Nostalgic flavours of village cooking





An array of Malay kuih at the Ramadan buffet in The Mill Cafe, Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur. The Tapai Pulut is on the highest tray.

An array of Malay kuih at the Ramadan buffet in The Mill Cafe, Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur. The Tapai Pulut is on the highest tray.

BEHIND every dish presented at the Ramadan buffet in The Mill Cafe, Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur, is a nostalgic story of meal time in a village.

Take the Gulai Daging Salai Masak Rebung for instance. Sous chef Mohd Khairul Nizzam Mamat says this dish brings back childhood memories of Kuala Berang, Terengganu.

“While bamboo shoots can be easily bought from the market today, it was not the case where I grew up. Whenever my grandmother had a yearning for this vegetable, it would be mine and my father’s job to go into the jungle to look for this edible shoot. The search would take us over an hour,” recalled Mohd Khairul.

During these expeditions which would usually take place on a weekend morning, Mohd Khairul remembers entering the thick jungle with a mixture of fear and anticipation.

Kerabu Kerang is a delicious starter at the buffet.
Kerabu Kerang is a delicious starter at the buffet.

“We were always worried about being attacked by wild animals.

“Naturally, when the dish was served at meal time, either as a salad or in a tamarind gravy, we appreciated it more,” said Mohd Khairul.

To evoke the nostalgic flavours of village cooking, diners will find classics such as Sotong Masak Hitam, Gulai Ikan Masin Nangka Muda, Kerabu Kerang and Ikan Terubuk Bakar.

The last one, known as the toli shad or Chinese herring in lay terms, is a rare addition to a hotel buffet line.

Though loved by the general populace for its silky flesh, there remains the risk of choking on the many bones.

Therefore, the only way to enjoy it is to give this dish one’s full concentration, taking time to pick the flesh off its bony threats.

No talking or looking at a handphone screen.

Sambal Fish, a large sea bass baked and covered with a spicy sauce.
Sambal Fish, a large sea bass baked and covered with a spicy sauce.

Those who want an easier time can opt for the Sambal Fish, a large sea bass baked and covered with a spicy sauce which is just as delicious.

Diners should also make space for the beef and chicken serunding which is made in-house.

Over at the dessert section, there is Tapai Pulut.

Those with adventurous palates should combine this with ice cream, an evergreen item in the buffet line, and drizzle it with either chocolate or bread pudding sauce.

There are taboos to be observed when making this dish, so the end result will be sweet and not sour.

The maker must only have positive thoughts. The surroundings should be peaceful and not noisy.

And the location of fermentation should only be known to the maker and kept secret from the rest of the household.

Gulai Ikan Masin dan Nangka Muda is a must-try kampung dish.
Gulai Ikan Masin dan Nangka Muda is a must-try kampung dish.

Another worthy item to try is the Indonesian Layer Cake, made in-house by pastry chef Suhairizam Yahyah, who was part of a six-man team who won the gold medal at the 2014 Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg.

Confessing that he had unwittingly put his own patience to the test when presenting the idea of using his mother’s layer cake recipe to the kitchen team for the Ramadan buffet, Suhairizam said the baking of each cake meant that he could do nothing else for the next two hours.

“Someone had to brush the newly baked layers with butter and pour in the ensuing layer of batter every six minutes.

“All in, the cake has 15 layers. So, since this is my mother’s recipe, they entrusted me to do the job.”

Judged by taste, Suhairizam certainly did his mother proud.

THE MILL CAFÉ, Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur Hotel, 160, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel: 03-2117 4163). Business hours: 6am to 10.30am, noon to 2.30pm (weekdays); 6am to 11am, noon to 3pm (weekends and public holidays) and 7pm to 10pm, daily. Pork-free.

This is the writer’s personal observation and is not an endorsement by StarMetro.