No matter where you go, you’ll always remember the place that had you fed well and enough. Fortunately for most of us, that’s home. Mine’s a city called Kuala Lumpur, approximately 350 km north of Singapore. Or south of Bangkok, as I’d easily tell my foreign friends that are not so familiar with this region. Most, if not all of us KLites grew up eating some of the best food in the world - char kway teow, HOKKIEN MEE, laksa, roti canai and nasi lemak. A trip back home is never complete without at least a taste of the familiar and more importantly, delicious. Over the years, many of my KLite friends had turned international travelers and it’s only natural that they wish for each journey to begin and end with a hearty, local meal. Conveniently for me, that used to be the fantastic nasi lemak with sambal shrimps served onboard the national air carrier. A few economy class flights without the offering of the dish and my last to New Delhi being one of sheer boredom as the personal in-flight entertainment system was not supplied left me really disappointed. Have things improved since two years ago? I’m not sure as I’ve turned to other options.
The night before a friend departed for Cairo, we were at Kampung Baru, a mecca for good Malay-style nasi lemak. In deciding which stall to head for, we were reminded of the untried Mak Wanjor. That’s quite embarrassing on our part, considering its significant rank alongside heavyweights like CT Roses and Antarabangsa, and the fact that we do frequent this side of town. Then again, with an undertone of plain fluorescence and the almost non-existence of a crowd at night, anyone could have mistaken it for a closing nasi campur stall. These, however, have attributed to Mak Wanjor’s distinction against the louder, more chaotic competition.
There’s no point in resisting the temptation to pick EVERYTHING you desire when faced with the mouth-watering spread of sides for the nasi lemak – smoky paru, crispy fried chicken, sotong, stir-fried kangkung etc. For all you know, the accumulated calories of the sides are still lesser than that of the rice cooked in coconut milk. My favourite sides include sambal kerang (cockles) and ayam masak merah (chicken cooked in a sweetish chilli sauce). A sambal, to me, is as important as the rice, if not more. It has to be savoury and thick. A splash of tamarind juice sounds excellent too. But like Antarabangsa, Mak Wanjor leaned towards the sweet side but thankfully, was still adequately dense. I feel that in the case of sambal kerang, the smaller they are, the better they taste. So, I’m loving the cockles here. There were countless occasions when I’d imagine how my ideal piece of ayam masak merah would be like - turmeric marinated skin deep-fried to crisp perfection and simply drizzled with a honeyed chilli sauce. Oh, there should be a handful of raw onion rings too! Okay, that’s technically not ayam masak merah. Oh, well. In general, what I enjoy the most about this dish is the sauce that bursts with flavours from ingredients such as cinnamon, cumin, lemongrass and ginger. Usage of some ketchup and bottled chilli sauce instead of tomato puree is fine. In fact, it does bring out this (though slightly artificial) sweet and sour taste that’s really appetizing. Let’s not forget that seductive redness that comes with it as well. However, too much of it is a bad thing. Sometimes, I get ayam masak merah that’s chicken cooked in a mixture of bottled sauces just, and that really puts me off. Mak Wanjor’s nothing like that but was not incredible either. Anyway, it was a good nasi lemak experience and I like it even more because for the same, if not better quality than its nearby competitor, I don’t have to queue long to get my nasi lemak fix.
Here at Kampung Baru, one stop is never enough. Unless we’re in a hurry, some desserts at the neighboring stalls usually follow suit. The kuihs and bubur manis might not be the best the city has to offer but are still very much satisfying. Choices are endless and comparable to those offered at the annual Pasar Ramadans. That applies to the nasi kerabu, nasi campur, laksam, nasi ayam, grilled fish, lontong, satay and yes, western food as well! Ah...home sweet home, isn't it?
Nasi Lemak Mak Wanjor
8, Jln Raja Muda Musa
Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur