By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
Pics by Tan Mei Kuan
It has been years since I had a bang-up, GENUINE Kampung Malay meal with all the classic dishes and condiments that today, appear to have gone the way of the Dodo bird (as in extinct!) Most roadside eating places have Tom Yam emblazoned all over their signboards and (hello?) Tom Yam is a Thai dish and the ones I’ve tasted come nowhere near the real McCoy I’ve had in Thailand. Plus they are usually laden with MSG, which as readers of my column may have noticed, I am on a strong campaign to eradicate from all kitchens!!
It was therefore such a real pleasure to be invited to a preview tasting of the Citarasa Nusantara spread at the Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort recently in anticipation of Ramadan and all the feasting that goes with breaking fast.
I am familiar with the Western, Chinese and local dishes at the Dome as I eat there quite regularly and I can vouch for the quality of most of the dishes served here. But the Kampung Malay food prepared by Chef Din is a treat and usually only available by special order for functions and events. Other than the Chicken Berempah which is on the regular menu, everything else that is being presented on the Ramadan Buffet for this limited time only is by special order.
So in great anticipation I sat down to taste the various dishes that will be served on their buffet spread in the Malay section with Director Chris Bock, Leong Mei Yee and Executive Chef Desmond who kept doing the ‘now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t’ act as he dashed back and forth to the kitchen.
And I was not disappointed.
Everyone living in Malaysia knows about rendang with almost every state having their own unique variation. Rendang Tok, however is a special rendang recipe for which Perak is renowned. With “Tok” to mean royalty, Perak’s rendang tok is literally food befitting the kings!
The Rendang Tok at the Dome goes one better. Instead of the usual beef chunks it is a large lamb shank, with the spiced gravy being greatly reduced from prolonged simmering until all that’s left is a thick layer that not only coats the meat but permeates every fibre of it, tender, luscious, moist mouthfuls that fall off the bone and sent me into paroxysms of foodie delight. This is a ‘die, die, must try’ dish.
The Nasi Kerabu Kelantanese comes with Budu, a fermented fish sauce popular in Kelantan and the E. Coast of Malaysia, shredded raw vegetables, salted egg, keropok ikan or fish crackers, a chilli pickle and fish floss. Mixed by yourself or have them mix it for you and every mouthful is a burst of flavours and textures.
Ikan Perkasam Gelama was a fried fish with sourish tangy notes provided by asam keping and topped with roughly ground fried dry rice that gave the dish a delectable crunch.
The Ulam-ulaman (assorted raw greens like wing beans, cucumber, blanched ladies fingers and various leaves) arrived with two tantalising sambals, one a homemade sambal belacan (shrimp paste) and another the cincalok (preserved tiny shrimps seasoned with chopped shallots, chillies and limau kasturi – a local lime). Both the dips were very well rounded in their composition being neither too fiery nor too acidic, complementing the greens to perfection. Eaten with the Nasi Kerabu, the ulam and the dips tempered any oiliness coming from the rendang and the fried fish.
We then had the Kerabu Jantung Pisang, a salad made from banana flowers, a rare delight hardly to be found elsewhere nowadays. Mixed with an assortment of herbs and condiments, this salad was refreshing and a treat for the taste buds.
Many more Malay Kampung delights were still in store as we tucked into Pucuk Ubi Masak Lemak Telur Itik or in plain English, duck eggs cooked in a coconut sauce with Cassava leaves. This is another divine dish which I adore, the duck eggs poached to just the right consistency with the egg yolk still oozy and combined with the turmeric laced creamy coconut sauce, was heaven in a mouthful.
The Gulai Patin Masak Tempoyak was the least of my favourites. A local catfish, the Patin was cooked in a coconut sauce mixed with tempoyak, a fermented durian paste that requires an acquired taste to appreciate. Like durians for foreigners who either have a love/hate relationship with this king of fruits, tempoyak requires a further enculturation process in order to enjoy its smell and taste and although I am an avid fan of durian, I find tempoyak much harder to appreciate. But I have friends who swear by its virtues. And for those who love tempoyak, here is your opportunity to eat to your heart’s content in a conducive environment too, if you break fast at the Dome.
For dessert, don’t forget their Tapai Pulut, fermented rice pudding served with ice cream.
What I have reviewed here for my dear readers are just some of the Malay Kampung temptations on the buffet spread at the Dome. There will be three rotating menus with a set carving station featuring roasted Australian beef, chicken and Dorper lamb leg and Chicken Satay every night as well as a Cold Japanese station featuring Salmon and Tuna Sashimi, mussels on the half shell, Tiger prawns and assorted Sushi and Maki. The Noodle Stall will be alternating their offerings between Asam Laksa, Mee Rebus and Prawn Mee and the Dessert spread will have a revolving series of delectable delights to tempt your taste buds.Citarasa Nusantara will be available at the Dome Restaurant from June 5 to 22. Call 05 529 3358 for reservations. Non members are welcome. Pork Free.