Category Archives: Nicholas Pillai’s Travels

The Four Foodies – Taking on the Pearl of the Orient – Day 1

This much anticipated trip took place on Merdeka Day.  The four of us set off at around 5.30 am, anticipating we might reach there in the early afternoon, seeing that it was quite early and all.  Well that all changed the moment we reached the Sungai Buloh and realized maybe a thousand more people had the same thought and left the same time as us.

The traffic was still moving and as time went on it just got slower and slower and so the girl on waze suggested we take a detour which we did at Slim River.   Now truth be told I have not been to Penang in decades.  All these places I passed through with my parents when I was a wee kid and while I remember some things, Wow!!! Slim River had buildings everywhere.  All I remember of Slim River was a little bridge.  I didn’t even remember if we stopped by at Slim River but I’m told by mum that it has nice Pao.  Well… everything was closed as it was still not even 7 am yet.  So we drove by with food on our minds till we passed through Tanjung Malim and still shops were not opened.

I was rather enchanted to see some of the old Malay houses amidst modernity, and there was even morning mist.  We Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya people see this in our area and it’s Haze.



We were looking forward to reach Ipoh for a good dim sum breakfast but voice on Waze told us other wise.  So we decided on Bidor.  I remember Bidor as a place when my parents would stop and we’d buy biscuits like Chicken Biscuit, Shat Kek Mah, this Peang and that Peang, Pomeloes and all the knick knacks my parents grew up on.


Then we went to the famous Pun Chun which sells Herbal Duck with Wonton Noodles.  It was around 9am or so and the place was chockers.  People were standing around waiting for tables with dirty looks on their face, something I really hate but since the others didn’t mind I had to play along and then I chanced on a table outside.  So we ordered.  Foodie Girl said I could not have the duck because I had a swollen ankle, with rolling eyes I agreed on some normal wonton noodles.



No more old style porcelin cups.

The wait for the food was just as long.  Also I’d like to note that I had my first ever Kopi Kaw Kaw or really strong coffee.  I didn’t think it was all that.  It was not so flavorsome as I thought it would be.  The others said the same. 

While waiting we ordered Woo Kok which is Yam Puffs with Char Siew Filling.  Now these were really nice, it was piping hot and made up for the waiting. It was very crispy on the outside because it was just fried.  We also ordered fish balls and these were nice springy fish balls. I could have had a few more plates of these.  I don’t usually like fish balls but these were pure and nice.

Food arrived.  Everyone had a bowl of soup with a piece of duck hanging out of the bowl and won ton noodles and I was got mine a few minutes later.

I thought it would be a trite messy with the duck still on the bone but the meat just fell off.  The soup alone was slightly similar to a very light bak kut teh with dried longans and kei chee for sweetness. It was truly satisfying, I drank all the soup that was left behind.

My wonton noodles arrived and the noodles were a perfect al dente.  Still chewy and springy and not flat and soft like what I usually get.  The won tons were flavorsome and not fatty and the meat was nicely flavor and not so thick in taste.

Interestingly my grandfather used to go to Pun Chun in the 50s with my dad, and my parents took us as kids and next week my niece will be eating at Pun Chun as well.  Grandpa used to be friends with the old man I’m told.  Talk about history.

Walking around Bidor gives a sense of olden times.  No doubts it is packed with buses and cars, we almost didn’t even get a park, but even if it was decades long that I stepped into Bidor I still remembered it.

Mum says you should try eating at the market across from Pun Chun,  you will not miss it with all the umbrellas.

As we walked to the car, we saw a Mak Cik selling Nasi Lemak, and Indian man selling Appam and other Indian stuff then another Indian lady making Putu, and an Indian Muslim lady frying curry puffs which were very nice I might add, and cucur.  I didn’t take photos sadly.  I wished we spent a day or two here now.

So we’re off to Ipoh now hoping for some Dim Sum for lunch.

We took the trunk roads and the traffic was crawling so everyone decided to pay a visit to Kellie’s Castle.  Everything has changed in Batu Gajah. Mum is from Batu Gajah so I knew bits of this and that.  We reached Kellie’s Castle and there were so many people around and it started getting hot so the rest plodded on while I hung around.  While I was looking at stuff I spotted this wonderful looking antique pot but the person wanted RM450 which was a bit too steep even though he claimed it belonged to his grandmother.  It would have been an excellent decorative and a real show piece.  Alas.. one can’t have everything now can we?


It was getting hotter and hotter and a trite uncomfortable when we finally reached Ipoh.  Traffic was crawling even at the trunk roads.  So when we reached Ipoh all in anticipation for Dim Sum, alas once again, we can’t have everything now can we? … because every dim sum shop we passed was closed, and the ones that were opened were crowded so we proceeded to Kong Heng Restaurant.

I had been here a few years ago with Seok Hean and Eddie and so I knew what to order.  As usual walking along the street, the lady selling Bak Chang was still there selling her Dumplings, and as much as I wanted to buy it, as usual I didn’t buy it.. so sad when you think too much sometimes.

Once again we had to wait for our table. I guess this was the training ground of what was in store for me in Penang.  I never have to wait for tables at a restaurant.  So this was all new and bothersome to me.  Two pet hates…waiting for a table and lining up for food!

So we went in and Foodie Boy 1 was sent to do the ordering.  We ordered Chee Cheong Fun with Curry Gravy  and Stuffed Chee Cheong Fun.  Pork Satay was on the list of course along with Sar Hor Fun and the quintessential Crème Caramel and Tau Fu Fa.


I’ve never had stuffed chee cheong fun before although mum made it once last year, and this was stuffed with Jicama Bean (Sengkuang) cooked much like you would for popiah with bits of spring onions and with just the right amount of tim cheong and chilly sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  I hate my chee cheong fun drowned in tim cheong and chilly sauce but they got it just right.  I could have easily had two plates of it.


The Chee Cheong Fun with the Curried sauce was as always just fantastic.  The lightness of the sauce was  perfect for the chee cheong fun unlike the thick ones we get here in PJ.  As Chee Cheong Fun is a soft rice noodle, the light curry gravy complements it perfectly.  They always get it right here.  The flavor although light was evident.  It wasn’t watered down curry.

The pork satay was nice and chunky but today it seemed to lack a bit more flavor unlike when I had it the last time.  It did go well with the sauce so it wasn’t so bad in the end, but for me before I dip something in sauce, I like to taste it as it is.


Then the crème caramel as always was just a perfect ending.  Now don’t go and bag the Crème Caramel, it may not be the best of the best but eating in these conditions, this was really good.  A sweet ending. Always!

Sar Hor Fun never came! I doubt they even missed us when we walked passed them and left.

Now we headed to Concubine Lane.  This is a lane full on food and drinks and knick knacks galore.

I was standing away from the sun while the others walked around and this sweet little Chinese Girl asked me to try the something. I was a little hesitant but I did just because she was sweet and polite.  I bought a packet after that along with mini mooncakes. It was cheap and really pretty.

The Kaya Kok was what I tasted and it was baking in the oven, so while waiting we walked across to have some soy bean and tau fu fa.  Tau Fu fa was silken but a tad bit sweet.  I would have liked to sit around but the others wanted to walk around so we left.  I went across to collect my Kaya Kok but I had to wait as it was still not ready so I sat there and waited and took some photos of the unbaked product.


The Kaya Kok was just wonderful.  A bit sweet but then hey Kaya should be sweet.  And they didn’t give you a thick piece of pastry to drown the kaya flavor but instead it was encased in a nice thin pastry.  It was perfection even though we ate it a few hours later in the massive traffic jam we had to go through on the highway.

There was so much to do in Concubine Lane but the heat and time was a factor. So we continued our journey.

Penang was still a long way to go and the traffic and the heat didn’t make it any easier and the accident that occurred started a jam kilometers before the tunnel and kilometers after that.  I’ve never been through a traffic jam like that in my life not even in India.  But when you’re with friends, it’s not too bad because everyone will laugh and make comments and it will pass.

All through the trip there were decade’s worth of changes.  Buildings, factories, houses, roads, everything and off course Tolls.

Soon Penang was in sight.  Now we were wide awake.  We decided to take the ferry into Penang, and guess what?  We had to wait!

Gone were the days when the ferries moved up and down every few minutes.  It was a 30 minute or so wait before we moved into a ferry.  I was most excited.

Surprisingly, there were more pedestrians on the ferry this time, a few cars and many many people either going to work or returning home from the mainland.  What a vast difference it was from the time I was last on the ferry.  First thing I did when I got out from the car was to count jelly fish just like when I was a kid with my sister. There wasn’t any.  I finally saw one when we were nearing the end of the ferry ride.  Everything changes I guess.

You can breathe the air of oldness in Penang.

So we drove through Penang town towards Batu Ferringhi. The last time I was in Penang, Batu Ferringhi was more forests than anything else.  Now it was as happening as Phuket and Seminyak Town or Kuta Town in Bali and the traffic was even worst.  I never realized how winding the roads were and a trite scary as well.  So now were going towards Teluk Bahang for a seafood dinner.  It was a long and winding road I tell you.  The traffic was on the other side so it was not so bad, but the sharp turns and the speed some of these cars were going was rather terrifying.  We were lucky Foodie Boy 1 was a cool and calm driver, because I would have been cursing every man, woman and child.

Finally after turning in a side road and through a muddy and sandy road we arrived at Fishing Village Seafood Restaurant.  It was a little shanty place from perhaps the early 80s or even the 70s, nothing looked new, in fact some parts did look down right rotten, but the sight of the expensive cars parked nearby said something else.

We were really hungry, so we ordered.

Food took a while and we were forewarned so we had to just wait because there were three tables before us who were waiting as well.


The first was the Fried Calamari.  It was nice and crispy and certainly not a let down.  It was nice to pick as we waited for the next few dishes and it stayed crispy to the very end.


Then the Oysters topped with Roux and cheese came.  We only ordered four oysters and after eating it, I think we should have ordered more.  While it was suppose to be western it still had a nice kick to it so the flavors came out better.  The Oysters remained just right despite the cheese being a nice golden.  It was good. The crispy friend garlic gave it a nice flavor.


The fish arrived.  We had a Snapper cooked Thai style.  The stock was a nice light Tom Yam Flavor and it enhanced the flavor of the fish that was alive a few minutes earlier.  No fishy smell, the meat was easy to get to without much bones.  The Tom Yam Stock was a nice soup as well.  I always love the garnishing.


Tofu with Seafood was next.  I liked the flavor of this and there was enough Seafood in it to deem it Tofu with seafood.  They were not stingy with their seafood and it was nice comfort food.


Since Foodie Girl always like healthy stuff we ordered Bitter Gourd with Salted Egg.  Now I have had this in other places and there was never ever enough salted egg to mask the evilness or bitter gourd.  Not here.  There was enough salted egg and it gave  this usually punishment vegetable a nice flavor.  The Bitter Gourd remained crunchy but well cooked and didn’t look oily.


The salted fish fried rice came last.  Hmmm… it was nice with a lot of prawns and for some reason seafood stick, but there was hardly any salted fish.  Salted Fish fried rice should give you that sudden shock of salted fish but this was seriously lacking.  And when you did bite into a piece of salted fish, it was soft and not crispy.  A bit of a let down, but four hungry people still devoured it.  Perhaps if it was the first dish, we would not have been so picky because by now we were quite full.

There was Lobster and Crabs, and other seafood as well.  Almost every table took lobster.  Maybe if we ever go back, we’d get a lobster

Price wise it was ok.  Food was nice and comforting.  Ambience was a bit out but seeing the old rich flock there, so there must have been some allurement to the place, because the next table were Penangites who were back from Australia for holidays.  Big ears was listening.

So we drove back through the traffic passing by the myriad restaurants and night markets as careening through those tight turns and reached our abode for the next four days.  It was quite high up as well.

Before we went to bed, Foodie Boy 2 gave us a rundown of tomorrow’s happenings.


To be continued.



Salt Mango Tree – Prestige Ozone, Whitefield, Bangalore

Prestige Ozone as the name suggests homes luxurious villas with with up to date facilities and amenities to rival many hotels around.  The houses are posh and safety within the well maintained compound makes this place a little dream for me.  It houses many of the expat community and the wealthier Indian population.

Now within Prestige Ozone a newly opened restaurant called Salt Mango Tree.  Richard and Kenneth have been boasting about this restaurant from the moment I stepped into the car at the airport.  Richard’s curry flavors are quite questionable at times and Kenneth, well he likes it, he eats it, no comments from him.

So Sunday night before they left for the Netherlands they decided to have dinner over there, and since I opened my big mouth and said  I had not had any Beriani Rice yet, even during my last trip, so they said I had to try it.

Upon entering Salt Mango Tree, well it says nothing that it is an Indian Restaurant featuring Kerala food, because I did see Italian food on the board along with Indonesian food as well.  So I thought, ok…. here goes one of those places that cannot have signature food but needs to cater for the different ethnic groups in the Prestige Ozone enclave.  Can’t be that good I thought.. since you cannot present your Signature food to the masses.

Ambience wise, sparse, and nothing that shouts anything Kerala. Truth be told, yours truly is also not well versed with Kerala ambience so this is all big talk, but frankly there was nothing Indian for that matter besides the very friendly, polite and professional waiters.

So the menu was handed to me.  Me who has no idea of Kerala food gazed at the menu and frankly speaking knew nothing.  There were a few Kerala words I noticed as I have heard the Tamil word before, so I guessed my way through the menu with Richard recommending everything in the end.    I must say, the variety of Kerala foods was baffling for me because coming from a country where we have a lot of Indian food, I think only five or six foods on that menu made its way to Malaysia.

It made me realise how shocking my knowledge of Indian food was, and this is something I have to look into this year.  I need to learn about Indian food – South Indian in particular.

So we ordered Appetisers.  I chose Fish Chukka and Vazhappoo Cutlet.  Both I have never heard off in my life. As usual, we set them off to prepare the Appetisers first and then proceeded to order our drinks.  This according to Richard would synchronize the whole meal.  So for beverage I ordered The Green Machine, Kenneth ordered the Vanilla Milkshake and Richard ordered a very pretty drink, which for the life of me I cannot remember the name.  Yes, I have my moments.

For main course, we ordered Choru Mutton Curry which was the special of the day but actually a starter, so there was a bit of confused looks when we tried to explain that it was fine to serve us a starter as a main.  We ordered the Thalssery Chicken Beriani which was also a special and Kariveppila Kozhi Curry with Parotta.  Of all the above, I knew the Kozhi curry had curry leaves!

Parotta is similar to Roti Canai but truly lacks the oiliness that we are used to in Malaysia.

So the appetisers appeared.  Fish Chukka.  Having no idea what it was as the description was quite vague.  So from apperance, it looked wonderful to me.  Boneless fish cubes which I believe to be Mackeral cooked perfectly that it was not dry and flaky or undercooked and falling apart. It was perfectly flavored with the spices and I saw some cariander seeds and thickly grated coconut which added that extra bite to the fish.  I must look up this recipe and try it out, or at least learn about Kerala cuisine.   I am sure the coconut is manually scraped with the myriad coconut scrappers they seem to have in the shops and supermarkets over here.

Fish Chukka can be eaten with rice or on its own.  I think, this will be nice as a wrap, get a tortilla skin,, add some vegetables and stuff it with Fish Chukka. I am sure it would be good.



Then the Vazhappoo Cutlet came.  Again I had no idea what it was although |I knew it was a cutlet of some sort which I also make but this one had banana flower.  This was something I was looking forward to.  I have only eaten banana flower cooked Malay or Indonesian style floating in coconut milk, and it was not my favorite at all.

This was served with Beetroot chutney.. It was a frightening looking sauce that looked more chilly hot then anything.  I swear I never knew beetroot was part of the Indian diet till I came to Bangalore the second time.  I asked the waiter how this came to be but got a muffled up answer so as I am  typing this I am looking for information.

20150208_193402Just found out that India is the second largest beetroot provider in the world, but mostly it is all consumed by the country itself.  Nothing more can be found at the moment.  So it is no wonder it is used in many dishes all over the country.

So here is my view of the Vazhappoo Cutlet.  It had a nice texture and its main ingredient was potato.  However, I feel, the banana flower should have been more visible and at least give me something to bite that I can distinctly know it is banana flower.  There is nothing wrong with it because it is probably how it is made, but I would prefer to taste some banana flower or at least bite some.  The cutlets did go well with the beetroot sauce or chutney.  The spiciness of the beetroot along with the sweetness of it did give the Vazhappoo Cutlet some layers of different flavors.  It did go well with the onion and carrot pickle.

Having said all that, if we use the banana flowers then we might not have bananas,

Then as Richard had mentioned about synchronizing the meal order, the drinks came.

I only seem to be able to find Richards and my drink for some reason.  Richard’s drink which for the life of me I cannot seem to remember was truly a nice calming 20150208_193922drink.  It had Basil seeds (biji selasih in Malay or Tulsi Seeds in Tamil) that dotted the drink. It might be the Nellika Magic which had Coreander leaves and lime with a pinch of salt with soda water.  Refreshing and had a nice tang and the little basil seeds gave it that bite. It even had bits of green chilly.

I love basil seeds.  When I was a kid  I would freak out everyone telling them it was frog eggs.

20150208_194203My Green Machine was somehow less photogenic as it consisted of Coriander, Mint, Coreander, Lemon and salt all juiced together so then end result was GREEN.  Maybe some little garnish might have given it some uplifting or perhaps.

It would have been a wonderful drink for breakfast, a nice pickerupper but somehow it didn’t complement my meal.

This is my fault for choosing the drink.


Then our main courses appeared. Our Karivepilla Kozhi Curry which was a chicken cooked in spices with curry leaves was utterly mouth watering.  I love curry leaves so I don’t mind eating them.





This curry went perfectly with the Parotta’s and Rice.  The blend of spices was just perfect to me. I think it could have been spicier but perhaps because Richard was around, so Salt Mango Tree held back the chillies.  The boneless chicken had taken in all the flavors and was still succulent.

I do not eat Indian food very often unless it is the simple dosa and idly’s so these were actually all a first time for me except for the Beriani.   Let’s just say that it was truly a virginal affair.

20150208_195758The Thalassery Chicken Beriani was quite an eye piece to me any how.  All dhummed up with Chappati dough in a eartherned vessel was just special to me. The chappati dough is used to cover the pot so that the steam will cook the rice and the frangrance will not escape.  And it sure didn;t escape this one.

Then he opened it and out came the steam from the cooked rice with chicken.

Unlike the Beriani Rice we usually eat in Malaysia 20150208_195921which is very highly spiced and very deep in color either from turmeric of spice powder, Kerala style is usually not so flavorsome and deep in color but still good. One would say it is tenderly spiced and lightly colored to make it look like it is very light in flavor.

The waiter served us carefully and the fragrance of the rice when it hit the plate was truly wonderful.  It didn’t reek of spiciness but was just tenderly flavored enough.

Next was the Choru Mutton.  This at first glance resembled Mutton Varuvel which is also South Indian and usually served in Indian shops in Malaysia.  The curry is cooked dry and often it goes well with beer.

This Choru Mutton however, was different.  It was a lighter version of the Varuvel.  It didn’t have the chilly hotness yet it was heavily spiced, but unlike what I usually cook comes with heaps of curry leaves, potatoes and dried chillies and lots of spices.  This one had a lot of class.  Although this is South Indian, and so is Mutton Varuvel, I wonder how South is my version, because at this moment I feel it is at the bottom of the list.  Quite shocking isn’t it!



The Choru Mutton was tender yet dry but the dryness went well and the secret weapon here was the coconut shreds.  I have never ever seen that used before.  Either due to lack of knowledge or just plain ignorance I have never ever seen this kind of coconut used before.  The dry fried coconut gave the dish so much more texture and flavor and a nice crunch.  It was not as dry as well, it had just the right amount of juiciness.

20150208_195752Meanwhile, the Parottas were just perfect.   It was fluffy and not oily but also not dry.  Even when it was cold it was still nice and remained fluffy.  Our Malaysian Roti Canai tends to get doughy and hard.

I had a good time at Secret Mango Tree.  It was an eye opener for me because now I know I lack so much knowledge of South Indian food.  So lacking that it is embarassing for me to say I can cook Indian food.!

I am thinking of packing some Choru Mutton to take it back home.

So since the year is still young, I am committing myself to my first Resolution for the year.  Learn and promote new South Indian Style food!