Sunday, March 30, 2008

Checkers, Kuala Lumpur

I asked the owner: "Is this place halal?"
He looks at me straight in the eye and deadpans: "Halal? This is checkers!"
It's Checkers, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant hidden in a suburb in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur and they've got the best pork i've ever had in this city.

Praise the Lard and satisfaction will be upon thee! Says one of the many charming little signs that adorn this one-room 30-seat affair.

There's little in the way of ambience here and the steel fold-up chairs leave much to be desired but I'm going to forgive these poor choices of furniture because the food and service more than make up for it.

What to order? You definitely must start with the mushroom galette (MYR 19) which is just a fancy term for "yummy thin crust mushroom and bacon pizza". (I think it's a misnomer because galettes are usually more like crepes...) The base is crispy, thin like a cracker and the cheese is sticky and the toppings are generous. But don't just eat the pizza on its own-- ask for the homemade hot sauce simply called After Death Chili Sauce!

That stuff will put hair on your chest.

On to the mains-- if you're in a big group, you must try Lord Of The Ribs which features a whole rack of ribs that redefines finger licking good. And the sauce-- oh the sauce! The BBQ sauce it comes with is for amateurs-- ask for the mustard vinaigrette with its tangy kick that literally (literally!) made my mouth water. (If you're dining alone, try the smaller version-- "Porky's Best". It comes with fresh salad and corn.)

To keep yourself young (you'll die early), order the pig trotters (MYR 25) which is very similar to our crispy pata. Thick, crispy skin that you must pull off the deep fried bone with your bare hands. And as you pull it, your fingers become sticky from the melted fat underneath. Tasty but not for the faint of heart (pardon the pun).

Pasta aglio olio (MYR 18.5) is a good choice to accompany all this porky goodness coupled with their house red wine (MYR 85).

For dessert, I recommend their chocolate mousse (MYR 17) garnished with fresh mint and strawberries. If you want something cool, try the rum dessert thingie (MYR 15) which is similar to ice kacang but with rum.

The service is very personal because the quirky hands-on owner Sam bustles about. He does have a bit of a strange sense of humor and can seem abrasive and aloof but I like the guy. He also has three Filipino staff so if you can speak Filipino, greet them with a hearty kamusta and you'll see their faces light up.

Rating: 0.5
Four and a half pawikan points! Bonus points because there is no corkage (yes you can bring your own wine to drink for free).
Minus points because the place is hard to find-- and this is by design! Sam doesn't want too much customers because he says it's too much work. They've got a big Checkers signboard but it isn't lit so good luck in finding it.

Interested? Make sure to call first (+603-2095-3304) and make a booking because of its limited seats. Ask for directions so you can locate 19 Lorong Setia Bistari 2, Damansara Heights. (More reviews: pasankia, food-4-thot)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

In praise of the Nasi Kandar, Malaysia

There was no menu, no prices, the viands had no labels, no one could speak English and all the servers could ask me was: "Makan? Makan?"

This ain't no twilight zone-- this was Lotus nasi kandar on Jalan Binjai, Kuala Lumpur.
My first thought was that this was a buffet with the rows and rows of steel pans containing a very wide assortment of food. How assorted? Well let's see...

- first you've got the standards-- grilled satay (my fave!), chicken rice, roti, noodles, western food
- the fried fare (chicken, pigeon, catfish)
- curried lamb, chicken, fish, shrimp and squid
- tofu in different kinds of sauce
- veggies (bitter gourd with egg, green beans, broccoli, assorted stir fried veggies, etc...)
- drinks (fresh soy milk, lime, tea, coffee, milo, fresh coconut, softdrinks)
- sup ayam which is basically chicken soup chock-full of chili and spice and everything nice. (I had a star anise in my soup!) This stuff will leave your nose runny.

! I will run out of space if I list everything here! You can't beat the nasi kandar for sheer variety. Period.

I understand that nasi kandar is a generic term for a "mixed rice" place and it's usually ran by Malaysian-Indians. It's sort of in between a kopitiam (food court) and a hawker center. This particular one i'm reviewing is Lotus which according to the taxi drivers, is so-so. (They recommend Pelita nasi kandar which I have yet to visit...)

Here's how it's done
You basically get a plate and heap food on it buffet style. Once you sit down to eat, one of the servers will magically appear beside you, look at the food and divine how much each item costs and write it on a piece of paper. After your meal, you bring this paper to the cashier to pay.

I can't quite figure out the pricing strategy but I am sure it is a combination of the type of viand and its quantity. Shrimps and squid cost more than meats, vegetables cost the least. It seems that eating a little of everything costs a lot of one thing than a lot of one thing. The more variety, the more you pay.

I've eaten here on more than one occasion and the cost of my food is never the same. One thing is constant though-- it's consistently below MYR12 (this includes 2 viands, rice, veggies and a drink) which I must say is very reasonable.

Rating: 0
Four pawikan points. Bonus points because everyone eats here! I've seen fashionistas dressed in their clubbing outfits, construction workers, office workers, foreigners, tourists and locals.

The place reminds me of a school canteen but what I like about it is the consistency--It's open 24 hours, the food is usually hot and there's no waiting for tables. The Lotus Family has operations all over Malaysia. Try it and let me know what you think.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Best Wedding Videos I've Seen in Manila

I've been to five weddings in just the past two months and have seen a wide variety of wedding videos. Usually the best are those that are "homemade" because of the unique content that only those who are close to you can make.

However I must give four pawikan points to Imacron's videos at Carine and Alpi's wedding. Usually the photo montage is done with the usual Apple photo slideshow software but this was the first time I've ever seen a 3D photomontage and it blew me away!

They also showed a video of the wedding day itself edited on-site and it was nothing short of amazing! Perfect use of Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer's "Now We Are Free" from the Gladiator soundtrack. Succinct and dramatic. More wedding videos should be done this way.

Rating: 0

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sahara Tent, Kuala Lumpur

The Sahara Tent restaurant at the Hotel Fortuna in Kuala Lumpur is the closest I think i'll ever get to authentic middle eastern food.

The pita bread (MYR2) is oven baked and served hot and fresh -- crispy and billowy in all the right places. And the hummus (MYR 9.50) is the best i've ever had! Beautiful but simply presented in a shallow plate adorned by a single olive at the center.

The falafel (MYR 12.90) was crunchy all around but I think it would've been better with cream cheese instead of a mayo dip.

Looking for some meat? I specially like the grilled lamb Riyash which are shaped like lollipops and are oh so savory.

The Musahab chicken with its garlic-based dip (MYR 18.90) reminded me of our very own chicken inasal. I found the Shagaff lamb kebabs (MYR19.50) a bit dry and I think it could be improved with a little sauce on the side.

Wash everything down with a pot of the strong Arabic tea (MYR 10) and you've got the makings of a very good meal.

The ambience is definitely Middle Eastern-- carpets, shishah pipes and even a camel stuffed toy! Waiters and clientele who look like they come from the region. They even have special booths with curtains for diners who wear full face veils.

Rating: 0
Four pawikan points! What more can I say? The servers are attentive, the toilets are clean and the food is good. Visit their website for a map and contact information.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Goat soup, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

It's loud, confusing with an atmosphere not unlike a market. The tables are uninspiring and a cat brushes past my leg. Someone almost slipped on the fresh coffee spill. The waiters are shouting something in Bahasa which Mark translated as "come here, come and sit inside".

I am in a hawker center simply called Selera Jaya 223 in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia and I'm having goat soup.

My foodie friend Mark orders in Bahasa-- duwa sup kambing and duwa Milo ice kosong. Literally translated as two goat soup and two Milo ice zero. (Mark explains that our drink is called "zero" because it contains nothing but water, ice and a generous heaping of Milo powdered milk.)

I take one packet of nasi lemak (literally "fat rice") wrapped in a banana leaf from the tray, unwrap it on the table (plates? what plates?) and take a huge spoonful of the rice cooked in coconut with sambal (chili) and peanuts. Then I sip the hot goat soup.

Immediately there was a party in my mouth and everybody was on fire. It's a spicy and meaty taste, very bold and aggressive which I think the locals describe as heaty. I drink up the soup until my nose is nice and runny and then I gulp down the Milo ice zero-- aahhh it is THE perfect drink to douse the flames.

Rating: 0
Four pawikan points! Bonus points because our bill comes up to a verrry reasonable MYR 7 per person! Not bad for a meal that really hit the spot.

Be prepared for lots of local color and make sure your stomach can handle this sort of experience. It's not exactly a shining pinnacle of food hygiene.