So it turns out there’s a fantastic Malaysian restaurant in Croydon! Well, it’s in Thornton Heath, which is in the London Borough of Croydon and from what I can see, it’s quite the local favourite. Bunga Raya has been open for over 30 years and while the decor does look a bit aged, the food is still alive and kicking. We visited on a Sunday for lunch, when we discovered that they only served a “hawker style” Sunday lunch buffet. Yes, why not? It was only £11.50 a head.

The Buffet

Here’s my first plate. Char kway teow, fried meehoon, fish curry, chicken satay and yong tau foo (vegetables and tofu stuffed with meat or fish paste). That chicken satay was excellent, with a brilliant marinade, and you’ll soon see that we went back for seconds and thirds. The meehoon was better than the char kway teow but I think it’s just that meehoon (rice vermicelli) survives under heat lamps a little better. The curries were excellent and there were at least four or five on offer.

Char Kway Teow, Fried Meehoon, Fish Curry?, Chicken Satay, Yong Tau Foo

As we ate, the room kept filling up and many of the diners were Malaysian. Most were families, gathering together for a taste of home.

Next plate! Nasi lemak, chicken rendang, satay again, fried wonton, sambal okra. This plate was all sorts of excellent. The nasi lemak, while the grains of rice were a bit broken, had a good coconut flavour and the sambal okra, not too spicy but with lots of flavour and a touch of sweetness, was probably the best I’ve had in London.

Nasi Lemak, Chicken Rendang, Satay, Fried Wonton, Sambal Okra

Something I need to mention at this point is that everything tasted homemade. That fried wonton was chock full of a well seasoned chicken mixture and everything about it screamed homemade – it was excellent! It felt like eating in a Malaysian family’s home – they even welcomed all their regulars by name.

I had a laksa interlude at this point. It was a put-it-together-yourself affair – rice noodles and beansprouts in your bowl and then pour over the rich and creamy soup.

Laksa

Back to the big plates! Satay again (it was excellent!), more nasi lemak, fried Malaccan chicken wings (I think they’ve got something fishy in the marinade that gave it a deep savouriness), kari kambing and more sambal okra.

Satay, Nasi Lemak, Malaccan Winglet, Kari Kambing, Sambal Okra

There were lots of savouries I didn’t manage to try – somehow in my sambal okra excitement, I forgot to stop by the pigs trotters, the steamed dumplings and lots of other things too! I was impressed that they even had Penang acar (a pickled vegetable mixture) though, of course, it’s not as good as my mom’s!

There were desserts too. In addition to a huge platter of sweet orange wedges, there was a platter of banana puffs (kuih kodok, and they were ok) and a lot of refreshing mango and sago. And a platter of carrot cake as well though its texture and serving style was more reminiscent of a Malaysian cake – so perhaps it’s really a kek carrot?

Banana Puff and Mango with Sago

Before we left, I was invited to provide them with my email address so that I can be sent information about further buffets. It turns out that every fortnight, they change what’s on offer – one weekend was Hokkien mee and Hainanese chicken rice, another weekend was asam laksa and won ton mee! I just received the email with highlights of the buffet for the next two Sundays – mee rebus, bak kut teh and gula melaka!

Oh yeah, I’ll be back. Often.

They do have a regular a la carte menu for most other days – please see their website for their opening hours/days. They also advertise buffets on certain nights and also curry and karaoke nights!

Bunga Raya
785-787 London Road
Thornton Heath
Surrey CR7 6AW

Bunga Raya on Urbanspoon

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This was one very random concoction. You may be familiar with the Malaysian murtabak, a thin flaky flatbread folded over a mixture of meat and egg and onion. If I’m not mistaken, a few Malaysian restaurants do serve this here in London, one of them possibly being Roti King.

Anyway, I’d been reading online recently of a variant that’s becoming quite popular at the pasar malams (night markets) in the last few years – Murtabak Maggi. There’s no flatbread involved here – the meat, eggs and onions remain – instead, the carbs are provided by instant noodles (the ‘Maggi’ refers to the Maggi brand of instant noodles, known as ‘Maggi mee’). I, of course, became instantly obsessed by this and had to try this at home. The version I present below doesn’t have meat but if you’d like to add some, fry some minced meat beforehand and add to the mixture when cooled.

Murtabak Maggi

My thoughts?…. interesting. I can definitely see the appeal. I accidentally overcooked it a bit and it was a bit stiff but if I’d cooked it as an optimal tortilla (slightly soft in the centre), it would be better. I like the curry flavour. It’s not perhaps my favourite murtabak (that honour goes to the original made with the flaky flatbread) but I like that it’s quick to prepare with readily available pantry items!

Murtabak Maggi

Murtabak Maggi
Serves 1.

Take 1 packet of curry flavoured instant noodles and set aside the curry flavour packet. Boil the noodle block until al dente (Ha! Never thought I’d ever describe instant noodles as cooked to ‘al dente’). Drain the noodles and let cool. Slice one spring onion and add to the noodles. Other additions could be chopped onion, other chopped vegetables, cooked meat, etc. Add the curry flavour packet and crack in two eggs and mix everything together well.

Heat a frying pan, add a little oil and fry the mixture as you would a Spanish tortilla. It should be golden on both sides. Slice and serve with chilli sauce if desired.

Dang….the Vietnamese place we were going to have dinner was closed on Boxing Day. We drove on down Hastings, going to Vietnamese place number two on the list. Not having gone very far down the road (a few blocks, I reckon), my father pointed out Laksa King on the opposite side of the road – this is his current favourite laksa place and he mentioned that the owners were Burmese. A split second decision was made – we were going to eat there instead and yes, it was open!

The place was empty that evening though from what I gather online, it’s normally very popular (it was Boxing Day – not exactly a normal day). We had our choice of seats and chose to sit by the window, further away from the large screen tv playing a fire that wasn’t actually providing any warmth. Their menu was a great sounding mix of Malaysian and Burmese dishes.

To start, we split a Lahpet Thoke ($8.00), a Burmese salad made with pickled tea leaf, tomato, cabbage, garlic chip, roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, broad beans and dry shrimp. A dressing made with lime juice bound it all together. I understand that Burma is one of the few countries where tea is actually eaten and I’ve been keen to try this salad for ages…if I could ever find it in London. Luckily, here it is in Vancouver!

The salad was zingy and very flavourful and full of different textures. And it was spicier than I expected and I ended up with pleasantly numb lips.

Lahpet Thoke

My father recommended their laksa ($8.75) – it would be terrible if their namesake dish wasn’t very good but I can report that this was extremely good! The (very) spicy coconut curry broth was filled with rice vermicelli and yellow noodles (you can have either or both) and topped with a prawn, fish balls, tofu puffs, a hard boiled egg, chicken, bean sprouts, onion, coriander and jalapenos. Again, this was spicier than I expected but it was delicious! This is a most excellent creamy, spicy, complex laksa.

Laksa

We also had to try their Mohingar ($8.50), a rice noodle soup topped with their house blend of fish broth with onions, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and banana stem and there were hard boiled eggs and crunchy split pea fritters on top too. This was entirely new to me – I had had the mohingar in Mandalay back in London but that paled in comparison to this beauty! The flavours were wonderful, all fishy (in a good way) and spicy though not spicy-hot, and with lots of different textures again. The noodles in this dish were cut short and we were able to just mix all this together and spoon it into our mouths.

Mohingar

For spicy-hot, we were also served a toasted chili mixture alongside the mohingar – and this stuff was certainly hot!

Chilli

I have heard that their curries are oily but tasty and their roti canais are just ok. What I ate – fabulous. Highly recommended!

Laksa King
2546 E. Hastings st
Vancouver, BC, V5K 1Z3
Canada

Laksa King on Urbanspoon

Happy New Year, 2014, everyone!

I had to share this! There’s this chicken curry bread that hails from the town of Kampar in Perak, Malaysia (a town which is quite well known for its food). It is a massive loaf of bread baked with a chicken curry centre; at the table, it’s opened up with great ceremony. Tasty as they are, banish thoughts of those miniature chicken curry buns you get at Hong Kong style bakeries  – the Malaysian style curry inside this behemoth is wrapped in paper first to retain all the gravy in the middle. I’ve never tried the original but the thought of it stuck in my head for so long that I had to recreate it at home.

With My Hand for Scale

For the bread, I used a recipe for a Basic Sweet Bread Dough from a book called Magic Bread by Alex Goh (though be prepared if you’re going to use it – it requires starting with a scalded dough that needs resting overnight). The recipe at that link gave me enough bread to create the massive wrap for my curry as well as a bit extra to form 6 buns.

Buns

I filled it with my usual chicken curry recipe (which I wasn’t entirely happy with this time…I was trying to reduce the amount of coconut milk in it so no sharing this time!) but any curry recipe will do. I used lots of greaseproof paper to wrap the curry (about 3 chicken legs, 2 thighs, some potato chunks and plenty of curry gravy) but in hindsight, some aluminium foil would have performed better to contain all that curry.

The bread dough was flattened to cover my entire baking sheet, the curry parcel was carefully placed in the middle and the dough sheet wrapped around it. A few pinches here and there to seal and it was left to rise before getting a shiny egg yolk glaze and a baking in the oven for about 25 minutes.

Whole

It is certainly an impressive thing to bring to the table! Slice up the top layer of bread…

Cut Up

…and unwrap the paper wrapped curry inside.

Reveal the Curry

We tore into the bread like savages, dipping into the curry, grabbing chicken legs, getting curry everywhere. The bread recipe is brilliant – it produces a tender, sweet crumb not unlike that you find at Hong Kong style bakeries (I’ll be using the recipe again for another go at hot dog buns) which perfectly complements the spicy, creamy, coconutty curry. We stuffed ourselves silly.

Next steps for this? Improvement in a couple of areas. My curry recipe needs tweaking. I need to ensure that the layer of bread on top of the package doesn’t get too thin. I should also place it on the lower rack of my oven though this varies from oven to oven. But really, it’s all just another excuse to make this insane creation again!

One of the kitchen tools my mother gave me was a brass flower with a handle, a mould used for frying beautiful flower shaped crunchy sweet biscuits usually made around Chinese New Year in Malaysia. The fried fritter goes by various names: kuih rose in Malay (rose cake, for the shape), beehive cookies (also the shape) and also kuih loyang (brass cake, named for the mould). Despite having this mould for a number of years, it was only a couple weekends ago that I put it to use. It was all down to my usual dislike for deep frying but I put aside that fear and set to work mixing together a very simple batter of three flours, coconut milk, eggs and sugar. Then it was fry fry fry to get these crunchy coconut scented biscuits.

Kuih Rose

To my surprise, I came across similar fried cookies at a julbord in Sweden last Christmas and also online on a Catalan recipe site. After a bit of digging around on the Internet, I’ve found references to similar biscuits being made in India, Brazil, Catalonia, Hawaii, Portugal, Sweden and Norway. It looks like the ones in Malaysia, India and Brazil were most likely introduced by those globe trotting Portuguese, though I’ve yet to find reference to the original Portuguese version. And the ones in Malaysia, the ones I made, definitely made use of local ingredients – like coconut milk and rice flour. Any of these moulds, if you can get them (try ebay), should work with the recipe below.

Kuih Rose

When you have just one mould, as I do, it’s quite time consuming to cook a batch of these. However the cookies are worth it and it’s difficult to stop at just one….or two… Best to just close the box and put it away. Goz of plusixfive came up with a great idea – using them as wafers with ice cream. I think that would be fantastic.

Kuih Rose
makes approximately 60.

100g rice flour
30g cornflour/cornstarch
70g plain flour
100g sugar
2 large eggs
200ml canned coconut milk
40ml water

oil for frying

Place the flours and sugar in a large bowl and whisk them together well. Crack in the eggs and pour in the coconut milk and water. Whisk together very well until you get a smooth, thick batter. Let rest for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, whisk it again and if it’s not smooth, strain it.

Heat a small pot over medium heat. Add enough oil (I used sunflower) to cover the depth of the mould by at least 1 cm. When the oil is hot, place the mould in and let it heat up.

Frying

Pour a little of the batter into a heatproof cup or ramekin – this will be your dipping cup. When the oil and mould are hot, take the mould out and dip it into the batter in the dipping cup, taking care not to cover the top of the mould. There should be a sizzling sound. Hold it in the batter for 10 seconds. Do not dip it in the batter more than once. After the 10 seconds, take it out and hold it in the hot oil, taking care not to touch the bottom of the pot with the coated mould. After a few seconds, shake the mould in the oil to loosen the biscuit and if your mould was hot enough in the first place, the biscuit should come off easily. If not, pry it off with the help of chopsticks. Leave the biscuit to fry in the oil until golden brown and leave the mould in the oil to heat up for the next biscuit.

You’ll want to regulate the heat of the oil so that the biscuits don’t brown too quickly. They should keep their shape and not bubble up in the oil and take about 2-3 minutes to brown. Drain the biscuits on kitchen paper. Repeat, using up all the batter. When cool, store in an airtight container.

Sayur lodeh – think of it as a curry and you’ll be disappointed with its gentle flavours; think of it as a thick stew of vegetables in spiced coconut milk and you’ve then got the idea of this comforting Indonesian dish. It’s also been embraced by the Peranakans and Malaysians but strangely, I cannot recall my mother ever cooking it at home. I suspect that the inclusion of so much coconut milk was worrying to her! I love the stuff.

Sayur Lodeh

Do not be fooled – this is not a vegetarian dish. Belacan (fermented shrimp paste) and dried shrimps play a big part in the flavouring and it’s imperative that they’re not left out. If you’re having it as a main meal, shrimp or prawns can also be added. I also feel like this shouldn’t be a catch all for any vegetable you might have in your fridge – I’ve used vegetables that work well together; I’m not convinced by the use of peppers, for example. And like most stews, it’ll be good the first day but great on subsequent days. Serve it with plenty of white rice to soak up all that gravy.

Sayur Lodeh and Rice

Sayur Lodeh
serves 3-43 as a main meal with white rice or 6-8 as a side dish.

For the spice paste (rempah)
15-20 small shallots (purple) or 3-5 large ones (brown), peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thick slice ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thumb sized piece galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped
20 little dried shrimp
5-10 dried large red chillies
1 tbsp chilli paste
1 tsp belacan powder
2 tsps turmeric powder

3 tbsps oil
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
1/2 small cabbage, cut into chunks
2 Japanese aubergines, cut into chunks
1 large carrot, cut into batons
1 small onion, cut into slices
200g long beans or green beans or a mixture, cut into bite sized pieces
200g firm tofu, cubed/sliced
400ml coconut milk
salt and sugar to taste

First make your spice paste. Soak the dried shrimps and dried chillies in hot water for about 10-15 minutes. The chillies should be soft and the shrimps should have softened. Chop up the chillies (discarding the seeds) and then blend all the ingredients together, adding a bit of water if necessary. If you’re feeling nostalgic, pound them all together in a heavy duty mortar and pestle.

Heat a large pot/wok over medium-low heat and then add the oil to heat through. Add the spice paste and fry slowly until the oil separates again from the mixture. If there is quite a bit of water in the paste, this may not happen, in which case fry for at least 10 minutes.

Add the onion and carrot pieces and fry together for a few minutes. Add the aubergine, green beans, and cabbage and continue frying, stirring continuously. Pour in about 1-2 cups water and the coconut milk (this mixture should cover the vegetables – add more water if required). Toss in the lemongrass and bring the entire mixture to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through – you want them soft but not mushy. Add water to thin the sayur lodeh if desired – I like mine quite thick.

Finally, add the firm tofu and when that has cooked through, add salt and sugar to taste. Stir well and serve with white rice.

The word rojak in Malay or Indonesian means mixture and perfectly describes this jumble of a salad from those countries in South East Asia.

Rojak

I’m familiar with a couple types of rojak: there’s the Indian rojak or pasembur that’s topped with a peanutty sauce and then there’s the Penang rojak (or Chinese or fruit rojak are also similar) with its fermented prawn paste dressing. There’s a whole range of Indonesian rojaks too that I know nothing about. I prefer the strong prawn paste version myself and its contrast to the fresh fruits and vegetables and nutty roasted peanuts. I’ll be honest with you – its funky flavour may be an acquired taste and as I grew up with it, I love it. It’s strong yes, but it’s complex and punchy too.

Rojak Dressing and Peanuts and Sesame Seeds

Salad Ingredients

I had a jar of hae ko (that’s the Hokkien name for the fermented prawn paste that in Malay is petis udang – you can buy it in some Asian shops in Chinatown) in the fridge and it being Mothers Day reminded me also that I had scribbled down her recipe for the dressing. Her recipe was very agak agak (a Malay term meaning to estimate – here’s a great essay about Nyonya recipes and how they are very agak agak!) but I put together this recipe based on what I remembered and what tasted good to me – I like it with some chilli kick (tinker to your taste) and sweet but not too sweet. The dressing is both strong and sticky and I like to keep it as thick as possible as it thins with the juices from the fruits, especially the pineapple.

With Rojak Sauce

For my rojak that day, I used cucumber, fresh pineapple, green apple, and a fresh Chinese doughnut (youtiao) from Chinatown; my favourite ingredient is really jicama (or yam bean) but decent specimens are difficult to find in London. The dressing is usually tossed together with the salad ingredients but I also like to serve it as a dip with the vegetables on the side – it’s perfect for lazy days when you don’t want to wash up a salad bowl!

Rojak

Rojak
serves 2-4.

For the dressing
3 heaping tbsps prawn paste (hae koe)
1 scant tbsp dark caramel soy sauce (Yuen Chun or Cheong Chan are brands I’ve found and used in London)
0.5 tbsps chilli paste/sambal (or more or less to taste)
0.5 tsp belacan powder
3-4 tbsps sugar (to taste)
1 tsp tamarind paste
1.5 tbsp hot water

Chinese doughnut
pineapple
green apple
cucumber
Other ingredients that would work are rose apples, blanched beansprouts, jicama (yam bean) and deep fried tofu puffs.

freshly crushed roasted peanuts
freshly toasted sesame seeds

Dilute the tamarind paste with the hot water. Mix together with the rest of the dressing ingredients and stir well to combine. Leave to sit for about 10 minutes before stirring again (the sugar seems to dissolve better). It should be quite thick. This amount of dressing is enough to dress a salad for 4 people. You don’t need to use it all up now though – it keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week.

Cut the salad ingredients into bite sized chunks and place in a large bowl – the amounts of each should be based on what you like and the size of your stomach. Drizzle over the dressing and scatter over the crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. Toss all together and place on a plate. Top with more peanuts and sesame seeds and serve.