinese more than anything else.

Perhaps the flagship dish, Portuguese Devil Chicken Curry, took influence from its Piri-Piri lineage. Properly tongue-burning, I could see some Mediterranean peaking through the juicy red peppers and chunky potato amidst paprika-tinged red sauce.

What really blew our heads off, was the Ikan Cencaru with Sambal Petai. From the peppery, bordering bitter, it was as if the fish had been cooked with nothing but crazed amounts of birds-eye chilies and five petai seeds. As the sniffles tickled my nose, I saw why the surly, nonplussed waiter had plonked down a box of tissues when we already had napkins on the table.

Fried aubergines, cut lengthways were beautifully done. Plump, sweet, caramelized pulp tore away easily from the shiny purple exterior. Stir-fried spinach, although standard fare, was still crunchy and cooked with good amounts of chopped garlic. The winning dish for me, were the otak-otak cubes. This classic fish paste is usually wrapped in small sections of banana leaves, and left on a grill to firm up. Our version had been formed into nuggets and fried, leaving a crispy skin to veil a moist curried fishy morsel that blissfully melted on the tongue. The accompanying Thai sauce – made of lime juice, sliced shallots, garlic and chili – was the perfect tangy foil.

I believe Mum’s is trying to sell some kind of domestic concept: buy the furniture, hang up lots of spooky photos of old relatives, enjoy the food and feel right at home. Not my Mum’s take on domestic bliss, but I would certainly come back for the curry, vegetables, otak-otak, and next time be tempted for a dessert.
Five dishes and two beers was circa RM120, and Mum’s Place is a halal restaurant.

Mum's Place
31-1, 33-1, 35-1 & 37-1 , Jalan PJU 8/5A
Damansara Perdana, 47820, Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Tel: +603-77278443, +603-77278449

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Birthday Popiah

Having a favourite food coincide with an occasion is one of life's best gratifications. For my own little day, I choose fresh Nyonya-style spring rolls, or popiah, for two reasons.

Everyone gets stuck into the preparation. When I was younger, preparation started with gusto the day before, by all the ladies in the house, led by my grandmother. This year it's me and my mum getting stuck into cutting, dicing, slicing, narrated by girlie chatter. The main filling comes from shredding turnip, bamboo shoots and pork, stewed overnight to reach full flavour, to become a moist but not "wet" hash. Shredding turnips and bamboo shoots can't be done with a grater, only painstaking chopping will do, so excessive moisture does not seep out. Accompanying the filling, are little embellishments which sound like a heart-attack line-up: fried garlic, fried shallots, crunchy peanuts, fried tofu, fresh bean sprouts and cucumber, and finally everyone's favourite, fried pork lard cubes or chee yau zha.

Preparing the popiah wrapper is an affair in itself. Bought fresh from morning wet markets, these translucent tissue-paper thin skins come all stuck together. Each sheet needs to be pulled apart one-by-one, carefully from the pile, making sure they don't tear. This is one of my favourite jobs, watching each come away from the stack, feeling satisfied that we've prepared the base to a delicious meal.

Everyone enjoys in the celebration: Seeing all the ingredients laid out makes me clasp my hands together with schoolgirl glee, they decorate the dining table with different colours, textures and smells. Everyone always jumps right in, competitive spirits rising to see who can fit as many fillings in without wrapper-burstage.

What I like to do is place a lettuce leaf two-thirds of the way down the wrapper, then smudge on some traditional sweet black sauce and chilli garlic sauce. All fillings, including the main one, should be piled on top the leaf, in a long row, all the crunchies evenly spread out. This then makes the wrapping a cinch. A triumphantly made popiah starts with a fresh crunch from the lettuce, sweet and salty from the turnip and bamboo shoot mash, lots of little crackly fried bursts, and ends with a chilli note.

Food is the thread that binds the crowd with the occasion. My family and friends mingling, trumpeting their successes, laughing at accidents, wondering if one more popiah is one too much, but always savouring every bite. I hope all my birthdays can be like this.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Silks and Spice at the Jim Thompson House, Bangkok

My first encounter with Jim Thompson was a small circular hand mirror that came with a cover, held together by a toggle. It was covered in silk, with little smiling Siamese people. I had the pleasure of visiting the house, built by the man that began the Liberty's of Thailand.

Jim Thompson was an American architect, who after discovering Asia, fell in love with the region and in particular Thailand. He built this amazing house in Bangkok, Thai Style, and collected an enormous amount of Asian antiques. These would serve as creative fuel for the prints that would translate onto silk fabric. He lived the life, until mysteriously disappearing whilst on a walk in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.

Today the house sets the scene in which Thompson gained inspiration and had space to create his works, that we now enjoy as textiles, handbags, scarves, T-shirts, to name a few items. In full tourist glory, guided tours take place regularly to cart visitors around the large wooden house, dispensing snippets about the architect's life and collections. Many then wonder around the exuberant gardens, taking in the green and pretty.

And once mini elephant printed silk scarves run their course, the restaurant set beside a pool, is the obvious choice to have a bite.

Fresh spring rolls with prawns, lettuce and carrots with a coriander, mint and green chilli sauce, was regrettably disappointing and too simple for such honorary surroundings. What was befitting, was the spicy shredded fish with green beans. I'm told the fish is cooked, the meat shredded, then mixed with red curry paste and fried up with the beans. It's hot, sweet and savoury with a satisfying chewiness.

The green beans were knotted, catching fragments of shredded fish.

For dessert, Sticky Mango Rice was unexpectedly nice. I'm not used to sweet rice - English rice pudding is my immortal enemy - so enjoying the delicate coconutty glutinous rice with ripe mango was a nice surprise. The rest of the menu features other Thai classics, like Pad Thai, papaya salads, green, red curries etc.

Entry to the Jim Thompson house is 100 Baht for adults, and includes a guided tour. Two dishes, dessert, and drinks came to circa 400 Baht per head. It's worth spending half a day in this serene spot, admiring the work of someone so inspired by his environment, whether or not you're partial to silky textiles. 

Jim Thompson House
6 Soi, Kasemsan 2
Rama 1 Road
Tel: (662) 216 7368

Monday, May 9, 2011

Chatujaked in the Deep End

My mum should have been a professional buyer. Not for her eye in finding unique and wonderful objects and not just because she has innate Asian bargaining ability. But because she has shopping stamina of military pedigree. Forget the shiny, airconditioned malls that permeate Bangkok, if you want to prove your stealth in buying, Chatujak's Weekend Market is your battlefield.

Hungry Female Senior warned me of the conditions we'd be braving. Crowded alleys where you lose all sense of direction, the weird and the wonderful side-by-side and somewhere that you could get just about anything if you looked long and hard enough. Homewares, Thai hilltribe crafts, pet accessories and pets, plants, plastic toys, furniture. From cheap and cheerful to the high-end, over an incredible 27 acres, it ranks amongst the best in the world for market experiences.

And by the way of food, I can't even begin to describe the choices available. Here are just some of the pitstops you could make whilst shopping your heart out.

You'll need a decent cup of ambition to kick-start the day. Thai coffee is from the Arabica bean, and these little stalls know how to extract that dark, sensuous flavour. Compared to Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, coffee production in Thailand is more recent, and has become a new source of income for many Northern hilltribes. I think however, they've cottoned onto the Aussie trend alot quicker, judging by the excellent flat whites I was served. 

You'll then need slow burning carbs to take you through the morning session. Thai style with lots of chilli heat. This meatball noodle soup was rather star anise-y, with strips of brisket and fresh lettuce. The trail of fire that blazed down my tummy didn't stop me from slurping it all.

Nothing prepares you for the endless pathways of shops and stalls. Once I dived into the maelstrom, there were times I wondered if I'd ever see the light of day again!

Celebrate the first hour of survival with a fresh coconut ice cream. Just staring at one reminded me of shampoo advertisements where washing your hair is akin to plunging into a waterfall. Served in a coconut shell, it was naturally sweet and had a semi-sorbet texture. I enjoyed the little strips of coconut flesh and sago chunks that came with.

I'd never be able to tell you where this bar was in the middle of the madness, but if you do find it, it literally is an oasis of alcohol. Huge arrangements of carnations sit at the bar, and colourful bunting clusters on the ceiling. Hazy memory tells me it was somewhere between Section 16 and 17. There's an impressive selection of booze, and Singha is served with icy bits still sliding off. I remember holding that bottle to my neck as long as I could. Meanwhile, my mother was tsk tsking my weakening endurance.

And after the final haggle, treat yourself to some spring rolls. These pop up all around the market, but I was drawn to this particular one as they offered sweet rolls too. Our savouries consisted of traditional Thai flavours like Tom Yam and Thai Salad, and the sweets were Nutella & Banana, Strawberry & Cream Cheese. All arranged prettily. I love the contrast of delicate against the hustle.

Whether you come away with bagfuls of bargains, or just happy snaps, I can guarantee some great memories. The nearest BTS station is National Stadium, and try to get there for 9:30am on the weekends. Good luck!

Chatujak Weekend Market
Sat/Sun 6:00am - 6:00pm

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Som Tam Nua: Putting the Bang into Bangkok

Till this year I was very possibly the only person I knew who hadn't been to Bangkok. But now I can hold my head up high, knowing I've perspired my weight whilst haggling at Chatujak, was left guessing if it was a he/she/a he in girls' clothing/an ugly she, got a little neck ache from Sawadee-kap nodding.

Despite the grey concrete jungle, I loved the energy that reeked from this city. Like many other SEA capitals, chaos on the streets is the charm that makes these cities memorable. One moment I'd feel annoyed from weaving in and out of madding crowds, the next I'd be greeted by the most dazzling smile when asking for help. And it's one city that gives you unexpected adventures if you go with the flow. We certainly would not have found this treasure, if we hadn't gotten lost from window shopping in Siam Square...

We wondered into one of the many trendy fashion outlets that make up Siam Sqaure, and asked the shop assistant if she knew of any good local food joints nearby. Her expression lit up as she scribbled down Som Tam Nua on Soi 5, telling us to "ask anyone, they will know". Like she predicted, we were literally hand held to the restaurant door. What we didn't know, was how long the queue was.

It was as if this was the only restaurant left on earth. Two waiters standing outside, were inundated by orders. Apparently the system was to hand in your order first, then wait for a suitable table to turn up. These two guys taking down notes had photographic memories, they were able to match up tables to orders, with the right group of people and without mistakes. Even then it took a good 45 minutes for a table for two.

In the mean time, friends gossiped, boyfriends held girlfriends' shopping, and smartphone owners hit all-time new highs on Angry Birds.

After a wait that long with very little patience, we made empty threats with ourselves in case it didn't live up to all the hooha. Thankfully, it wasn't in vain at all.

Isaan Thai food is known for it's zing. A deep-fried fish with a spicy dressing, topped with fresh bean sprouts, lived up to its reputation and sent me blowing away into a tissue. The stir-fried pork was equally punchy and enlivened with a healthy amount of fresh mint and coriander.

After numerous papaya salads in Laos, I was eagerly awaiting the Thai version. Strangely, this didn't follow in suit to the high standards set, and was merely a pile of fresh vegetables.

It then became clear what we had been waiting for, the fried chicken. My thoughts were, go with the locals, who had been queuing unrelentlessly, and observing countless baskets of the stuff being carted onto tables. It had a thin layer of crumbly crust, golden in every sense of the word. Peppery, with a hint of fermented soy beans, it was a perfect, salty dream.

You certainly get bang for your Baht, at 400 THB for four dishes and drinks for two. Given we had time to wait, and it came high on local recommendation, it was worth the little adventure. Since being back, we've tried recreating the chicken but not quite getting there. We'll keeping trying, and remembering how good the original was. I heart Bangkok.

Somtam Nua
392/14 Siam Square Soi 5
Nearest BTS: Siam