KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — My KL-lite friends often make fun of my love for “Chinese” curry. One of the benefits of growing up in multicultural Malaysia is the diversity of flavours one may enjoy, even for what is essentially the same dish.
Take curry, for example. The Indians use plenty of spices such as poppy seeds, mustard seeds, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin and fenugreek seeds. Malay curries may incorporate belacan (shrimp paste) and plenty of shallots as aromatics. The Peranakans in my hometown of Malacca are generous with their use of santan (coconut milk) while their cousins in Penang employ more assam (tamarind).
In most cases, the spices and ingredients are toasted and then blended into a paste right before cooking. The Chinese-style curry I love so much tends to make use of commercial, ready-blended curry powders. My friends tell me it’s not the real thing.
Except, for me, it is. There is no better curry to pour over a steaming bowl of white rice, for example. Its thick and almost astringent nature is balanced by the soaking properties of fragrant rice grains. I can eat this as it is, easily.
(Interestingly, one can argue that Chinese-style curries don’t work that well with breads or noodles, thosai or other flatbreads. All the more reason to tambah nasi (add rice) then; carbs be damned!)
To persuade my KL-ite friends of the wrongness of their ways, my strategy is simply to showcase Chinese-style curry at its best, which in this case simply entails some of the best fish head curry in the Klang Valley.
We head to Chong Hwa Curry Laksa Restaurant in Jalan Genting Kelang. The original stall was located near the Chong Hwa Chinese Primary School in Setapak but the owners later moved to a proper shop at Taman Sri Gombak, near Batu Caves. This second outlet, which returns them to Setapak, is less crowded than the main shop and therefore we don’t have to wait quite as long for a table.
Most diners at neighbouring tables are already tucking into their bowls of curry laksa noodles. That’s really what you should start with, coupled with an order of nasi lemak: these will be your “starters”, provided there are enough of you to share these.
The aromatic curry laksa come laden with a mountain of bouncy fish balls, taupok (bean curd pouches), bean sprouts and succulent cockles. You’d be forgiven if you think they forgot the noodles, hidden as they are under these generous toppings. Don’t forget to stir in a spoonful of their signature sambal to make it truly pedas (spicy) and moreish.
The dark-reddish curry is thick and slightly “bitter”, the way good Chinese-style curry ought to be. The Chong Hwa recipe purportedly dates back to 1968 so they know what they’re doing. It’s a great change from more cloying curries heavy with coconut milk. If you’re not too hungry, a simple bowl of blanched kuay teow (flat rice noodles) doused in their signature curry and nothing else will satisfy.
Their nasi lemak is nothing to sniff at either: The santan-rich rice grains (for those who need their coconut milk kick) are paired perfectly with fiery sambal and their curried chicken, cooked in the same Chinese-style curry.
Finally comes the pièce de résistance (which takes about 15-20 minutes to prepare): the fish head curry. Yes, this is made with pretty much the same curry but the broth is far more flavourful thanks to the addition of the meaty fish head.
The highlight, believe it or not, isn’t the fish head or the curry but the “bloody” see hum (cockles). They’ve certainly not been stingy; plentiful doesn’t begin to even describe what is served before us. There are no other mollusc any full-blooded Malaysian would crave more. (Pun intended.)
At the end of the meal, none of my friends are missing their creamier or more sourish curries. Instead: satisfied smiles all around. Mission accomplished.
Chong Hwa Curry Laksa Restaurant
G-30, PV128, Jalan Genting Kelang, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily except Tue closed; 7am – 4:30pm