A huddle of people are clustered around a few thorny durians. A fruit is picked up and assessed – first it is shaken, then hands are appraisingly clamped on the spiky exterior. Finally, an intrepid nose hovers inches away from the fruit’s sharp carapace.
“Not enough nutrients,” pronounces durian expert Lim Chin Khee solemnly. “Look at the black spots here – it shows a lack of calcium,” says Lim prodding a darker area surrounding the thorns on the fruit.
Lim and other durian mavens have been summoned to judge the Bangi Golf Resort’s World Durian Championship: Malaysia Edition 2019.
The competition was launched last year with 20 entries and proved so popular that this year’s edition saw more than 50 entries vying for the top spot in categories like Musang King, D24, registered clone and Black Thorn.
“After last year’s competition, farmers were convinced that good publicity was equivalent to better business for them,” explains BK Tan, who put together the entire competition.
In many ways, durian competitions are a practical way for farmers to gauge the quality of their fruits and to measure their produce against those of competitors.
Winning also entails getting a bit of a leg-up in the industry.
“Oh yes, winning has helped us a lot. We’ve gotten a lot of recognition and we now even get phone calls and requests for our durians, including one very weird call from a person asking if we could send branches from our Musang King trees to be grafted,” says Eric Chan of durian farm Dulai Fruits.
Chan’s durians were winners in the Musang King and Tekka category last year, a feat he repeated this year when his durians nabbed the top position in both categories once again.
Lim (right) assessing whether the durian has ripened properly or not by shaking it. Lim is a durian expert who can tell if a durian is good or not by its outlook. Photo: Bangi Golf Resort
Given the year-on-year response to the competition, it is only likely to get bigger as time goes on, simply because durian farming has become so lucrative in the past few years.
Once considered leisure farming, durian farming in Malaysia has gone global in tandem with increased demand from China.
This in turn, has caused a surge in supply – from 2017 to 2018, durian production rose from 211,000 metric tonnes to 341,000 metric tonnes.
“I believe the number of durian farmers and durian acreage has more than doubled in the last two or three years after we opened the market overseas, especially to China. There is a lot of incentive from the government sector as well as farmers’ associations, so farmers and potential farmers are very interested because they know the market is there,” says Dr Johari Sarip, the director of the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) in Johor.
But for Lim and his cohorts, durian-judging is serious business because not only does it give them an opportunity to help deserving farmers, they also get to put their vast knowledge and skills to good use.
Also read: Durian research centre to be unveiled at Bangi Golf Resort Durian Festival & Awards
Because durian farming has become such a lucrative industry to be in, durian farmers are increasingly receptive to entering competitions as this gives them an idea of how their fruits fare against those of their competitors. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan
A beginner’s guide to durians
In his day job, Lim consults farmers and private organisations on the design and management of their durian farms and provides strategies to improve yield and productivity. Basically, he knows everything there is to know about durians, from farm to fruit, and is quick to determine the viability of a fruit from the very first look.
“Overall, we look at the outlook first, the shape. So, a good durian must be rounded and elongated. When you open the husk, if it is whitish, that is a sign of a lack of nutrients or imbalanced nutrients.
“We also look at the flesh colour – from the colour, we can judge whether it is bitter or sweet. If it is a lightish golden colour, it will be sweet, but if it is golden with a little bit of green, it will be bitter.
“Generally, if you look at the outlook of a fruit, it can give you an indication of about 80% of the quality, although the final test is of course in the tasting,” says Lim.
A strong aroma (without any sour-ish odour) is one of the underlying qualities of a good durian. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan
Although durians in Malaysia are typically collected once they drop from the trees, the best time to actually eat the fruit may not be immediately after it drops. This is because durians naturally ferment in their husks and this fermentation process informs and impacts the end tasting notes of the fruit.
“Durians start to ferment once it drops from the tree. So when it starts to ferment, it will convert to carbohydrates and glucose.
“So that’s why durian sellers will knock the husk a few times – this is how they expedite the fermentation process,” says Lim.
How a fruit ferments is also dependent on how it is managed at the farm level. According to Lim, fermentation can be affected by the nutrients the tree gets – if it has balanced nutrients, it can be eaten a few hours after dropping from the tree because fermentation has already started.
Also read: ‘Durian Whisky’ is Malaysian-made, and not actually whisky
Durians start ripening once they drop from trees, but the ripening level depends on factors like the weather and nutrient distribution at the farm level. Photo: Bangi Golf Resort
On the other hand, if nutritional intake is insufficient (which can be seen from the surface of the husk), it will take about 24 to 48 hours before it reaches full fermentation.
Other factors that impact fermentation include how many fruits the tree is bearing, what clone it is and the weather at the time (dry weather speeds up fermentation).
And then there is possibly the biggest factor of them all: Consumer preference.
“Some people prefer only sweet fruits, for example the Chinese in China that have just learnt how to eat durians will prefer the sweet ones. So after it drops, within two to three hours if you give them a fruit to eat, they will like it.
“But for Malaysians, they like to eat fully fermented or overripe fruits, so they will prefer durians consumed at a later stage.
“Thai people meanwhile like to eat half-ripened durians and they don’t like very strong aromas, so they actually cut the fruit before it has dropped.
“Any fruit that is harvested earlier will have a lighter aroma, it won’t be so sweet and it won’t be so concentrated. So when it reaches more maturity, the aroma and sweetness will keep on increasing,” says Lim.
This year’s competition saw more than 50 entries vying for the top spot in different categories. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan
Lim says when eating durians, there are a few flavour and textural elements that he looks for.
“In terms of taste, it must be sweet with a little bit of bitterness and it should be creamy, sticky and have a strong aroma. And we don’t want to have a sour-ish element because that means that the tree is sick so the fruit is not healthy,” he says.
Lim says although Malaysians are crazy about durians, most have only eaten a selected variety and can’t really distinguish a good durian from a not-so good one.
“The majority of Malaysians actually just eat, they don’t know much about durians. They’ve never tasted the superior quality ones, so their standard is just whatever they eat in the market.
“So consumers should put in the effort to get some sort of durian education because only then will they know how to select good durians,” says Lim.
The winners of durian competitions like Bangi Golf Resort’s World durian Championship: Malaysia Edition often end up getting more recognition after their win. Photo: Bangi Golf Resort
Tan however thinks that the effect of competitions like this can be far-ranging and ultimately, cyclical.
“As more and more entities get involved in planting durians, there is a need to distinguish the good from the bad. And from the competition, the public is also indirectly educated on the nuances of what distinguishes a mediocre fruit from an excellent fruit.
“And the more discerning the public gets about fruit quality, the more farmers will monitor their fruit and ultimately raise the bar for quality durians in the market space,” he says.
By now, you’ve probably heard about Durian Whisky, which went viral when it was launched in Singapore recently. But the real question is, is it actually whisky?
Here’s what we know about Durian Whisky. It is made from 100% Musang King flesh, contains added ethanol and sugar, has 18% alcohol base volume (ABV), and costs SG$98 (RM296) for a 250ml bottle and SG$198 (RM599) for a 750ml bottle.
According to a post by Singaporean whisky blog Dramocracy, Durian Whisky is actually made by a Malaysian company called Tropical Wine Sdn Bhd, which lists a durian liqueur product called Dorian-Inside on its online store (www.tropicalwine.com.my) for RM238.
Like Durian Whisky, Dorian-Inside is also made from 100% Musang King flesh, has added ethanol and sugar, and is also 18% ABV. Hmm, what a coincidence.
Now, I’ve actually tried Dorian-Inside, and I’m happy to say that it is an outstanding product that really does taste like liquid Musang King with a silky smooth and creamy texture, and somehow not too pungent on the nose and palate. If you love durian, you’ll probably love this.
Anyway, just for fun, let’s dissect Durian Whisky’s production process (which it displays on its official website) to see if there’s anything in there that can justify it being called a whisky.
The 700ml Durian Whisky is sold for SG$198.00.
First of all, what makes a whisky a whisky?
‘Whisky’ (or ‘whiskey’) are spirits distilled from grain products, including barley, grain, corn, rye or wheat, and usually aged in oak barrels for a period of time. Single malt scotch, for instance, is made from malted barley, while American bourbon has to have at least 51% corn whiskey in it, and so on.
So, that’s already one blow to the Durian Whisky’s claim to be a whisky. To tell the truth, a better category for it would probably be brandy, which is the common term for spirits that are distilled from fruits.
Cognac, Armagnac and pisco, which are distilled from grapes, are brandies. Applejack and calvados, which are distilled from apples, are brandies. Schnapps are brandies that are distilled from apricots, peaches, grapes, and so on. As long as the source of the sugars is from a fruit, the spirit is a brandy.
However, we would also hesitate to call Durian Whisky a brandy. In fact, we wouldn’t call it a spirit at all, since according to its official website, there is no distillation involved. It also only has a modest 18% ABV, which is a far cry from most whiskies’ minimum of 40% ABV.
But still, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and check out their production process:
1. “The freshest and premium grade of Musang King durian is picked and the flesh is grinded, blended until smooth and extra fibers are strained.”
Well, no complaints about how they process their durians. Sounds delicious too, I must say.
2. “Using our patent technology, processes of ethanol and sugar is added.”
While we won’t comment on their ‘patent technology’, we can only assume that ‘processes of ethanol and sugar is added’ means that they add ethanol and sugar to the durian mix.
The addition of sugar is another nail in its whisky coffin. Generally, spirits that have added sugars are called liqueurs. It doesn’t matter if the base spirit is whisky, brandy or rum – if you add sugar in it, it’s a liqueur.So, based on their own explanation of their process, it’s clear that Durian Whisky is actually a liqueur.
But just for the heck of it, let’s plug on.
While there is no such term in whisky-making, ‘pressing’ is part of the brandy-making process, in which the fruits are crushed and pressed in order to release more sugars in preparation for the fermentation process.
However, since the durian was already ‘grinded’ and blended in the first step of the process, we’re wondering why it still needs to go through an additional pressing.
4. “Fermentation: Sulfurs are reduced to trace levels!”
Fermentation is the process in which sugars are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of various yeasts or enzymes. In other words, this is the part where the alcohol in beer, whiskies, brandies, and other spirits is produced.
In the case of Durian Whisky, however, there seems to be some contradictions. They’ve already stated that ethanol is added to the durian flesh mix, so why is there further fermentation of the product?
And while we’re at it, what do they mean by reducing sulphur levels? Are they referring to the elements in the durian that give it its pungent smell? Another head scratcher, this.
Dorian-Inside is a durian liqueur made from 100% Musang King durians.
5. “Aging: added with whisky”
So, by now, we’ve pretty much established that Durian Whisky is NOT whisky. But wait, now they’re adding whisky into the entire concoction! We’re not sure what kind of whisky they are adding to the mixture of durian flesh, sugar and ethanol though, nor do we know why.
There ARE spirits that have whisky added to it in the market, for instance, Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur, and Drambuie, a liqueur that is made with honey and whisky. However, none of them are bold enough to call themselves ‘whisky’. ‘Whisky-based’, maybe.And to make it even more confusing, they’ve called it their ‘aging’ (sic) process.
In whisky terms, the process of ageing means putting the new make spirit into a barrel for years, so that the wood can impart flavours into the spirit. For Scotch, you need to age it a minimum of three years before you can even call it WHISKY, let alone Scotch.
So, is Durian Whisky put into barrels to age? Somehow, we doubt that.
Since it’s a purely distilled spirit, whisky doesn’t need to be clarified. There is, however, a filtering process called ‘chill filtration’, in which after it is removed from the barrel, the whisky is cooled to between -10° and 4° Celsius, and filtered through a fine adsorption filter. This process removes any sediments and oils from the spirit, and is purely for aesthetic purposes – a non-chill-filtered whisky can turn cloudy if water is added.
In Durian Whisky’s case, however, it’s a fair guess that ‘clarification’ refers to the process of making a liquid clearer by removing all solid components in it. It’s a process that is becoming more popular with bartenders, who have been experimenting with making drinks from clarified liquids such as milk or juices, and even clarifying entire cocktails.
Here, it makes sense for Durian Whisky to go through the clarification process, because there’s nothing more disgusting than having something lumpy in your mouth when you’re trying to enjoy your ‘whisky’.
So there you have it, having gone through the entire process of making Durian Whisky, it’s safe to say that it’s not whisky at all, but rather, a durian liqueur. And if that’s what you’re looking for, you might as well get a bottle of Dorian-Inside instead. After all, it’s cheaper, and chances are, it’s pretty much the same product anyway.
Michael Cheang loves durian, but still prefers eating the actual fruit over drinking it. Contact him on Facebook, Instagram (@MyTipsyTurvy) or Twitter (@MichaelCheang).
A close up of Durian Whisky’s label reveals that it was made by Malaysian company Tropical Wine Sdn Bhd.
Lindsay Gasik has been living in Malaysia and travelling around the region for about six years, but she still gets curious looks from locals wherever she goes – and it’s not because she’s Caucasian.
It’s because she’s a durian expert who conducts tours in Malaysia and around Southeast Asia for those who love the fruit and want to devour the different varieties.
“People always think I’m just a tourist and they want to know when I’m going home, but I don’t feel I have a home,” says the 29-year-old.
Since she arrived in Asia in 2012, Gasik has been living out of her backpack, going from one country to the next on her durian trail. Her blog, yearofthedurian.com/blog, has a wealth of information about the fruit with tantalising photos to boot!
It all started in 2009 at a vegan food fair in her hometown of Central Point in Oregon, United States.
“I transitioned to a vegan diet in 2007 but I was experiencing some health issues, and it so happened there was a vegan festival in my hometown and I decided to check it out.
“When I got there, there was this weird smell wafting through the festival grounds. I didn’t think it was bad but it wasn’t something I’d tried before. I couldn’t figure out what it was,” she shares.
“I asked people about it and found out it was from this fruit, the durian. The people I spoke to described it as some ‘magical’ fruit that would change my life and open my chakras. I wasn’t sure about that, but it made me very curious about the fruit.”
Gasik has done extensive research about durian for her blog, yearofthedurian.com. Photo: Lindsay Gasik
And so began Gasik’s hunt for durian. She found frozen durians at a Chinese grocery store and she fell in love with the creamy, rich flavour of the fruit. “I had never tasted anything like it. It was so different, and I needed to understand it,” she says.
Oregon was facing a recession at the time and Gasik, who’d just graduated from university, couldn’t find a job. Her father suggested that she travel for a year until the economic situation got better.
“I wasn’t interested in the usual tourist attractions, but when my father suggested I travel I decided to track down this fruit,” she says. That brought her to Indonesia, and then other countries in Asia where she has been for the most part since.
“I found out through online research that durians were in season in Sumatra, so I booked a ticket to the biggest city and just asked a lot of questions and found my way to some farms. It was a lot of luck actually, but I had to overcome my shyness and start talking to people,” she shares.
Gasik charted her travels and experiences with durian on her blog, which was meant to be a journal for her family and friends to know what she was up to. What she didn’t expect was for her blog to gain traction among durian lovers.
“One day I looked at the analytics for my blog and realised I got about 1,000 views daily. I was getting emails from people asking me questions about where I was going next and asking me if they could go with me.
“I realised then that my blog was sort of a resource for people and I thought, this could be my purpose,” says Gasik, who has travelled to 13 countries including Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines,
Gasik’s blog is now a well-known resource for durian fans keen on hunting down the best fruits and trying the varieties that are specific to different countries. She has extensive knowledge about the “king of fruits”, which she has gained from conversations with farmers, horticulturalists and durian fans.
“My purpose is to help people find their best durian. If you tell me you want a durian that’s sweet and dry, I will find it for you. I think of myself as sort of a durian sommelier,” she says.
Gasik with a group of people she guided on a tour in Thailand. Photo: Lindsay Gasik
Apart from her durian tours, Gasik also writes about durian and her travels for magazines and online sites, and gives presentations about durians too – how to choose a fruit, how to open one and where to find a durian to suit a person’s taste preference.
“I get tired of eating it sometimes, but I love learning about the fruit and the people. It’s about meeting and learning from people, particularly farmers. Comparing the fruit in every country, learning about the people and how they experience flavours – that’s what’s really interesting.
“It was never just about tasting the fruit but a way of exploring a bigger topic,” she explains.
In early 2018, Gasik wrote a book, The Durian Tourist’s Guide To Penang, which focuses on the varieties of durian in Penang, featuring 65 farms in the state and a pictorial identification of about 25 varieties.
“I’m currently working on another book – telling the stories of all the durians in Malaysia. I’m also trying to work with local guides to see how I can combine nature and cultural tours with a durian tour,” she says.
Gasik’s tours are gaining traction among tourists from all over the world, which keeps her busy throughout the year. “There are a lot more people into exploring places in a different way, and that’s really cool,” she says.
(Also read: Off The Beat: In search of the rare and elusive Durian Kura Kura)
I knew I had to see the kura kura durian as soon as I learned of the medium-sized, wild fruit’s near-extinct status.
After all, it has already been placed on the red list of threatened species by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Although endemic to Borneo, most Sabahans and Sarawakians I’ve met don’t know about these “tortoise durians” or, durio testudinarum. Likewise, the cluelessness on the Indonesian side of the island, Kalimantan.
Unlike regular durian, the kura kura durian hangs just about ground level from its tree when it fruits. It’s presumed that the fruit’s low-lying position gives credence to its name – even a tortoise can reach it.
Whenever I’ve shown friends pictures of these durians, they’ve always been fascinated by the existence of such a species. Of course, their enthusiasm couldn’t mirror my obsession, and soon, I was itching to “meet” this special durian tree.
Although I regard myself a durian lover, my elevated sugar levels have kept me away from this super delicious king of fruits the past two years.
A Borneo Post report indicated that I could find some kura kura durian trees in Kampung Selanyau, Bekenu Sibuti, about 60km from Miri, Sarawak.
Thanks to my colleague, Stephen Then, who is based in this lovely and famous oil-producing city, the trip was made a little easier since he had mapped out our route into this village.
You don’t many signboards like these in the city… Photos: Florence Teh
The two-hour drive wasn’t exactly scenic, but more monotonous with the endless oil palm plantations, although a few “beware of crocodiles” signboards at some river banks immediately caught the attention of this city dude.
Upon reaching the village, we had to stop several times to ask villagers if they knew where these special durian trees were located.
One makcik told me she had tasted the kura kura durian but wasn’t certain if it came from the top of the hill. The hill? Now that was certainly not encouraging.
Continuing our drive along the dusty trail, we once again resorted to stopping to ask for directions, this time from a group of teenagers who swore that no such durians existed in the village. Only regular durians, they said.
The intrepid durian hunter that I am, I wasn’t going to give up, especially since I had flown all the way from Kuala Lumpur to realise this “mission”. If I had to spend the night in a mosquito-infested village, then that’s what I was willing to do.
By this point in the day, Then began to look a little worried as daylight was fast fading, so we needed to find the trees soon.
Finally, we met someone who knew about the trees, and this kind soul was even prepared to lead us to them. We made a pitstop at the village head’s home for a courtesy call since he was the owner of these trees that had grown on his land.
We drove deeper into the jungle until we finally had to stop and continue the journey on foot. As we got closer, I began to feel more optimistic that we’d find these incredible trees, which may just disappear from the face of the Earth soon.
Amazingly, no other villages in Miri has this species of durian.
Kura kura durians grow at the base of its tree, very close to the ground. Photo: Cikgu Yus
According to a Borneo Post report, Kampung Selanyau JKKK deputy chairman Johnny Mungkil revealed, “visitors from Peninsular Malaysia and overseas come here to get a glimpse of the trees and fruit.”
He said villagers who own the kura kura durian trees include Taib Mawang (three), Sayah Mawan (two), Aspa Yahya (two big trees) and Midah Japar (three).
Apparently, some of the trees are over 50 years old. The tree is unique because it flowers and bears fruit at the lower portion of the trunk. This feature draws visitors in droves to Kampung Selanyau.
Thanks to Cikgu Yus, a teacher whose father owns a piece of land on which a few of these jungle trees stand, I finally saw what the kura kura durian trees looked like.
The trees were not cultivated – they just happened to grow on their land.
Unfortunately for me, by the time I saw them, the season was already almost over, and the fruits left hanging on the trees were still unripe. It was a classic case of so near, yet so far – I found these fruits but had no chance to taste them.
Cikgy Yus could sense my disappointment so, to cheer me up, she showed me some photographs of durians clustered like balls around the base of a tree.
One villager shared that this yellow-flesh durian isn’t as sweet as regular durian and is an acquired taste.
Durian expert Lindsay Gasik has a better description. She wrote: “… this durian has more in common, texture-wise, with a crunchy jackfruit than with durian. It’s brown-sugar sweet, almost like a chico sapote, and each rubbery sec of flesh peels away cleanly from the seed. And it has almost no aroma.”
A rare kura kura durian tree at Kampung Selanyau, Bekenu Sibuti in Miri.
Like me, she too had travelled to Borneo in search of the fabled fruit, narrating that “a few years ago, I rode a bus over 36 hours, slept on the floor without a mosquito net, contracted both intestinal parasites and some form of dengue, and got held hostage by a tribe upriver, just to find Durian Kura Kura.”
Eventually, she found them at a market in Limbang, a small town in Sarawak adjacent to Brunei.
“Finding durian kura kura in Limbang was annoyingly easy. It almost made me mad. It was just there, at the daily market, sold in a pile like every other random and equally rare fruit.
“Hey, it’s a special durian. So darn worth it because durian kura kura doesn’t taste like durian. It’s weird, and really unique, and finding it was one of the highlights of my durian life so far.”
Gasik, an American, who writes extensively on durians at www.yearofthedurian.com wrote: “I had never seen them being sold at a market before. Yet, there they were, just chilling like they’re not one of the most difficult to find durians. Locals have always told me they don’t like them, so they’re not worth going into the jungle to pick them.”
She blogged that her husband, Rob, and her, were lucky to find the kura kura durians twice in Borneo “as it is one of the rarest edible durian species. Many people don’t consider it edible because of the strong, musky odour it has when ripe.
“Yet, the flavour is sweet and juicy, a contrast to the usually heavy durian. That’s reason enough to appreciate this jungle durian.
“Where it gets its fame is that, instead of growing on the branches, these durians sprout from the trunk and roots of the tree.”
Yes, I desperately wanted to taste the fruits, but I wasn’t entirely let down. I was just thrilled that I managed to locate these jungle durian trees. I’ve had my fair share of adventures, but this must be one of the most unusual durian trails.
Malaysians go through a huge number of nasi lemak bungkus, roti canai, kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs every morning. Here are a few other awesome breakfasts from each state in Malaysia. Let us know in the comments below about the local favourites in your part of the country. Have a great Malaysia Day!
Laksa Perlis, which the locals call ‘laksa kola’ after the port town of Kuala Perlis.
PERLIS: Laksa Perlis
At first glance, the dish looks just like the Malay laksa you find in the other northern states of Kedah and Penang. But if you’re looking for traditional Perlis laksa, head to the port town of Kuala Perlis. At Laksa Kak Su Kuala Perlis on Jalan Siakap 1, fresh house-made thick rice noodles are served in a fishy gravy along with “ulam” such as julienned cucumber, onion, chillies and daun selom. Although it’s a personal preference, a true “laksa kola”, as it’s known locally, is often eaten together with a pulut udang or kuih spera (like a curry puff but with a savoury grated coconut filling) that’s split and steeped in the gravy. It makes the kuah thicker and more delicious.
Mee rebus rocks!
KEDAH: Mee Rebus
Most Kedah denizens swear by the quality and flavour of the mee rebus in their home state, and it is so popular that is often eaten anytime of the day, including breakfast. Even Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is said to be a fan of northern-style mee rebus. The dish typically uses yellow noodles that are coated in a thick, and often spicy gravy made from beef, shrimp and sweet potatoes. Other toppings can include tofu, fish cakes, bean sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, fritters and sometimes fresh prawns too. A good toss of all the ingredients will yield satisfyingly robust flavours and multi-dimensional textures. One of the most popular mee rebus eateries in Alor Setar is Restoran Mee Abu.
Tubes of plump and tender rice noodles in a scrumptious sauce.
PENANG: Chee Cheong Fun
While its name (literally “pig intestine noodle” in Cantonese) may put some people off, these steamed flat rice noodle rolls are a favourite in Penang. The island state has its own version of chee cheong fun, unlike any other elsewhere in Malaysia. The rolls are cut into short cylinders and served with condiments such as thnee cheo (a sweet dark-red sauce), hae ko (black, prawn paste sauce), huan cheo chiau (chilli sauce) and oil, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. People in Penang all have their favourite but you can’t go wrong with the stall outside Seow Fong Lye Cafe on Macalister Lane. Be prepared to wait for your order.
When in Ipoh, you must have the kueh teow soup named after the town.
PERAK: Ipoh Kueh Teow
It’s been said that the best hor fun are from Ipoh – thanks to the fresh spring water from the mountains that is used to make the flat rice noodles. Hawkers here have concocted their own special stock – made with pork and sweetened with prawns – to complement the smoothness of their hor fun. The noodles are garnished simply with lightly-poached shredded chicken and blanched prawns, with chives to liven up the dish. For a fix, your best bet is Ipoh institution Thean Chun Coffee Shop (aka the Hall of Mirrors), which also does excellent pork satay and caramel custard. For halal breakfast favourites, head to Restoran New Hollywood in Canning Garden, Ipoh. And don’t forget to wash it all down with a cup of Ipoh white coffee.
Fried yong tau fu is stuffed with deliciousness.
SELANGOR: Yong Tau Fu
This Hakka dish is a mix of fish, meat, vegetables and tofu. Traditionally, only tofu cubes were stuffed with a paste of fish and pork, and then deep fried or braised. Vendors later got creative and started stuffing vegetables like bittergourd, ladies’ fingers, chillies and brinjals. Along with the stuffed ingredients are fish and meat balls, and also fried tofu skin. The dry version of the dish is enjoyed with chilli and sweet sauces, but the ingredients are also served in a clear soup. Side dishes such as chee cheong fun and rice are optional.
Don’t forget the crisp beef lung when you get lontong Jawa.
KUALA LUMPUR: Javanese Lontong
Get to Alfiyah Lontong Jawa Asli in Kampung Baru early because there’s often a queue even at 7.30am. The nasi impit (pressed rice cubes) lontong is drenched with a coconut milk and turmeric-based gravy cooked with a variety of vegetables, like cabbage and turnip along with condiments such as fried tempeh, fried tofu and boiled eggs. For those who like a little heat, there’s also a sambal to add to the mix. An addition that’s highly recommended is the fried beef lung. It’s sliced thinly and fried until very crisp so that even in the broth, the pieces remain crunchy.
Curry rice is a taste of home. Photo: The Star/Gordon Kho
MELAKA: Curry Rice
A favourite breakfast among locals is curry rice. It’s a simple dish but people who love it say it reminds them of home. The light chicken curry is served on white rice with braised soy sauce pork. Putting both curry and stew together is a winning combination. The best place for it is Malim Jaya Curry House, which serves nothing else but curry rice and side dishes like egg in soy sauce and stir-fried cabbage. They’re generous with the gravies and will flood your plate – it looks a little sloppy, but diners don’t mind! No wonder this establishment has been around for more than 50 years.
Apam Johol is fluffy and fragrant. Photo: The Star/Abirami Durai
NEGRI SEMBILAN: Apam Johol
Originally named apam daun rambai because it is wrapped in the fragrant leaves of the rambai tree, this traditional steamed sweet kuih is now generally known as apam Johol for the place in the Kuala Pilah district where you are most likely to find it as a breakfast or teatime dish. The apam ingredients are simply wheat flour, yeast, water and palm sugar, formed into a dough and steamed. When cooked, the top of the light brown apam splits. Apam Johol is commonly eaten with savoury pairings like sambal tumis ikan bilis or rendang. For a sample of this kuih, head to Apam Johol Station in Kuala Pilah.
Folk in Muar love satay for breakfast.
JOHOR: Satay Pagi Muar
In the royal town of Muar, satay is a breakfast tradition that defies all known culinary practices elsewhere in Malaysia. Here, locals often head to breakfast haunts like Restoran Haba or ZZ Satay Warisan to get their fill of chicken or beef satay. Sometimes satay made out of tripe (the lining of a cow’s stomach) is also available. Have it with sides like soto (a meat and vegetable broth) or lontong and nasi impit. Although the smell of smoke will no doubt linger in your hair and clothes long after you leave, this is certainly a delicious way to start the day!
Pastries for the durian lover.
PAHANG: Durian pastries
Pahang is Malaysia’s durian country, so it’s only natural that the king of fruit would be the inspiration for many favourite foods in the state. At Yik Kee Restaurant in Bentong (which is where most of the durian comes from), you’ll find durian bomb, tart and cake. Have them on their own or as part of the shop’s dim sum spread. The eatery has also come up with new offerings such as durian soft serve ice cream and pancakes to appeal to the younger crowd.
Nasi dagang with kari ikan tongkol.
TERENGGANU: Nasi Dagang
Nasi dagang is to Terengganu what nasi lemak is to the peninsular west coast states. This coconut milk-rich rice dish is one of the most popular breakfast dishes in the state. Here, nasi dagang is a combination of white fragrant rice and white glutinous rice. Eat it with a curry made with ikan tongkol, a tuna species fished off the coast, and simple side dishes of acar timun and a hard-boiled egg. Well-known nasi dagang seller Mak Ngah, a stall in Kampung Bukit, Kuala Terengganu, has been around for over 60 years. Highly recommended is also Kak Pah’s stall at the Batu Buruk food court.
In Kelantan, nasi kerabu is a common breakfast dish.
KELANTAN: Nasi Kerabu
For the Kelantanese, breakfast simply isn’t complete without rice, which explains the popularity of the iconic nasi kerabu. The rice salad may come with serunding ikan (fish floss), a variety of herbs (an absolute must is daun kesom) and finely sliced vegetables, as well as kuah sambal tumis. Side dishes include keropok, salted egg, budu, solok lada (stuffed green chilli) and fried fish or chicken. Other variations are nasi kerabu hijau (made using different herbs), nasi kerabu kuning (dyed yellow with turmeric) and nasi kerabu hitam (with daun mengkudu for flavour and colour). One of the most popular places to get your fix is Kota Baru favourite Kak Ma Nasi Kerabu.
Meaty chunks of fish in these noodles. Photo: The Star/Melody L. Goh
SABAH: Fish Noodles
Sabah has all sorts of noodle dishes that are unique to the state so it is common for Sabahans to eat it for breakfast. One of these is fish noodles. At Jong Fa Pai in Kota Kinabalu, the noodles come with meaty chunks of fish in a fish-based broth (clear or with milk) along with tofu, preserved vegetables and tomatoes. Wan Wan outlets serve a halal version. Another favourite breakfast noodle dish among Sabahans is ngiu chap, which is Hakka for “mixed cow”. Expect practically every single part of the cow in this dish. Beef balls, tripe, tongue and tendons are must-haves in ngiu chap and some people add liver and other innards.
Is Sarawak laksa the ‘breakfast of gods’?
SARAWAK: Sarawak Laksa
In Kuching, Choon Hui Cafe was a favourite of the late Anthony Bourdain who featured Sarawak laksa in his television shows No Reservations in 2005 and Parts Unknown in 2015. The travel documentarian and TV personality called the dish the “breakfast of gods”. It consists of rice vermicelli, shredded omelette, cooked prawns and strips of chicken in an aromatic broth, with sambal and lime served on the side. The star component is the laksa paste, a blend of up to 20 ingredients like shallots, galangal, dried chillies, and ground spices like coriander seeds, star anise and nutmeg. Other recommended Kuching restaurants that serve Sarawak laksa are Mom’s Laksa @ Gita (halal) and Golden Arch Cafe.