There’s something special about hometown cuisine – its originality is as close as you can get to a home-cooked meal while its timelessness ensures that nostalgia will never be lost from our vocabulary. It is no surprise that these local favorites are slowly making their way into Kuala Lumpur following the pattern of migration of the folks they have been serving all this while. I can be a bit of a food purist when it comes to hometown delicacies as I feel eating at the first or only joint connects me to the history of the place. It acts like a gateway where our forefathers once met after a hard day’s work and engaged in some “coffee shop talk” about issues of the day. Each of these place has a story to tell, be it old or new, and here is Kuantan’s story told through her food.
1. CURRY MEE – RESTORAN HOI YIN
Restoran Hoi Yin’s curry mee has been the staple of many state luminaries and some don’t even mind eating out at this breakfast joint. This hole-in-the-wall shop at Teluk Chempedak has no problems fending-off its fast food competitors like McDonald’s and Starbucks as it dishes out endless bowls of wholesome noodles from sunrise till high noon almost everyday. The mee is served in two sizes: “large” and “jumbo” but you’ll never be satisfied if you choose the former. The curry has a perfect level of heat and spiciness balanced with creamy goodness while the noodles are accompanied by a generous amount of chicken, cockles, tofu and fishballs. To top it off, make sure you have these noodles with the family-made chili sauce, as if the curry wasn’t hot enough.
Restoran Hoi Yin
6:30 am – 1:30 pm, Daily except alternate Mondays
No 31, Jalan Teluk Chempedak
2. EAST COAST RICE DISHES – EDA YASIN
As a city on the eastern shoreline of Peninsula Malaysia, Kuantan’s Malay cuisine is influenced by its Terengganu and Kelantan counterparts more so than its inland districts. Case in point – Eda Yasin’s trio of breakfast rice dishes is the epitome of east coast comfort food where they can easily induce a nap on a hot and breezy day. The nasi minyak, a wedding staple in other states, is rice cooked with ghee paired with a savory gulai ayam (chicken stew) while nasi kerabu is blue rice mixed with ulam (jungle herbs) and eaten with grilled beef and stuffed peppers. If you prefer some extra protein, there’s nasi dagang (below) where rice cooked with coconut milk and fenugreek seeds are eaten with gulai ikan tongkol (tuna stew). Nasi minyak, nasi kerabu and nasi dagang – this is really a tough decision to make.
Eda Yasin Nasi Minyak Warisan
6:30 am – 11:00 am, Daily except Mondays
Jalan Tanjung Api, Kg Selamat
3. IKAN PATIN GULAI TEMPOYAK – AKOB PATIN HOUSE
Now this is a true Pahang dish – the famous ikan patin (silver catfish) indigenous to the mighty Pahang River and its tributaries has found another home in Kuantan. Akob Patin House serves up a cauldron of ikan patin traditionally cooked in gulai tempoyak (durian stew) for the ravenous lunch crowd. The price of the fish ranges from RM15 – RM35 a piece depending on its quality (reared vs wild) and this acts as a contentious issue with other Malaysians who claim that it is simply expensive. The dish totally justifies the price as the fish has a solid yet fatty texture that melts in your mouth while the durian stew acts as a flavor enhancer and a lasting aftertaste long after you finish your meal.
Akob Patin House
8:00 am – 11:00 pm, Mon – Satur
Capitol Square, Lorong Haji Abdul Rahman 1
4. KAYA BUNS & COFFEE – KEMAMAN KOPITIAM
Kemaman Kopitiam is actually an unofficial offshoot of the legendary Hai Peng Kopitiam up north in neighboring Kemaman, Terengganu, hence the name. It’s been a while since I ventured to Hai Peng but as far as authenticity goes, Kemaman Kopitiam does well to preserve it. The food is a bit pricey after the franchised kopitiams boom circa 2006 but I come here for the kaya buns and the roasted coffee. The buns are grilled over charcoal to create its signature crispiness on the outside and warm fluffiness on the inside, as the butter and kaya melts away. The locally brewed coffee has a strong kick to it compared to the creamy butter-roasted Ipoh white coffee, which complements the sweet kaya generously slathered on the bun. Common to many towns across Malaysia, this combo will be a mainstay for many generations to come.
Daily, open 24 hours
B-40, Lorong Tun Ismail 12, Sri Dagangan 2
5. GRILLED FISH WITH STINKBEANS – ANA IKAN BAKAR PETAI
Grilled fish, or more commonly known as ikan bakar, is ubiquitous among cities by the sea and what makes it interesting is the differences that arise from regional flavors. While Melakans have their ikan bakar with nasi lemak instead of the usual white rice, Kuantanese have their fishes grilled together with petai (stinkbeans). Ana Ikan Bakar Petai in Tanjung Lumpur cannot be credited for the discovery of this mash-up but they can definitely be hailed as the ones who popularized it. The ikan bakar petai style is best suited for siakap (barramundi), jenahak (golden snapper) and pari (stingray) as the savory sambal petai goes well with the tender meat of the fish. It comes off piping-hot from the grill wrapped in banana leaf and unwrapping it is always my best part of the meal.
Ana Ikan Bakar Petai
Daily, 5:30 pm – 12:30 am
Jalan Tanjung Lumpur
6. CENDOL WAFFLES – 90 DEGREES CAFE & ART
The Klang Valley cafe culture has been booming for the past couple of years and other cities have been catching up. Kuantan has recently been on the receiving end of this through the opening of 90 Degrees Cafe & Art, a cafe-cum-art space. I could classify this as “hipster” because this cafe is hidden among a row of old wooden shophouses along Jalan Air Putih. Blink and you’ll miss it. It serves the normal cafe thoroughfare from smoked salmon paninis to breakfast burritos. They have an extensive collection of waffles and I just had to try the cendol waffles. I was expecting a weird experience but it turned out to be a good ensemble – the squishy toppings of cendol, corn and herbal velly complement the crispy waffles well while the sweetness is derived from the vanilla ice cream and brown sugar. A modern take on a classic Malaysian dessert.
90 Degrees Cafe & Art
Mon, Tue, Thurs 10:00 am – 11:00 pm, Fri – Sun 10:00 am – 12:00 am
882, Jalan Air Putih
7. MEE CALONG – WARUNG KAK LONG SANTAI
It’s hard to describe mee calong. It looks like your typical Chinese soup noodles but modified to a certain extent to suit the taste of the east coast Malays. The soup is fish-based, usually fish that is used to make keropok lekor, and the Chinese-style thin noodles are filled with fried tofu, fishballs, fishcake and taupok. Mee calong can only be found in Beserah, a predominantly Malay village 10 minutes north of Kuantan and the one my friend recommended is a simple family-run stall in one of the villages behind a cemetery (that was the best available landmark given). It’s a good evening meal especially if it is raining as one can enjoy the all-fishy goodness in a hot bowl of soup.
Warung Kak Long Santai
Daily, 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Jalan Kampung Alur, Beserah
8. PUDING DIRAJA – SRI AFFA RESTAURANT
Puding DiRaja, or Royal Pudding, was once a dessert fit for the Sultan of Pahang hence it’s birthplace in the royal seat of Pekan. Contrary to its name, it’s far off from looking like pudding but one spoonful of this beautiful concoction would make you understand its place in the palace. The ingredients constitute bananas, prune, cherries and cashewnuts dressed with jala mas (“golden threads” painstakingly made from egg yolk) that makes up the “pudding.” The pudding is finally eaten with chilled evaporated milk to create that explosion of wonderful flavors in your mouth. The makers of Puding Diraja are based in Kampung Mengkasar but you can buy this pack of goodness at Sri Affa Restaurant in Kuantan.
Sri Affa Restaurant
Mon – Sat, 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sri Kuantan Square, Jalan Teluk Sisek
9. MANGO CHEESE CAKE – KULA CAKES
Kula Cakes started their gig by selling their now iconic mango cheesecake at Lila Wadi, a Thai steamboat barbeque restaurant. The popularity of the cheesecake has led to a spin-off as they opened their own store last year and have expanded their catalog of cakes from Toblerone cheesecakes to mini Pavlovas. Back to their the mango cheesecake, the cake is a slab topped with slices of mango and drenched in mango puree. Talk about mango-goodness! Also, do check out their outdoor courtyard as it exudes a chill out concrete garden vibe and the latest street art installation of Cookie Monster in tsunami form devouring a slice of their cheesecake.
Tue – Sun, 1:00 pm – 10:00 pm
A69, Jalan Besar
10. IKAN PATIN PAIH – MABIQ RESTAURANT
Deep in the hinterland of central Pahang, from the jungles of Jerantut, comes a dish so delicious only few people know of its existence. Step forward ikan patih paih, a delicacy born out of experimentation in methodology. Ikan patin paih uses the same silver catfish and durian stew but “paih” is actually a way of cooking these two ingredients together. The tempoyak, in its paste form, is wrapped together with the ikan patin in banana leaf and grilled over a flat top grill. The result: a fusion of fish and fruit so powerful, it brings foodgasm to another level. Other than ikan patin paih, other Jerantut specialties include daging salai masak kicap (smoked beef cooked in soy sauce), pucuk rebung masak lemak (bamboo shoot cooked in coconut milk) and sambal hitam (black sambal made from belimbing fruit).
Sun – Thurs, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Kg Anak Air, Tanjung Lumpur (Behind Yayasan Pahang)
I always feel that Kuantan and most of the east coast states are overshadowed by other states in Malaysia when it comes to having world class street food or local cuisine. I’m planning to head to Kelantan next year as I feel it is the next big thing after Penang and Ipoh as a major food destination. Feel that I have missed out on any good eats in Kuantan? Let me know in the comments section below.