Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dinner in Johor Bahru

We were taken out for Thai food in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. But this was definitely a Malaysian take on Thai.
  • We began with satay (both beef and chicken). Not the flat slices we’re accustomed to. Wasn’t sure if it was just tender chunks of meat or meat that had been ground and formed into tiny meatballs. The sauce was a sweet chili sauce (not much bite) with some peanut nibs, rather than a smooth peanut sauce as you’d get in the U.S. Other dishes:
  • Steamed whole fish (white-fleshed, mild, can’t say much more about it) with a thick garlic sauce
  • Same fish, fried whole, with a sweet chili sauce
  • Greens (maybe bok choy leaves or something on that order) in a nice sauce
  • Mussels in a different sweet chili sauce, this one with a bit of a bite to it (really, no two sauces were the same)
  • Tom yum, with prawns (whole, head on, peel your own), mussels, baby octopus, etc.)—highlight of an excellent meal
  • Rice
  • Fresh squeezed orange juice by the pitcherful
  • And the pièce de résistance: on the drive into Malaysia from Singapore in the afternoon, our hostess on the ride initiated a conversation about durian, which I knew from seeing it in NYC Chinatown fruit stands but had never tasted. Tina had not heard of it. I knew it only as something with such a powerful stench that it is not permitted on NYC subways. We passed a roadside stall piled high with the stuff. Well, she brought one to dinner and had the kitchen split it open for us. The inside consists of chambers (six?) running the length of the fruit, filled with large seeds (an inch in diameter, roughly spherical), each of which is coated in a thick layer of sweet yellow paste. Grab a seed, suck off the paste, savor, swallow. Rinse and repeat. There’s really not a lot of food in that huge fruit, when all is said and done. But it’s tasty.
The venue was a very casual, family-friendly café with an open kitchen, no tablecloths, a box of Kleenex for napkins, plastic plates, tacky flatware. We didn’t see the bill, but after I sprang for lunch for four at a neighborhood eatery for three bucks, my guess is that dinner for eight adults and three kids, with leftovers to take home, probably came to less than forty dollars American.

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