The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Malaysian food - Part 4: Food in Langkawi

For our 2-day stay in Langkawi, I mostly relied on the Langkawi wikitravel page for ideas on where to eat. We stayed at a beachside motel on Pantai Cenang, and we remained in this area for the duration of our stay. We wanted to try out the 'relax-on-the-beach' kinda holiday, and I can't say I like this mode too much - I like keeping busy and doing things while travelling! The beach was great - white sand and clear water - although the tiny jellyfish in the water on our second day wasn't all too pleasant!

Pantai Cenang is Langkawi's most popular beach, and there are many eateries and restaurants lining the road that runs along the beach. Perhaps it was because of the Chinese New Year festivities that a few dining places we were interested in were closed. Never mind though, because the aforementioned list gave us many more to choose from.

Beach Garden Resort

This was the most western-style and hence the most expensive meal we had during this trip to Malaysia. When I say expensive, I mean expensive in Malaysian standards. This resort is managed by a German guy, so it was catered more towards foreigners' tastes rather than the locals' tastes, serving upscale Western and (westernised-)Malaysian dishes with service and prices to match. Indeed, I think I was the only Asian customer in the dining area! It is a beachside restaurant, so it was nice to enjoy the sand in between our toes, savour the sunset and eat our dinner.

Enjoying the view of the sunset while sipping our freshly-juiced watermelon and pineapple juice:

The menu featured some Chinese New Year specials including yeesang, a raw fish salad originating from Singapore and eaten for good luck during Chinese New Year. Obviously this wasn't the traditional version, but a rather prettied-up dish interestingly garnished with endives. I can't remember the type of fish that was used, but I remembered it tasted surprisingly fresh. The yeesang wasn't a filling dish, but it was a nice and refreshing change from all the greasy and bold tasting food we'd been eating previously. Rob ordered a fish curry that was served with coconut rice, and presentation points must be given to the chef because curry with rice aren't exactly the most elegant dishes to put together. It was very tasty, but not Malaysian enough - the rice could use with more coconut milk for the fragrance, and we wished there was more curry liquid.

Yeesang and the fish curry:

The bill came to about RM90 (~AU$30 or 3000yen) which is really not that expensive, but we know that we could have had a far more satisfying and tasty meal for less than half that amount.

Rafi's Place

This un-named little place wasn't far from our motel, sandwiched between two pretty big and well-signed restaurants (Restoran Aliah and Tomato Nasi Kandar). If not for the mention of Rafi's Place on the wikitravel page, we would have not even noticed this shack. We actually came here for brunch in search of some good Nasi Lemak, but we were told by Rafi at 11am that they'd completely sold out of nasi lemak - a good sign that his nasi lemak is indeed good. Not to worry, we had plenty of other things to choose from the menu which featured some western-styled breakfasts like eggs on toast as well as many Malay and Thai dishes. Rafi is a very friendly and chatty guy, and he told us that his wife is from Thailand so she made good Thai food. When I asked why he doesn't have any signboards up on the outside of his shack, he said that he did not want his place to get too much business. He said that even now he is more busy than he'd like to be.

We asked Rafi for recommendations, and he happily recommended dishes after asking for our preferences (I wanted tom yum (a Thai spicy and sour soup) and hubby wanted something spicy). Unfortunately I don't remember the exact names of the dishes, but I do remember that they were very tasty with quite a spicy kick! Mine was a fish soup that was similar to tom yum, and Rob's order was a spicy chicken dish.

My spicy and sour fish soup, and hubby's spicy chicken:

Food was quite cheap, and we paid about RM 15 which also included drinks.

Restoran Haji Ramli

The main draw of this place for us was the Ikan Bakar, the name literally meaning "burnt fish". Ikan bakar is whole fish that has been marinated in spices and belacan, wrapped in banana leaf and then grilled over charcoal fire. It is a classic Malay dish and is a popular dish featured at many of the seafood restaurants along Pantai Cenang. Haji Ramli is quite a big restaurant with an adjacent bbq shack with a variety of fresh fish on ice on display for the customers who wish to order ikan bakar. Seafood and ikan bakar are available from 3pm at Haji Ramli.

The Ikan Bakar shack:

We chose a type of fish called siakap (sea perch) for the ikan bakar and it was so good! The outer crust was crispy with spices yet the flesh had the moistness of a perfectly cooked fish. We also ordered Tom Yum with prawns, Kang Kung Belacan (water spinach with chilli shrimp paste) and Kailan Udang (Chinese kale with prawns). The tom yum was great, the kang kung was very nice (it's one of my favourite vegetables which I can't find in Japan! Kang kung belacan is the best way to eat the vege, in my opinion) and the kailan dish paled in comparison to the kang kung. It was all good though, and very affordable. Everything was under RM50 (~AU$17 or 1700yen) and we both agreed that this meal was far more satisfying for the soul and tastebuds than the previous night's dinner was at the Beach Garden Resort.

Our drinks - tomato juice and longan; and the delicious ikan bakar:

Tom yum and the vegetable dishes (kangkung in the foreground, kailan in the background):

Miscellaneous eats

We went in search for Nasi Lemak again for breakfast a few hours before our flight out of Langkawi, and we found many stalls and eateries selling packets of pre-made nasi lemak for RM1 (~AU$0.33 or 33yen). A very cheap and popular breakfast amongst the locals. It was also our last chance for some good Ice Kacang which was interestingly flavoured with strips of preserved nutmeg, a specialty of Penang. We also enjoyed a refreshing drink from a young coconut.

A packet of nasi lemak for RM1:

Ice kacang and young coconut drink:

All in all, it was good eats in Langkawi!

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