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Friday September 5, 2008

Discovering the delights of Kelantan

MANY of us living on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia may not be familiar with the culinary treasures of the east coast.

Though there are various stalls in the Klang Valley dishing out food from the east coast, the variety offered is not always extensive, and truth be told, the gastronomic finds of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan are rather interesting.

Sitting down to a meal that is not your everyday staple does bring about a little apprehension and excitement at the same time.

That was exactly how I felt when I accepted Juhaidi Yean Abdullah’s invitation to dine at Kelantan Delights’ new home at Sooka Sentral.

A favourite: The Laksam is the Kelantan version of laksa, only that it is a lot milder.

Kelantan Delights is the very same and popular house of Kelantanese food that was previously located at Suria KLCC.

Today, this contemporary-style outlet with a replica of an old door of a Kelantanese mosque as part of its interior, has opened at Kuala Lumpur Sentral – an area Juhaidi feels is a lot more central.

Within its modern setting is a spot where diners can sit cross-legged, bringing back the practice of traditional Malay dining.

Before my visit here, my knowledge of Kelantanese cuisine was confined to dishes like Laksam, Nasi Dagang, Nasi Kerabu and Ayam Percik, hence my eagerness to savour more delicious offerings of the state.

As Kelantan sits on the fringes of Thailand’s south, some of its cuisine bears strong influences.

Tom Yam, Som Tam, Kerabu and Mieng Kam are some of the popular Thai dishes listed on the outlet’s menu, prepared with a Kelantanese touch.

The first bite of the wrapped Mieng Kam ‘parcel’ got us close to tears because of the fiery cili padi that was nicely hidden among the ingredients of this Thai appetiser.

Kelantan Delights’ Mieng Kam is a little different from the Thai variety because of the spicy sweet thick brown paste that is added to the other condiments.

It was interesting to try the outlet’s Tom Yam, served in a whole coconut, with coconut water used to accentuate the soup.

Thai influences: The Mieng Kam is an addictive appetiser to start your meal with.

“We burn the coconut to sweeten the juice and this makes the stock for the Tom Yam even tastier,” Juhaidi said.

Juhaidi said Kelantan food was unique and different from dishes of other states.

“Kelantanese food has always been described as sweet, and those who prefer savoury to sweet are rather apprehensive about trying our cuisine.

“The cuisine is a combination of five tastes – sweet, sour, salty, spicy and creamy – that gives it its signature style.

“Here at Kelantan Delights, we cook our food to suit the palate of our customers,” Juhaidi elaborated.

This explanation told us that our encounter with hot and spicy dishes had ended with the Thai food selection and it was time to enter a new food realm.

We were served a plate of yellowish Nasi Kerabu with Ayam Percik, our first introduction to the authentic flavours of Kelantan.

For the Nasi Kerabu, a variety of local herbs and vegetables is tossed and mixed in the turmeric rice and enjoyed with Ayam Percik.

Nasi Kerabu can also be savoured with Roast Beef, Ikan Percik or Gulai Ikan Tongkol.

“Nasi Kerabu is available in three colours – yellow, which is cooked with turmeric; blue, which is cooked with Butterfly Pea Flower; and the plain white variety,” he said.

The Solok Lada, a dish of green chilli stuffed with minced fish and grated coconut, went pretty well with spoonfuls of Nasi Kerabu.

The Kelantanese, Juhaidi added, were fond of eating eel.

As such, there are 10 eel dishes on the menu for hardcore fans.

Even the whitish Laksam is traditionally cooked with eel as the eel adds to the flavour of the stock and lends it a smooth texture.

Traditional style: Diners can sit cross-legged on the floor and experience the traditional Malay way of dining.

However, to cater to the taste buds of customers, the Laksam stock is cooked with Indian mackerel instead at the outlet.

Nevertheless, Juhaidi said, customers could request for Laksam with eel stock as the kitchen crew would be delighted to whip up the original taste.

The Laksam is a dish of discs of rice flour cakes, appreciated with sliced cucumber, chopped polygonum and torch ginger and crunchy bean sprout with chilli sambal on the side.

Apprehension set in when the Sotong Sumbat Pulut was served as I tried to imagine what a combination of squid and glutinous rice would taste like.

However, all that imagining was a waste of time because I was hooked at first bite.

The dish is apparently easy to prepare as it is similar to the way Pengat (sweet coconut milk dessert) is cooked.

The chef stuffs the squid with soaked glutinous rice and places it in a pot together with other ingredients like coconut milk, pandan leaves and gula Melaka.

The dish is not a dessert but there are plenty of local desserts to savour, like Pulut Durian, Cendol Tapai, Sago Nesan, Lopes, Lompat Tikam, Sira Pisang, Seri Muka and Ubi Penjam, just to name a few.

For Ramadan, the outlet is laying out a spread of more than 100 traditional Kelantanese and Malay dishes, priced at RM35+ (adults) and RM20+ (children above 12).

KELANTAN DELIGHTS, 1-5, Sooka Sentral, Jalan Stesen Sentral, Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-2785 1945). Business hours: 10am to 10pm daily.

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