SeeFoon Goes To Matang In Search Of Taste Treats
What is this obsession amongst the ethnic Chinese that fuels the drive for fresh seafood? Not only must the seafood item under consideration be fresh but preferably squirming or claw waving as it is presented at the table, or swimming in a tank for selection. Having almost exhausted the number of eating places that offer this option in Ipoh, a group of my foodie friends decided to take me further afield to Matang for new taste treats.
It took us under an hour to arrive at our destination, the Restoran Makanan Laut Lemon Tree, a very large ‘coffee-shop’ style restaurant in Matang, close to Taiping. Two glassed-in air-conditioned rooms towards the back provide respite from the heat as our group of ten settled in for the delectable lunch that followed.
Guarantee of Freshness
Lemon Tree is, as its Malay name ‘Makanan Laut’ clearly states, first and foremost a seafood restaurant, some of whose fresh seafood come from nearby fish farms in Matang and Kuala Sepetang, which is almost a sure guarantee of freshness. The style of cooking leans towards the Teochew, with most of their steamed dishes sitting on a bed of bean thread vermicelli, beaten egg and laced in dark soya sauce unlike the Cantonese style which has no vermicelli and uses light soya.
Our first dish was the Oyster noodles, thick Udon-style noodles in a soupy sauce replete with tiny fresh oysters. Eaten with black vinegar, the sauce which is eaten like a soup had all the right Umami notes. I felt that this was too heavy a dish to serve as a first course and would have been better at the end of the meal, which as I soon discovered, was a groaning twelve-course affair.
This was followed by clams (not the usual small market variety but large, round succulent clams) fried with scallions and ginger, and a second clam dish, this time the bamboo clams fried ‘Kum Heong’ style with dried chillies, dried prawns, curry leaves and curry condiments. Both clam dishes were very fresh and cooked to the right degree of done-ness, which in the hands of someone less experienced can often lead to chewy bits of rubber.
Next to arrive were the ‘spiny sea snails’ in Chinese called ‘Tsi Loh’, just blanched, eaten with toothpicks and dipped into sambal belacan sauce. Quite a fiddly process unless you’re like me who loves to extract the last morsel from any shell or bone. This was followed by small shrimp, lightly battered and fried crispy. A great accompaniment with drinks which should have been served right at the beginning of the meal, particularly with beer.
Then we were presented with a dish which is very rare and totally seasonal depending on the catch of the day. It was a plate of shark’s liver, looking not particularly appetizing on the plate surrounded by a dark sauce, but absolutely melt-in-the-mouth succulent, with not the slightest hint of fishiness and exploding in the mouth with its rich creaminess not unlike the sensation of biting into still pink fresh foie gras or goose liver.
Piece de Resistance
A steamed dish was next, this being the piece de resistance of this restaurant which is the Mantis prawns or ‘Lai Liew Har’, large 7-8 inch long crustaceans which get their name from their resemblance to the praying mantis insect, and which to my mind are the best tasting crustaceans in the ocean. Scrumptious. This was followed by the steamed pomfret, a medium sized ‘Tao Dai’ which is highly prized amongst certain gourmands, in dark soya sauce.
Then came sea-breeze fresh Flower Crabs steamed in the inimitable Teochew style, followed by small ‘Tsai Yu’ – a five inch long sea fish fried to a crisp where one can eat almost the whole fish, head, bones and all.
Irresistable Pancake and Mud Crabs
By now all 10 of us were groaning with surfeit of food and still the dishes kept coming. Next to appear was the Oyster Pancake, a flat pancake of egg and tapioca starch, generously dotted with medium sized fresh oysters, crisped on the edges and soft and chewy in the middle. Not an easy dish to find indeed and certainly nowhere have I eaten a more delectable one.
Last but not least were plump, fleshy mud crabs sautéed in salted duck egg roe, succulent and juicy with the egg roe sauce adding the right measure of saltiness. I was ready to give up altogether but the sight of the tantalizing crab claws had me tucking in with gusto.
For a group of 10 people and with the number of dishes we had eaten, the total bill of RM428 was great value especially considering that most of the seafood dishes that we had is usually quite exorbitant in restaurants elsewhere.
Restoran Makanan Laut Lemon
No. 14B, China Lane
34750 Matang, Taiping, Perak
12 noon till midnight