Kuala Lumpur, the sophisticated capital of Malaysia

Doesn’t matter how much you psyche yourself up for a long haul flight to Australia or New Zealand, it really plays havoc with your equilibrium. One has to break the journey somewhere. I’ve had pleasurable pit stops in Hong Kong and did my bit to liven up my wardrobe at Shanghai Tang. Singapore, the Garden City also has its charms but last time I embarked on that journey I chose to stop off in Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur, the sophisticated capital of Malaysia, affectionately referred to as KL by the locals, offers much more that diversion and respite from long haul languor. In most senses it is a thoroughly modern multi-cultural city dominated by the Petronas twin towers, until recently the tallest buildings in the world (Taiwan’s Tapei 101 now holds the title), but it hasn’t yet been subjected to the kind of homogenisation that has robbed Singapore of much of its overt charm.

After the gruelling flight you may want to crash out for a few hours at the Pan Pacific Hotel which is part of the airport complex. Rooms can be hired by the hour – a godsend for weary travellers. If time is limited you could have a relaxing chair massage, practise your putting technique or simply meditate or shop till you drop.

I had a 12 hour transfer so I was determined to ignore the jet lag and explore.

The brilliant new non-stop Kliaekspres train takes just 28 minutes to whiz you past the palms and banana groves into the city centre, so its perfectly possible to zip into K L for even a few hours.

From a cook’s point of view, K L is a glorious melting pot. Hawker food is central to the experience of eating in Malaysia. It is sold from food carts that each specialise in one type of food. Originally the hawker stands were to be found in alleyways and around street corners but now many have been moved into hawker centres and food courts, although these have little of the charm of the originals, the food is still varied and delicious and for the most part very cheap.

There are lots of centres to chose from, I made for Suria Klec, the mall nestled at the base of the Petronas Twin Towers which also includes one of the best food halls in the country, I couldn’t wait to have a comforting plate of chicken rice and a bowl of broth, plus some nasi lemak and a martabak and laksa and a satay. Its agonisingly difficult to know when to stop when faced with so many temptations side by side.

A restorative glass of carrot juice with condensed milk provided the energy to make my way by underground to Chinatown in Jalan Petaling market. Before I explored the wet market I was anxious to visit the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple near the junction of Jalan Tun H shee (open 8-6 daily).

The tiered gateway to the temple is ornate, it seems incongruous in this Chinese setting. Outside, stalls sell fragrant garlands of jasmine and orchid flowers, buy one and drape it around your neck, the heady fragrance will revitalise you and banish any weariness. If you decide to enter the temple don’t forget to remove your footwear and give a little offering as you retrieve them later.

Further down along the road there is the Persatuan Kwong Siew Chinese Temple (7am-5pm) – truly beautiful, I spent a wonderful interlude discreetly watching the devotees reverently make incense offerings as they moved from one incense shrine to the next one and carefully assemble brightly coloured prayer sheet bundles to intercede with their Gods for many intentions. Here also it is much appreciated if you leave a small offering. The kaleidoscopic nature of Kuala Lumpur Society has resulted in a variety of social and religious mores. This multicultural city are Malays with smaller groups of Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, Portuguese and many of mixed race. All these groups are centred around certain neighbourhoods.

Chinatown is concentrated in Jalan Petaling, the character changes through the day. In the early morning people arrive in hordes and throng the dim sum restaurant for breakfast. The wet market bustles through the morning as housewives pick up their fresh produce. Freshness is incredibly important to the Chinese. Fish is often filleted live by women fish mongers, meat is butchered very fresh and all kinds of unmentionable bits are offered for sale and relished. An intriguing variety of chicken awaited their fate in cages. I watched an old Chinese lady carefully chose a plump chicken. Its neck was pulled on the spot, then dipped into a bath of boiling water, plucked, gutted and chopped into pieces to her instructions. Other stalls sold vegetables, chillies, noodles, these were interspersed with stalls selling medicinal dried herbs and roots and other less identifiable products. There were fortune tellers, palm readers, tea shops, coffin makers, pet shops, flower sellers, cooking utensils, cheap clothing, knick knacks. This is a living bustling market, fascinating for the cook or tourist, but so frustrating if you are just in transit and be warned, don’t under any circumstance try to bring any food or plant into Australia or New Zealand. Both countries quite rightly have very stringent rules to protect their countries from plant and animal diseases. If you’re feeling peckish order a bowl of soupy rice noodles or some pan – Chinese dumplings, or bak-cut-the, a fragrant pork and herb stew.

In the afternoon there’s a slight lull in Chinatown but in the evening everything springs to life once more with numerous stalls catering for after office hour crowds. Some stalls even stay open to cater for bleary eyed clubbers – I couldn’t wait to see the action ‘cos I had to make my way back to the airport in time to catch a quick massage before hopping on board Air Malaysia for another 11 hours to Auckland.

Apparently the Malay and Indian neighbourhoods are also a feast for the senses, but that will have to wait for another time.

Malaysian Fragrant Prawns/Shrimp -Udang Wangi

Madhur Jaffrey demonstrated this delicious recipe when she demonstrated at the Ballymaloe Cookery School a few years ago.
Serves 4

2 tbsp/30ml dried prawns
3 tbsp/45ml vegetable oil
2oz/60g 6-8 shallots, peeled and finely chopped (use onion as a substitute)
1 inch/2½cm cube of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
6-8 whole “birds’ eye” chillies or else fresh, hot green chillies
1 tbsp/15ml yellow bean sauce, finely chopped
1 tsp/5ml curry powder
leaves from 2 full stalks of fresh curry leaves (15 dried curry leaves may be substituted)
1 lb (450g) prawns/shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp/5ml oyster sauce
1 tsp/5ml Chinese dark soy sauce
½ tsp/2½ml sugar
2 tsp/10ml chinese rice wine (use dry sherry as a substitute)
a little salt, if needed

Wash the dried prawns and soak them in hot water for 10-15 minutes. Lift them out of the water and either pound them in a mortar or else whiz them in a blender for a few seconds or until they are powdery.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the shallots, ginger and garlic. Stir and fry for a minute. Put in the whole chillies and dried shrimp. Stir once. Put in the yellow bean paste. Stir once. Put in the curry powder and stir once. Throw in the curry leaves and prawns/shrimp. Stir once. Add oyster sauce, soy sauce and 4 tablespoons water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn heat to low and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the prawns/shrimp are just cooked through. Uncover and put in the sugar and wine. Turn heat to high and stir for a few seconds. Taste, adding a little salt only if needed. Serve with plain rice or Jasmine rice and assorted salads or vegetables.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

From Makah-lah! - The true taste of Malaysia – by Carol Selva Rajah.
This is an entire meal in itself – the rice is cooked in chicken fat then boiled in chicken stock, while the soup made from the stock is served with chicken pieces and chilli sauce.

Although the preparation is lengthy, the result is worth the effort. 

300g (10½ oz) long-grained rice
1½kg (3lb) chicken with skin
2 teasp. sesame oil
2 star anise
3cm (1in) length ginger, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1.25l (40fl.oz) chicken stock
3 stalks spring onions (scallions) chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 teasp. salted turnip (tung chye) or pickled radish (tangchai)
1 teasp. sesame oil 
1 tablesp.dark soy sauce
salt, extra to taste
2 tablesp. salted turnip (tung chye), extra or 2 tablesp. sliced tomatoes
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
spring onions (scallions)

125ml (4 fl.oz) chilli garlic sauce or 50ml (2fl.oz) sambal oelek
2 tablesp. vinegar
2 cloves garlic
2cm (¾) length ginger

Wash the rice in water until the water runs clear. Spread the rice on a tea towel (dish towel) in the sun and leave to dry.

Clean the chicken by removing the fat from under the skin and around the back. (You need about 50g/2oz) of chicken fat). Dice the fat and render (melt) in a wok on high heat until the oil is released.

Drain the fat into the dry rice. Heat the sesame oil on medium-high in a wok and fry the rice and fat until aromatic, about 4 minutes.

Blend the star anise, ginger and garlic together in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Rub the chicken inside and out with this mixture.

Place the chicken stock in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the chicken to the saucepan with the spring onions (scallions), salt and pepper and salted turnip. Reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is just cooked, but not overcooked, approximately 3-4 minutes. The chicken meat should run red if pierced with a metal skewer. If preferred, the chicken can be coated with 2-3 tablesp. of soy sauce and lightly grilled on medium heat for 15 minutes until the skin turns dark and aromatic.

Remove the chicken from the stock. Skim off some of the ‘scum’ that will have formed on the stock – this is used for the sauce, to give a chicken aroma. Reserve the stock for soup and for cooking the rice.

Rub the extra sesame oil and dark soy sauce over the chicken and cool on a rack. Cut the warm chicken into serving-sized pieces just prior to serving.

Cook the rice in a saucepan or rice cooker with 3 cups of the stock and salt to taste. The liquid should be about 3.5centimetres (1¼ in) above the rice. Cook until the rice has absorbed all of the water, approx. 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and fork through any remaining sesame oil. Cover and keep the rice hot.

Reboil the remaining soup with the extra salted turnip. Serve in small bowls with the rice.

Mix the chilli garlic sauce with the vinegar. Pound the garlic and ginger together. Gradually add to the soup scum. Place in bowls to be served on the side.

To serve:
Serve the pieces of chicken on the rice with the bowls of sauce and soup. Garnish with sliced cucumber and shredded spring onions (scallions).

Naranjan’s Lemongrass and Palm Sugar Cake
Naranjan Kaur McCormack comes from Malaysia and fell in love with an Irishman, hence the surname. She now lives in Fermoy, Co Cork and delights our students with tastes of her native food, this is her recipe.
Although lemongrass is not as yet usually associated with sweets and desserts, it is actually fairly widely used in sweet and savoury dishes in the East! This is a recipe that I have adapted from a Malay version that my friend Aminah binte Ismail used to make when we used to have tea together on my visits home. 

Serve it at teatime with a lemon water icing, or make a lemongrass syrup, pour it over the cake while it is still hot and cut it up into diamonds or squares and pour condensed milk over each slice just before serving it as a pudding.

Serves 8-10

12 ozs (340 g) unsalted butter, softened
12 ozs (340 g) palm sugar
5-6 eggs, separated
6 ozs ( 170 g) self raising flour
A pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 ozs ( 220 g) desiccated coconut
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3-4 stalks fresh lemongrass – cut up very finely so that the pieces resemble grains of sugar

Grease a 15 cm/6 inch round cake tin and line with greaseproof paper. Sieve together the self-raising flour, salt, baking powder and the desiccated coconut. 
Cream the butter and the palm sugar together in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, then fold in the dry ingredients. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold into the cake mixture, together with the lemon juice and the finely chopped lemongrass. Pour into the prepared baking tin and bake in a preheated oven at 170C/325F/regulo 3 for about 1½ hours or until a fine skewer inserted into the middle of the cake will come out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin before removing it. 

Foolproof Food

February Citrus fruit Salad

In the winter when many fruits have abysmal flavour the citrus fruit are at their best, this delicious fresh tasting salad uses a wide variety of that ever expanding family. Its particularly good with blood oranges which appear in the shops for only a few weeks, so make the most of them. Ugli fruit, Pomelo, Tangelos, Sweeties or any other members of the citrus family may be used in season.
Serves 6 approx.

½lb (225g) Kumquats
12 fl ozs (350ml) water
7 ozs (200g) sugar
1 lime
½ lb (225g) Clementines
¼-½ lb (110g-225g) Tangerines or Mandarins
2 blood oranges
1 pink grapefruit
lemon juice to taste if necessary

Slice the kumquats into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds, remove pips. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, add the sliced kumquats. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool. Remove the zest from the lime with a zester and add with the juice to the kumquats. Meanwhile peel the tangerines and clementines and remove as much of the white pith and strings as possible. Slice into rounds of ¼ inch (5mm) thickness, add to the syrup. Segment the pink grapefruit and blood oranges and add to the syrup also. Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary. Serve chilled. 

Top Tips

Brown Envelope Seeds
Madeleine McKeever is growing a variety of seeds for sale, many are heirloom varieties, others more modern. All certified organic and registered with Dept. of Agriculture. List available from Madeleine McKeever, Ardagh, Church Cross, Skibbereen, Co Cork Tel 028-38184 madsmckeever@eircom.net

Growing Awareness is holding a 'Seasonal Vegetable Garden Course' at 
Glebe Gardens, Baltimore on Sunday February 6th. 11am - 4-30pm. Cost €25 
Contact Jean Perry on 028 20232 or email to glebegardens@eircom.net 

Café Glucksman – the newest café to light up Cork’s Culinary Scene
Set inside the old gates of UCC in the modern surroundings of the Lewis Glucksman Gallery. Contemporary Irish cuisine with a twist – simple dishes bursting with flavour.
Run by Pamela Black- formerly of Ballymaloe Cookery School. 
Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 10-4 Thursday 10-8 Sunday 12-4
Tel 021-4901848 cafeglucksman@ucc.ie 

The Good Things Café Cookery School – Spring Programme 2005 by Carmel Somers - Cookery Courses starting first week in February – Ring Carmel at 027-61426, email:info@thegoodthingscafe.com  www.thegoodthingscafe.com

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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