Having experienced the culturally chilled concept of Jalan, the very thought induces a spontaneous urge to pack my bags and head straight to the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Luckily for me I was saved the effort courtesy of Le Meridien, Karon, who last week hosted a Malaysian Street Food Festival. This authentic event starred two of the finest chefs from their Kuala Lumpur resort, E. Kalaivanan Elumalai and Afzainizam Bin Basri.
The festival food was served as a buffet, presenting diners with a wide range of Malaysian street food delicacies to savour the rich and exciting convergence of Asian flavours. Most favourably the chefs insured the dishes were left rustic, delivering hawker style tastes and presentation for an authentic street food experience.
I spoke with Chef E. Kalaivanan Elumalai about the essence of street food.
“Our people like to look around and taste the variety of food on offer across the hawker stalls. One stall can serve very light food like Roti Canai, the next one something heavier such as Nasi Lemak”, he explained.
“As a youngster I was inspired to be a chef by watching the food cooked on the streets, seeing the stall owner at work behind the flamed woks at night. My goal was to cook the best Char Kway Teow, and it’s still my signature dish.”
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Char Kway Teow literally means "stir-fried ricecake strips", usually served with prawns and blood cockles. Pretty much everyone in Malaysia has a favoured vendor and technique for this dish, and insist upon a visit to experience the wok wonder for yourself.
The spread at the buffet was impressive. Like the festival’s namesake there was a range of different stations to stroll around, watch the chefs in action and sample a captivating mix of colour and character.
The rendang is always a popular Malay choice, which is a spicy beef dish which originated from Indonesia. Here it was served as Braised Buffalo Tenderloin, a meat that is firm and rich to the dark, almost chocolate flavours of the chili-laden sauce.
Along the lengthy buffet line there were treats in store with contrasting, but complimentary spices. The Red Snapper Fillet was paired with a warming red tamarind sauce. The Indian Fish Curry showed again such variety of flavour and depth in the array of the Malaysian curry repertiore. And the dry, sweet crunch of the Sambal Tiger Prawns opened an entirely new perspective to the plate.
But I must profess my love for the Assam Laksa, a sour, tangy, fish based noodle soup. My penchant here is for the Penang variety, which has in its almost contradictory list of ingredients - mint, cucumber, pineapple, raw onion, chili, sardines, tamarind soup and rice noodles. It’s like nothing you’ve had before, but I’m certain you’ll come back again.
Chef Afzainizam Bin Basri confessed that the secret to a fine laksa is to use both sardines and mackerel to embellish the dish.
All in all, Le Meridien put on a fine display of both taste and cultural reference.
Other than the obvious luxurious surroundings of a 5-Star resort, the food took me back on a nostalgic stroll along the ‘good time’ hawker stalls lining our neighbour’s streets.