KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 — One of the aims of the Secret Eats column is to unearth eating places that are often overlooked in our clamour for the newest and prettiest. With contributions from you, our readers, we have discovered places that have struck a chord with different people, whether in their hearts, tummies or both.
For instance, this particular Indian food stall recommended by Linda Kumar was a place she ate at every working day until she changed jobs. Her unwavering loyalty to the place started because of the truly delicious Indian fare cooked by a big-hearted man.
You will find the humble stall in a food court, hidden from the public like a delicious secret only known to the people who work around there. It’s located on the second floor of an office building. About 30 years ago, the stall started out as a roadside stall.
As development happened, the authorities moved the stalls inside the building. It gets busy in the morning or the afternoon as people stream in for their daily sustenance before returning to work. Parking within the building is limited to the visitors’ parking bays on the sixth floor. It works on a double parking system and you leave your contact details on a clipboard at the lift lobby.
The stall is open from 7.30am onwards. In the mornings, you get to dine on simple fare like fried noodles, fried rice or even nasi lemak bungkus. The nasi lemak is a popular item prepared by the owner’s wife. Each day, she’ll cook up a spicy sambal that is paired with rice, fried peanuts, crispy ikan bilis and hard-boiled eggs.
Specially for Fridays, you get vadai for breakfast. The golden brown fritter is made from coarsely ground dhal with onions and spices. Bite into it and you find it is aromatic with cumin seeds and a slight hit of heat from the curry leaves. Pair the deep-fried treat with a cup of milky hot tea and you’re in heaven.
Once breakfast is over, it’s time to cook lunch, which will be served at noon. Everything is cooked with care in the small kitchen. The chef works quickly with deft hands moving over the multiple pots that boil away. He follows a schedule for his special dishes that many of his regulars look forward to.
For lunch, he offers two kinds of rice each day: plain and Indian or parboiled rice. The Indian rice is good for the health, as it is less starchy. You get a choice of three types of vegetables, fried chicken, fried fish and various curries using chicken, fish and mutton.
His wife also prepares her special cold salad, a refreshing mix of shredded carrots, yam bean and cucumber. It’s available on Tuesdays and Fridays. Similarly, snake gourds are cooked on Tuesdays and Fridays. He also prepares a few kinds of dhals, which is rotated each day. For the Friday we ate here, he had cooked a watery dhal with sayur manis leaves, but other days you may come across a thicker variant and occasionally a green dhal.
Friday is the best day to head here, since it means you get to tuck into a long list of goodies. As a lot of Indians are vegetarian on that day, the stall offers a vegetarian choice like curry tofu. The chef also makes a thick milky dessert known as payasam that is served in a glass.
Unlike other stalls where it’s offered free on Fridays, you pay RM1 for this luxurious version filled with sago pearls, almonds, raisins, Indian vermicelli strands and gram dhal. Slowly savour each spoonful of the warm dessert, as it is really comforting. The chef also cooks up a light fluffy briyani rice and his famous mutton varuval on Fridays.
Looks can be deceiving for the mutton varuval. The dark cubes of meat may look dry but bite into it and you discover its tender texture; perfectly cooked and none of the meat splits. It’s the same with his fried chicken and fish. Bite into it and you recognise the true touch of a chef. The meat is perfectly cooked and juicy; each bite is perfectly balanced with the spices. The chef explains that the secret behind his cooking is a keen sense of intuition and understanding of the ingredients.
Regulars also know of his chef’s special, an item he cooks depending on his mood. That dish is always placed next to where he stands. The dishes can be chili chicken, rendang chicken, Thai green curry, black pepper chicken and kicap chicken. The Friday we dined there, it was a simple yet incredibly tasty spiced scrambled eggs. The dish resembles chopped bits of omelette with caramelised edges and a hint of spice. Another good day to dine here is Wednesday when it’s the chef’s puri special with a potato stew.
The chef started cooking when he was eight years old as his mother was bed-ridden. He recalls childhood memories of going to Central Market to buy vegetables and juggling school work. That culinary interest paved the way for his career where he first worked in a fast food joint and subsequently a hotel located in Petaling Jaya.
He slowly rose up the ranks and his last position was chef de partie at a prominent Malay restaurant. After he got married, he decided to open his own street stall. The enterprising chef was also a guest chef on MasterChef Malaysia, a local spin-off of the cooking reality show where he taught contestants how to make puri and his famous potato stew.
If you want to find out where this secret eat is, I’ll let you know by way of an exchange with your secret place. Email me at [email protected] with your recommended place and I’ll let you in on the secret.