"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


If you read my last post about Kuala Lumpur, you will have seen that I was lucky enough to be invited to join celebrity Chef Ismail and his team of cooks as they prepared the dishes for the rightly famous buffet at Restaurant Rebung.

Ismail has set his stall out as the guardian of traditional Malay cooking and has stored up a list of over 350 dishes which he rotates on a regular basis

With my trusty guide, Lex for company, we spent about four or so hours watching as over forty of these dishes were prepared in the home style open kitchen to the rear of the building.

It was a remarkable sight with the cooks busy working the traditional cast iron woks and pots with lids weighed down with stone pestles "just like my grandmother used to" . Unlike their Thai neighbours, there seems to be less stir frying in Malaysian food and more long cooking to bring out the flavours of preserved ingredients such as smoked beef and salt fish. There is plenty of fresh stuff too with large bowls of raw vegetables to crunch on, salads made of banana hearts, egg plants covered in fiery sambal, fresh fish grilled on banana leaf or rubbed with turmeric and fried in palm oil and beef and chicken cooked in fiery sauces.

After spending such a long time watching, it was obviously time to feed our faces and Chef Ismail who, unlike so many celebrity chefs spends plenty of time in the kitchen (no names no pack drill, cough “fat tongue” cough) then came out to work the room.

He really is a force of nature seemingly seeing every table at once. Making sure a watermelon juice is delivered here and popiah (spring rolls made with rice flour crepe) are kept coming. He ladles out bowls of soup to everyone and anyone and makes sure to wander around with other dishes, hot from the kitchen, for people to try. All the time he is tasting the food as it comes to the buffet and sending back a running commentary to the kitchen “it’s too spicy darlings, too spicy” to make sure they don’t rest on their laurels. It is a hugely enjoyable affair, more like a family dinner than a meal in one of the city's top restaurants

Lex, who claimed to be stuffed, managed to find stomach number two to chow down on a few plates of popiah while, I ladled sauces, from the huge variety of dishes, over rice to be eaten, of course, with the fingers of the right hand.

All great fun and the perfect way to round off my all too few days in Malaysia where I tasted some of the best food of the EAT MY GLOBE trip so far.

Definitely a place to seek out if you are ever in this part of the world and want to try the real stuff.

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