Traditional Malay favourites at Congkak

The eatery's nasi ambeng is a whopping meal that features a whole host of delights like telur masin, serunding kelapa, ayam masak kicap and ikan kembong goreng berlado. — ART CHEN/The Star

Tucked along a quiet road away from the hectic hustle and bustle of Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, is Congkak, a spanking new eatery dedicated to good, old-fashioned Malay food.

The eatery itself is a throwback to halcyon days long gone – as soon as you walk in, the soothing strains of Malay golden oldies can be heard in the background while a quick glance overhead shows a television set playing classic black-and-white P. Ramlee films.

In the distance, the walls are filled with artwork laced with kampung vibes – from watercolour works showcasing old wooden houses to a specially commissioned pencil sketch featuring a huddle of children clustered around an antiquated congkak set.

The restaurant has an old-fashioned quality to it, with modern, contemporary touches added here and there.The restaurant has an old-fashioned quality to it, with modern, contemporary touches added here and there.

The eatery is the brainchild of serial F&B entrepreneurs who saw a gap in the market for a proper Malay restaurant and roped in talented Malay cuisine chef Firdaus Daud to helm the kitchen. Firdaus is a seasoned chef who cut his teeth at a number of local hotels and restaurants before taking the reins at Congkak.

With Congkak, Firdaus has trawled through an extensive repository of Malay heritage meals, some from his own recipe arsenal and others that he discovered from talented local makciks (aunties).

“Some dishes I know very well like rendang tok and ayam masak lemak but others I wasn’t so familiar with. So I had to find people who could make all these dishes very well.

Firdaus spent time learning how to make all sorts of Malay dishes from trusted makciks before Congkak was launched.Firdaus spent time learning how to make all sorts of Malay dishes from trusted makciks before Congkak was launched.

“I went all the way to Pahang and Negri Sembilan to learn from some makciks – they taught me the dishes and I made it three or four times until they were satisfied with the results. So I didn’t simply research these recipes through Google – I went and watched how to make it and then made it myself, ” he says.

Start your meal at Congkak with the Nasi Ambeng (RM175 for six to eight pax). Nasi ambeng features a hillock of rice surrounded by a slew of dishes and is a mainstay in Javanese cuisine, where it is always served for kenduris and other celebrations. Interestingly, the dishes served with the rice typically make up odd numbers and should start at a minimum of nine.

“For nasi ambeng, you must have ayam masak kicap, serunding kelapa and also sambal goreng Jawa – these are all the must-haves, ” confirms Firdaus.

In Congkak’s iteration, expect to have a huge meal laid out in front of you in the form of acar rampai, serunding kelapa, telur masin, ikan masin, sambal belacan, sambal jawa, kerabu sayur, terung sambal, begedil, tauhu goreng, acar jelatah, ikan kembung goreng berlado, ayam masak kicap and ayam masak lemak.

It’s a veritable feast for the senses – one that assails your nostrils, your palate and your eyes in the way only the best kind of meals can. And every single component on this huge platter has been executed to perfection – the ikan kembong has been fried until it is perfectly crispy, so each mouthful offers hints of crackle and crunch amidst tender, yielding flesh. The begedil, on the other hand is packed with flavour – a soft cutlet that lends itself to repeated eats while the sambal jawa offers hints of heat and a pleasant textural interplay.

The rendang tok is delightfully nutty and rich.The rendang tok is delightfully nutty and rich.

Although the nasi ambeng is likely to satisfy all those hunger pangs and then some, you might want to be extremely greedy and order more. Try for instance, the house favourite Rendang Tok (RM45) which features beef tenderloin slow-cooked for three to four hours in up to 20 ingredients (including a lot of kerisik) so that the meat in the end is pliable and soft, each morsel coated in a rich, hedonistically nutty dry gravy that is intensely enjoyable.

Expect to submit totally to the pleasures of the tauhu telur.Expect to submit totally to the pleasures of the tauhu telur.

The tauhu telur (RM25) is another tasty treat that features eggs, flour and Japanese silken tofu poured into a mould and deep fried until the exterior develops a whisper thin crispy crust that segues into a velvety soft, fluffy interior, which is a little like Thailand’s famed crab omelette. Be warned, addiction is guaranteed with this one.

The aptly named ikan wayang features a whole, perfectly fried fish, served with two different kinds of homemade sambal.The aptly named ikan wayang features a whole, perfectly fried fish, served with two different kinds of homemade sambal.

The ikan wayang (RM48) meanwhile serves up a large fried dish accentuated by homemade sambal terasi and sambal kicap, both of which you should absolutely slather on the fish if you’re looking to add heat, fire and verve to your meal.

The rusuk panggang masak hitam (RM68) makes use of Australian beef short ribs and is pleasant enough in the sense that the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, but other than that, the flavours are lacklustre and somewhat muted.

The urap campur is vivacious and very herbaceous.The urap campur is vivacious and very herbaceous.

If you’re looking for something light to balance the heavier meals at Congkak, have a go at the urap campur (RM25) which feature young cassava leaves, water spinach, bean sprouts, cabbage and turnip tossed together with grated coconut, shallots and a house chilli paste. This is a fresh, effervescent offering that is both simple and yet simply endearing.

Although Congkak has only just come into fruition, it is clear that Firdaus and his team have poured their heart into this heritage passion project. Up next are plans for cooking lessons with tourists in the area as well as the introduction of even more authentic Malay meals like laksa Johor, tempoyak patin and perhaps even the rendang daun so popular in Negeri Sembilan.

“I love Malay food, it’s the food I love cooking the most so I am happy that I get to showcase it, ” concludes Firdaus simply.

Congkak KL, 24, Jalan Beremi, Off Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50200 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 03-2110 6005

Open Sunday to Thursday: 12pm to 10pm; Friday to Saturday: 12pm to 11pm

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