Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Malaysia, the joys of Indian food

Oh the joy of having the choice of which restaurant to goto to have some good Indian food. Normally travelling you may have one place doing a curry but it is either very watery like in Vietnam or taste of nothing like in Laos. I'm sure they forgot to put the spices in. 
Georgetown on Penang Island is heaven. Not for your everyday curry addict, as the food is what you would expect to find in either South or North India, not at your local Ruby Murray joint back home in Blighty. 
As we were in Georgetown about 8 years ago, we knew what goodness lay ahead. Fortunately for us Restoran Kapitan was still there selling the same great food to the vast array of people who sat at its tables everyday. 
Sometimes its nice that places never change with the times, changing with new trends that come and go, they just sell the same trusted food day in day out always to a great standard. It's a lesson some places never learn. 
The Indians in Malaysia were brought over by the British to work in the mines and to work in the plantations. As times passed they have blossomed into a fantastically colourful community in Georgetown. The bright blue temples of Southern India shine out on the streets of Little India. Bright colourful Sari's are being sold in shops, Indian music deafens you as you walk past the music shops. The sweet shops tempt you in to try the delights behind the glass cabinets. We were tempted. The smells of Spices being sold in shops transports you right back to India. It's heaven.
The most famous dish is Roti Canai, which I consider a Malay dish of Indian origins. It is a flatbread composed of a fluffy dough, which is continually kneaded, oiled and tossed in the air to give it its lightness. It is cooked on an oil drenched flat skillet. It should be crispy on the outside and light on the inside. It is fantastic at breakfast but equally good anytime of the day. It is served with a simple curry or gravy or even a dhal. This changes from place to place. We have even searched this out in London at our old favourite Malaysian restaurant, before it went upmarket and charged 4 times the amount for the same food but in plusher surroundings. 
The speciality of most restaurants in Little India is Tandoori, and Restoran Kapitan serves the best. To be honest I prefer the Chicken Tikka dishes to its Tandoori Chicken. There is something about the bright red colour that puts me off. It is a glorious place just to sit and have a thick mango lassi. Delicious on a hot day. They are served on a Thali dish with some god Naan bread, some mint sauce and a simple curry sauce to go with. These and with most Malay or Indian food is best eaten with your hands. You kind of get more of a feel for the food, the spices seep into your skin and the food tastes a whole lot better. 
In the Good Old Days, old men used to wander around town with a bamboo pole over his shoulder and to large pots at either end. In one pot would be rice and roti, and the other would be a selection of curries and vegetables. The pole was known as a Kandar. Nowadays you can get Nasi (Rice) Kandar in most Indian restaurants and a lot of Malay places also. You get a plate of rice hen you can choose from a wide selection of pre-cooked foods from simple chicken curry to grilled fish to spiced veggies. All the food is at a lukewarm temperature and depending when you arrive, it could have been cooked the day before. We have had some good Nasi Kandar, some average ones and some bad ones. It's kinda pot luck, but as always if it's full of locals then it's bound to be ok. 
There is a difference between the Southern Indian dishes which contain more heat, more coconut milk and centre on rice. Where the Northern Indian dishes are more meat based and are eaten with more breads. These are normally the Muslim Indians or Mamak's who serve the Tandoori foods. 
We ate a lot of Indian food whilst in Georgetown, feeding three months of deprivation. Who knows where the next one will come from....

1 comment:

Pete said...

The Roti Canai is indeed Indian paratha bread.

The Malay term came from "Roti" a word of Indian origin which means "bread", and "Canai" which actually stands for "Chennai", i.e. Madras. Majority of Malaysian-Indians are Southern Indian Tamils who came to Malaya (in the 19th-century) via Chennai, and introduced parathas to the Malays & Chinese. The Malays then just chose to call it "Roti Chennai" since it's sold by the men from Chennai.