SeeFoon joins in the spirit of Ramadan

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Issue 81

SeeFoon joins in the spirit of Ramadan

One lament I have often found myself expressing to my friends as I travel around Malaysia is, “where can I find typical Malay kampong food?” Not the type of food served up in the numerous ‘warongs’ or restaurants with the sign ‘Tom Yam’ emblazoned across the front, but your honest to goodness genuine Malay food, the kind cooked by the mother of the household in typical kampongs, which alas, like the food, is rapidly becoming extinct!

Thank goodness for Ramadan bazaars and restaurants like Tasek Raban where the tradition of kampong cuisine is alive and well and actually flourishing. Located on Jalan Sukan Kompleks opposite the row of food stalls encircling part of the stadium complex, Tasek Raban is the brainchild of Puan Jamaliah and her husband (now deceased) who started it in Lenggong by (where else?) Tasek (Lake) Raban.

10 Years in Ipoh

The popularity of that first restaurant led them to venture further afield to Ipoh where they have been operating now for ten years. Open every day from 11.00 a.m. till about 4.30 p.m. the restaurant is open air and packed to the gills from 12.30 p.m. on. Sinks with soap line both sides of the restaurant for the obligatory ablution for those who will use their hands but forks and spoons are also available. Self-service is the modus operandi for diners as they line up to get their plate of rice and proceed around the huge long table where every centimetre of space is filled with plates or trays of tempting offerings, to make their selection.

80 Different Choices
Puan Jamailiah gave us a quick run-down on her operation. Her team of around 20 workers prepare and serve over 80 different menu items every day! Some of these dishes are her own closely guarded recipes which she prepares herself, unwilling to share her family secret recipes with chefs who may then steal them to become competitors. One of these is the sauce on her ayam bakar (grilled chicken) which tasted yummy.

The cornucopia of dishes on the ‘buffet’ to choose from is mind-boggling. There were grilled fish, fried fish, fried salted fish, grilled chicken, fried chicken, curried chicken, countless numbers of cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, dips, sauces, beef in different styles, chicken innards, beef innards, bivalves like cockles, clams, and something one doesn’t see too often, Siput Sedut, periwinkles or winkles for short – tiny snail-like shell fish which most people find too troublesome to eat.

Winkles: Hard Work
Naturally being the curious food adventurer that I am, I headed straight for these tiny winkles and brought back a whole plate to my table. The next step was to figure out how to extract the meat from the tiny conch shaped shell. My friends advised me to first suck from the pointed end which they had chopped off (imagine the work involved in chopping off the tail end of these tiny gastropods no longer than an inch!), then suck it out from the other end. I failed miserably in extracting the tiny marine snail and had to ask for tooth picks, whereupon I had better luck. Cooked in a coconut broth with turmeric, the winkles were delicious but hard work for very small returns.

Traditional Ulam

I headed for the Ulam (herbs) area next. One seldom finds a stall or restaurant that serves these herbs the traditional way; a wide selection of raw medicinal and non-medicinal vegetables and leafy herbs served with a variety of sambals or dips and other provocative condiments. I soon received a lesson in identifying and naming these various ulam. There was petai (commonly known as stink bean and has been found in research to lower blood sugar in diabetics); gering (shaped like petai but bigger); pucuk ubi (young leaves of sweet potato, tapioca and other tubers); daun betik or papaya leaves (good for tenderizing meat, soothe digestive system, gastric, anti-cancer); jantung pisang (banana flower); paku rawan; daun selom; ulam raja a leaf reminiscent of unripe mango (used for the cleansing of blood and to strengthen muscles and bones because of its high calcium content); kacang botol (4-angle bean); lady’s fingers (blanched); temu lawak (a type of ginger that has liver & blood fat lowering activity); pucuk cabang tiga; and pucuk paku (fiddlehead fern); and daun pegaga or pennywort (the leaves are believed to have anti-aging properties and the whole plant expels dampness and helps in hepatitis, sore throat, bronchitis, hypertension).

I helped myself to a sampling of each and small bowls of the sambal belacan (pounded dried prawn paste with lime, chillies mixture), the two types of sambal kelapa (dry fresh grated coconut) and the sambal tempoyak made from fermented durian. Most of my friends at the table, even though they were Malaysians, wrinkled their noses at the tempoyak but I tucked in with relish, combining it with the sambal belacan, and the coconut sambal as a lovely dip for all the raw herbs and vegetables.

Fish Feast
From there we moved onto the ikan bakar or barbecued fish. There were three types of whole fish, the ikan jelawat RM26/-, ikan terubok –RM22/- ikan siakap – RM24, the first two being very bony and one had to be careful picking through the fish. These were served with air asam (tamarind sauce) as a dip. Other fish like ikan keli (cat fish) – RM2/ and ikan pari (stingray) – RM5/- were as tasty and fresh and certainly value for money. The grilled chicken was juicy and Puan Jamailah’s secret sauce that she basted it with, enticing. We also had a selection of the cooked vegetables which all seemed to share a similar coconut based sauce at RM2 each.

Choice and Value
All in all our total bill for 5 people came to RM70. This was high considering that most people usually have their one plate of rice and choice of accompaniments, working out to probably RM6-7 each. In our case, we had one of the expensive fish and many smaller dishes. I still feel that Tasek Raban gives value for money considering the vast choice of dishes. The only lament I have is that it’s all cold!

Tasek Raban does a brisk business serving 400-500 customers a day. During Ramadan they open from 3.00-8.00pm and customers who wish to break fast at the restaurant may do so by booking a table in advance. Additionally they have a stall at the Ramadan bazaar at the stadium.

Tasek Raban
Jalan Sukan Kompleks (next to Red Crescent Hall)
Tel: 019-521 5657,
017-534 4971