|Malay Specialties from Across the Country – a feast for Ramadhan|
‘Discover The Spirit of Reflection with Celebrity Chef Zubir’
Words by Kirsten Durward
Photos by The Yum List (Monica Tindall)
Chef Zubir Mohd Zain may be gaining a reputation and following as a TV personality on Masterchef Malaysia, but with this Ramadhan Buffet he truly reflects on the importance of family and food sharing. He highlights the Malay dishes as non pretentious kampong style cooking, the kind of food that he grew up with. A delightful assortment of Malay dishes from all areas of the country, await your tasting pleasure at Le Meridien’s Ramadhan buffet. But truly Malaysians should be proud of their triumvirate of traditional cuisines as the spices of India and the steamed specialties of China are deliciously prepared at an array of food stations. This could be the best Ramadhan buffet in town.
Ramadan is a time where Muslims fast with the aim of attaining purity of thought and action. The act of fasting is intended to redirect the heart away from worldly mundane activities. The act of fasting redirects the hearts away from worldly mundane activities, but I know few Muslims who don’t seriously delight in breaking the fast. In the Arabic tradition, the meal after sunset prayer that breaks the fast is known as Iftar, and Iftar traditionally begins with dates, which are naturally high in sugar and replenish the body. The juicy fat dates at Latest Recipe are imported from Tunisia; nothing but the best for the first mouthful of the day. In modern times, Iftar has become more of a feast, and Le Meridien certainly takes on the feasting aspect with flair. I love how the chefs speak with such passionate belief, telling me that food should come from the heart and should speak to the soul.
Well, right now, it is certainly speaking to my taste buds. I’ve been fasting all day to be fair to the food offerings, so I begin to quench my hunger with a gentle foray into the Malay delicacies. There are many here that I haven’t tasted in my ten months in Malaysia and I reflect that this is a wonderful opportunity for foreigners to try a range of tastes before deciding which their Malay favourites are. So don’t be shy of tempting your taste buds with something new when you visit this splendid feast.
I start with the Kerabu and appetizers, taking tiny spoonfuls but my plate is soon filling up with Popiah Basah (Malay spiced spring roll), Popia Goreng Calit Sambal (fried popia with chili sambal), Acar Buah (fruit acar), Acar Jelatah (pineapple& cucumber pickle salad Kerabu Mangga Muda (young mango kerabu), Kerabu Taugeh dan Kerang (beansprout and cockles kerabu), Ikan Gelama Masin (salted red snapper).
From the savouries and pickles section I add Serunding Ayam and Daging (dried chicken and beef floss), Daging Dendeng (dried beef with pounded chili), Otak-Otak Ikan Merah (spiced fish terrine in coconut leaf), Ikan Pekasam (dried salted fish), Hati Ayam Goreng Bebawang (sautéed chicken liver with onion). Although my plate is laden, my tastes are for sambals and pickles so I hover over the vast selection before settling on Sambal Belacan, Sambal Mangga, Jeruk Mangga (mango pickles) and Jeruk Betik (papaya pickles).
It is all fascinating eating, but I particularly love the Kerabu, full of bean sprouts, lime, coriander and chopped chilli and Acar Jelata, which is light and refreshing. The soft spiced spring rolls I crave for more, while the Hati Ayam Goreng tastes brilliant with the sambal. I just wish I had room for more pickles. I’m certainly going to be looking to learn how to make those fresh Malay pickles sometime soon. But I need to return to taste the hot dishes now. I restrict myself to four, just a spoonful, I promise!
Ikan Kembung Bakar Sos Percik Berlado (Baked yellow tail fish in cili ‘Perchik’ sauce), Rendang Kerbau Rempah Sangai-Kelapa Bakar (braised buffalo tenderloin in rendang spices), Bandung Opor Ayam dengan Daun Salam (Braised chicken in chili and tumeric gravy Bandung style), Kari Kambing Kandar Cabai Hijau Pulau Pinang, (Lamb cooked in green chili-curry paste).
My teeny tiny portions revealed soft meats and a varying range of spices, my favourite being the strong chilli taste on the lamb. The chicken is a much softer dish, and the Rendang very rich and full, with the buffalo being a genius replacement for beef. There is also a cold station, soup and Bubur Lambuk, Goreng Goreng station and a live Malaysian hot plate, but I feel I must leave room for other tastes, and so move on. I’ve been told not to miss the Teppanyaki station so I wander over but it is mobbed! A plethora of eager plates is waiting for the fresh delights! I decide to come back later when it is quieter. I find it is worth the wait; one chef is preparing hand rolls to order and the fresh sashimi is plentiful. Chef two is busy at the grill where I love to see the intensity of the cooking as people shout out their choice of beef, chicken, prawn or fish. I love eating it too, the fish is divine, the beef very tender. All totally buttery and swathed in savoury sauce.
Next I must try the two specials of the day. I grew up in Arab countries so Arab Spiced Lamb with couscous has a special place in my heart. I beg chef for just a tiny piece but he keeps ladling it on. I worry – I still have Indian and Chinese to cover. The baby lamb is marinated in blended Arab spices and is fragrant and meat, the just soaking into the soft couscous. The other special is a Chicken Roulade with Quail Egg; simply soft and ready for the range of condiments on offer.
Onto my Indian part of the feast! I’m told the Indian part of the buffet is very famous and that certain people come just for that. I can understand why, with the plethora of bubbling dishes, divine looking chutneys, and array of breads that are assaulting my eyes and filling my nostrils with delicious aromas.
I arrange some nutty pulao on the plate to prevent the flavours mingling too much and spoon on Beef Vindaloo, Murgh (chicken) Rangeela, Macchil (fish) Kali Mirch, and Jhinga (prawn) Do Piaza. Vegetarians need also not go hungry as I add Shabnam (mushroom) Sheloni, Aloo (potato) Lachile, Kashmiri Palak aur Kamalkakri (spinach and lotus root). Lots of my favourite – Dhal. A Lamb Chop Tandoori and just a couple of tiny bits of Roti, a crispy sliver of fried banana and some chutney and my plate looks just right!
I love curry when you can taste the individual spices and each sauce here has a distinct and different flavour. The beef is hot and sour with cardamom tones, the chicken has a sweeter tomatoey spice with kaffir lime leaf and coriander notes. The fish soft and slightly peppery with cashews; cashews are also highlighted in the yummy mushroom dish. The spinach is garlicky and hums with mustard, while the stir-fried potato, unbelievably soft, has a lightly minted edge. And who can argue with lightly fried roti and dhal or a soft tandoori heaped in chutney. I wonder what your plate will carry?
I’m so full I have to pass on the fresh fish counter and Chinese steamer to leave room for dessert. Green Lips Mussels, Pacific Prawns, NZ Oysters, and Bamboo Clam remain untouched by me.The Chinese station is steaming to order. All around me plates are filling with steamed buns and aromatic soups. Colourful salads from every world cuisine abound. I sneak a taste of a coconut crab salad and I have to say; try not to miss that one!
What I thought was lemon meringue pie is a vanilla cheese pie topped in meringue fluffy and sweet. Fruit salad is finely chopped and refreshing, the apple strudel light and moist with a spoonful of vanilla sauce. I try the strawberry white chocolate fountain for dipping, which sweet toothed friends will love but find I still prefer the dark. Everything is delightful but my favourite favourite is the Teppanayki ice cream bar where ice cream is fried on an ice-cold stove and you mix in any nut, chip or crisp including dried fruit. Chef says it makes the ice-cream softer but colder for a better taste experience. Children of all ages could go wild here with the range of mixes from sprinkles to marshmallows to any kind of nut, biscuit or dried fruit and more. I go for walnut, macadamia and sultana with chocolate and have fun chatting to chef as he whisks it up on the frozen grill. If you want to be super opulent like me, sneak a spoonful of chocolate sauce from the fountain and coat your ice cream. Divine!
One of our dinner companions, who introduces himself as ‘Fat Boy Bakes’ (yes I have the card to prove it!) is raving about the waffles which I haven’t dared try, despite the delightful small wafting from their station, as my carb count is through the roof. He describes it as a crispy sphere on the outside and so light and airy he feels it is made from rice flour, moist puffy and delicious with the butter he has smeared all over it. I’ll have to try it next time!
‘The Spirit of Reflection, has two alternate menus, allowing two different experiences during the fasting/feasting season. We tasted Menu 2, which was fabulous, though they both sound delicious. I perceived that mainly the salad and cold dishes are similar on both nights but the hot dishes are quite different. I would in particular return to taste these four delightful sounding treats:
Asam pedas ikan jenahak dengan mentimun tua (jenahak fish cooked in tamarind-chili broth and old cucumber)
Udang Harimau Masak Serai (tiger prawn cooked with lemongrass)
Nandu Molaga Paraddle (sautéed Crab with Chili and Tamarind Juice)
Simala Mirch Aloo (potato and capsicum curry)
However if you want to check out the menu before deciding on your visit, the Yum List is able to reveal the totality of both menus to tantalise your taste buds:
The Ramadhan Buffet runs from July 10 until August 6 and is priced at RM128++ per person Monday to Friday and RM 118++ per person Saturday and Sunday. Late diners (arriving after 9pm) receive a discounted price of RM88++ Monday to Thursday.
Reason to visit: Opulent buffet with something for every tastebud.
2 Jalan Stesen Sentral
Kuala Lumpur Sentral
Phone +6 03 2263 7888