Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Malaysian fix at Cafe Malacca

I take my Malaysian food pretty seriously. As a daughter to Malaysian-Chinese parents and someone fortunate to have spent a portion of my childhood in Penang, finding somewhere outside of the mother country that satisfies my cravings is more often than not, a total non-starter. Call me a snob but honestly, I didn’t even bother visiting any of the establishments lin HK as I knew, deep in my heart, (sob), that it wouldn’t pass muster. Why try when I can make trips back to Malaysia? And what about my Penang Assam Laksa cravings? Oh how I lust after the sour taste of the soup and kick of the chilli, but alas, this seems to be the one dish that is missing from many a Malaysian establishment, most of them opting for the normal curry laksa. Having said that, I have been oddly relieved as I fear that cataclysmic disappointment would overwhelm me should the laksa not be executed correctly.

So imagine my surprise when I learnt the Traders Hotel’s Malaysian and Singapore restaurant, Cafe Malacca was making a few waves on the food scene and actually seems to be tentatively given the green light amongst fellow Malaysians. Interesting. And even more interesting is their menu, with none other than a Penang Assam Laksa making an appearance.

Cafe Malacca

Cafe Malacca

They didn’t make it easy for me- the Traders Hotel is as far west as you can get on HK Island and by the time I arrived my stomach was downright whimpering.

So named after the Strait of Malacca, a channel of huge economic importance that links the major Asian economies, the restaurants aims to reflect the multicultural cuisine that one finds in Malaysia and Singapore- a lovely mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Peranakan. To those unfamiliar to the cuisine, the menu has a helpful photo guide to the dishes. The restaurant itself is spacious, minimalistic and rather indistinct, with no real indication of it being a Malaysian restaurant other than a few framed black and white photos of hawker stalls.

Picture menu!

Picture menu!

But the food injects life into the place and Rach and I immediately got stuck in, with me prattling away about my childhood favourites and explaining the finer details of each dish. First up was the fried carrot cake- cubes of turnip fried with bean sprouts, prawns and the must-have preserved turnips to give it that all important crunch. It was good. Fresh out and hot, the cubes were plump and deliciously fragrant.

Fried Carrot Cake

Fried Carrot Cake

Of course, you can’t have Malaysian food without Char Koay Teow. Expectations were high, especially as it is labelled as Penang Char Koay Teow (nothing beats the Penang version) and it came on a banana leaf. It had the chives, the Chinese sausage, the only thing that was missing were the sea cockles but otherwise, it was pretty authentic in terms of colour (not too dark) and texture. The aroma triggered my senses and it looked like the real McCoy. Not overly oily, the flat noodles and sausage were delicious and had that little bit of charring round the edges that I love.

Char Koay Teow

Char Koay Teow

The one I had been waiting for, Penang Assam Laksa, arrived. The signature dish of Penang, this wonderful bowl of noodles is either your cup of tea or not. A spot-on assam laksa needs to be tart, sour and aromatic and the spice should pack a wallop. The tartness comes from the tamarind and the addition of the ginger flower gives off a slightly sweet accent that helps to dampen the fishiness of the broth. Both ingredients, I was happy to find out, had made it into Cafe Malacca’s version. No laksa is complete without the hae ko (thick, sweet prawn paste), which came on the side and I was delighted to find out that they had imported the Penang brand that the hawker stalls use. Did it pass the test? The broth had a good balance of flavours, was decently tart and had a generous amount of mackerel but was lacking in spicy punch. All the ingredients were there but the taste seemed a little pared down and the presentation was not as vibrant as the traditional version. I did however enjoy the sourness and as a beta version, it will do enough to satisfy homesick Malaysians.

Penang Assam Laksa

Penang Assam Laksa

Other dishes we tried were the Nasi Lemak- the fried anchovies were fantastic and the chicken succulent, and the Beef Rendang, which was quite tender and had its aromatic flavours enhanced by a rather excellent side of roti. The only real disappointment was the Sambal Belachan Kangkong, which despite its generous portion was distinctly lacking the belachan and the sambal kick that makes this normally so moreish.

Belachan Kangkong

Belachan Kangkong

Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang

Onto desserts and here we were greedy. The Sago pudding was lovely, not too sweet nor heavy and the Bubur Hitam (black glutinous rice pudding with coconut cream) was very authentic. The warm glutinous rice was soothing and had texture and bite. Some of you will wrinkle your noses, Rach moved her chair away from me, but Cafe Malacca do a rather stupendous durian pudding which is made from D24 Malaysian durians. Sublime.

Durian Pudding

Durian Pudding

Sago Pudding

Sago Pudding

Bubur Hitam

Bubur Hitam

IMG_8232

And if you like to keep things simple, indulge in the Kaya toast. Their freshly toasted buttered bread with pandan coconut jam beats Toast Box’s version by a mile.

Kaya Toast

Kaya Toast

So my verdict is, if you are craving Malaysian food and can’t get on a plane, definitely try out Cafe Malacca, as it is as close to authentic that you can get in Hong Kong. The chefs have been carefully trained and have done the research and travel to know what it takes to recreate these dishes and Penang chefs have been brought on as consultants, so they have certainly gone through a lot of effort. Prices are very affordable for a hotel, with the noodles averaging $85 (just don’t think about how much it costs in Penang) and the staff are friendly and unassuming. The laksa may not be a hundred percent yet, but it is close enough to bring a smile to my face.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 (for as authentic as you can get in Hong Kong!)

Cafe Malacca, Traders Hotel, 508 Queen’s Road West, Western District, Hong Kong. Tel: 2213 6613.

This was by kind invitation by Trader’s Hotel. This review can also be seen on Sassy Hong Kong

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Estates & Wines “Flavours Asia” Free iPad App and Coffee Table Book Giveaway

Since the creation of the blog, nothing has got me more excited and chuffed than to be invited to events and schmooze with fellow foodie and drink enthusiasts. A few of these events have not only made me a happy, satiated bunny, but also a more knowledgeable one. I love learning new facts and learning more about F&B is so much fun, which explains why the Travel and Living channel is constantly on at home. I am such a nerd.

Anyway, there is a point to this spiel! I was lucky to be invited by Moët Hennessy Asia Pacific to experience the new Estates & Wines iPad app at a launch event, which was a wine pairing dinner with Cantonese fare at Island Tang. Moët Hennessy Estates & Wines Collection has created a free iPad app called “Flavours Asia”, based on their coffee table book, A Heavenly Wine Match with The Flavours of Asia.I’ll be the first to admit that up till earlier this year, I knew nuts about wine. Nuts = nada, nothing. Wine generally causes me to speak gibberish and adopt the colour of a fire engine truck,  so I had taken to avoiding learning anything about wine as I couldn’t drink enough of it to appreciate it! However, after a session earlier this year with a sommelier that got me stonking sloshed as well, I’m a bit more clued up.This event was perfect to add to my growing wine knowledge base. But what does this swanky new iPad app do exactly? It helps clueless lemmings like myself, to pair different wines (from the Moët Hennessy range), with a variety of dishes from existing Asian restaurants in different countries. So, that means, if you decide to visit a particular restaurant and you’ve ordered, let’s say, a Thai red curry, you can simply navigate through the app and find the recommended wine. Wine pairing headache solved!It is notoriously difficult, so I’m told/hear/experienced myself, to pair wine successfully with Asian cuisine, simply because there are just too many different dishes and too many flavours.

This app is brilliant. It’s comprehensive, looks cool and it’s easy to navigate. On the front page, you can browse through articles on restaurants, wine trends, vineyards and there’s a spread on sommeliers. The sophisticated looking man featured on the Sommelier Spotlight, nosing a glass a wine, is none other than Arnaud Mirey, the brand ambassador, who was also at the event and excellently guided us through the wine pairings. You’ll find three categories- Pairings with Wine, Pairings with Food and Brand stories, which gives you background information on the vineyards.

The Pairings with Wine page is pretty as you get pictures of the wine bottles to click on! You can browse through them by taste, grapes, wine colour, country brand and awards. The Pairings of Food category is quite exciting. You can search via Cuisine (there are 12 countries that contribute: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines), Flavours, (sour, salty, spicy, savoury, sweet), or Ingredients, (pork, noodles, shrimp etc).Pages on individual dishes tells you how the dish is prepared and gives you the recommended wine.If you’re looking at individual wines, the page gives you ratings and reviews, tasting notes and recommended dishes.

There’s a helpful map that shows you the location of the restaurants in a particular country and also where you can buy your wine from. A few things need to be tweaked and added to the app, such as linking the dishes to the restaurants, and adding more restaurants, but that is a work in progress!

Unfortunately, yours truly doesn’t have the iPad to even use this app, but if you have one, then click here, to download it for free! It’s only available for the iPad at the moment, but here’s hoping it will launched for Android and iPhone.

If you’re like me and are iPad-less, I am doing a fabulous giveaway of the BOOK VERSION- “The Flavours of Asia”. It’s a beautiful book with oodles of information and loads more detail on wine and food pairings recommendations. Obviously, if you can’t get your mitts on the wines recommended, you will still have the general gist of what would go well, so go forth and try out other wines.Many thanks to Moët Hennessy for inviting me to the event and for generously letting me have four copies of the book to give away!

I will be giving the books to HK residents ONLY.

All you need to do is:

1) Email me at chopstixfix AT gmail.com with the heading FLAVOURS ASIA, and tell me

a) Why you need the coffee table book (be imaginative please- for my amusement 😛 )

b) Which Asian dish you would most like to pair a wine with.

2) When you’ve done that, please go to my Facebook page and “Like” if you haven’t already, and write a post on my page saying “I LOVE WINE” 🙂

The first 15 people to successfully complete the above, will be entered into a random draw, and 4 names will be drawn out of a hat (literally!). I will notify the winners by email and sort out the collection.

If you would like to buy the book from Moët Hennessy, I think it’s around $250, and you can email me and I’ll get back to you with the relevant contact.

Details from the night of the event to come soon!