Saturday, 28 September 2013

Texas Chicken – The sides that stole the show

G02, Empire Damansara, Jalan PJU 8/8, 47800, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

I like fried chicken.

For many years, I was a hardcore fan of KFC and would try every single new thing on the menu at least once. But I’ve stopped eating there for a long time now because I am violently opposed to the fact that they hire rempits who gleefullycontaminate the food and throw flying punches at customers.

I still like fried chicken, but because of this self-imposed abstinence from KFC, I am always on the lookout for good new fried chicken joints to try. So I was very happy when I found out that a new fried chicken franchise has opened in Malaysia.

Could this be my new go-to place for fried chicken?

It’s located just 5 minutes’ drive from where I stay, at the shiny new Empire Damansara. I’ve been there 3 times in the space of a week, and have tried almost everything on the menu. Here’s my take on Texas Chicken, with comparisons (where applicable) against the long-established fried chicken king: KFC.

Original chicken.

We start, of course, with the main event: the fried chicken. My first thought upon looking at it is: Well I’ll be a double-dog-darned tumbleweed… they weren’t kiddin’ when they said everything’s big in Texas. (apologies for my inept Texan)

Compared with the pathetic, shrunken chicken from KFC, the pieces of fried chicken at Texas are massive. And they don’t cheat by adding huge amounts of batter like KFC does with Hot & Spicy. It’s all meat with a very thin coating of batter. Even the wings have a substantial amount of meat on them, and don’t disappear in two bites.

Spicy chicken.

They got the meat to be tender and juicy – even the breasts – something which KFC seemed to have forgotten how to do in recent years.

Flavour-wise, though, the chicken at Texas is very mild. Their original chicken doesn’t have a distinctive flavour like KFC OR, and even their spicy chicken (though they say it has been seasoned with a potent blend of 5 different spices) seems to lack much punch in the flavour department. I really hope they will adjust their recipes to suit Malaysian preferences for stronger flavours… and soon. In the mean time, there’s always chilli sauce… :)

Okay, so the chicken is good but not great. But all is not lost: as the headline says, the sides are awesome. Before we get to them, though, I thought I should do a quick run-down of all the things I ate there which were – like the chicken – good but not great. Would be a shame to have gained all those calories and not write about the food, no?

Chicken Tenders. Thick, meaty strips of tender, juicy breast meat. Like the fried chicken, not very flavourful, but the creamy jalapeno sauce has a nice tangy taste that boosted the flavour quotient considerably. The darker one is the spicy version.

Nuggets. Don’t like this one. Taste and texture remind me too much of chicken meatballs. Barbecue sauce is nice and thick, but a little too sweet for my taste.

Regular wrap – chicken tender with some green veggies and nice sour cream. Could do with a little extra sauce.

Tex wrap – regular wrap with tomatoes and shredded cheese added. Again, some extra sauce would be good.

Classic burger. Sort of like the McChicken (which I’m not fond of) or a Colonel Burger (which I absolutely loathe). But at least in this one, the patty has a nice crunchy crust.

Mexicana burger (which technically should be called a sandwich). Quite big, with a thick piece of boneless chicken. Like the wrap, could use a little more sauce. I would say the KFC Zinger is just slightly better than this.

All right, we’ve gotten all that out of the way… let’s finish strong with three fantastic sides.

French fries.

These are perfect: crunchy outside, light and fluffy inside. They are so well-seasoned that it actually felt wrong to dip them in chilli sauce or ketchup. Hands-down better than KFC Fun Fries; better even than McDonald’s fries; they’re every bit as good as the top-notch fries at Carl’s Jr.

Mashed potato.

The last time I had whipped potato at KFC, it was atrociously bad, with the texture of congealed wallpaper paste and a tasteless sauce. It was such a pleasure to taste the soft, light and creamy mashed potato at Texas chicken with its tasty brown sauce. The coleslaw next to it is not bad either.

Honey butter biscuits.

In my opinion, this is the best item on the menu. It has a nice crunchy crust on top that’s sticky with a honey glaze. The middle is so soft that it starts falling apart as soon as you pick it up. The texture is smooth and light and almost creamy, and there is a delicious buttery flavour that’s sweet and slightly savoury. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give the KFC bun a 1, the Popeye’s biscuit a 5 and the Texas honey butter biscuits a 10.

Final verdict: the lack of flavour in the fried chicken is a pretty big issue for a fried chicken joint, but it’s worth a try just for the biscuits alone. And one more thing…

Go now while it’s still good!

I remember when Wendy’s first returned to Malaysia. I went to the branch at Sunway Pyramid and tried the ridiculously massive burger. The patties were juicy and tasty and overflowed the bun so much that I had to take 3 massive bites of all-meat before I reached the bread. Now, the patties are a lot smaller and fit neatly inside the bun and are a lot drier.

Currently, the staff at Texas are enthusiastic and polite and the food is prepared well. I of course hope this doesn’t change. But just in case it does, I’ll be eating at Texas quite frequently.

Snack-sized review
Good-sized and beautifully cooked fried chicken which unfortunately is a bit lacking in flavour.  The sides are awesome, though; it’s worth trying out just for the honey butter biscuits alone.

Hours: 10 to 10

Price: About RM10 per person.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Hameed Pata Mee Sotong – Fiery treat

No. 6, Kota Selera, Padang Kota Lama, 10200, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

This is a long-overdue first post on good eats from my home town of Penang.

I always thought the first post on Penang food would be about char koay teow, but it turns out this post will be about a very special mamak mee goreng instead.

Did I say ‘special’? I meant ‘spicy’. Really spicy.

Hameed’s is a unique mee goreng stall located at the food court next to Fort Cornwallis.

I got a sense that this stall is special as I approached the decrepit-looking food court. Only two stalls are still operating in it. And there’s a long line of people patiently queueing to order from one of them: Hameed’s.

Though Hameed cooks his mee goreng quite fast, cranking them out by the wokful, the wait can be fairly long because each person in the queue is likely to order multiple plates or packets.

As the line inches forward, I had time to observe on the hugely contrasting scene behind the counter, where Hameed’s assistants scurry about at a breakneck pace, furiously chopping ingredients and plating noodles.

Then I get to the front of the line and nervously ask whether it’s okay to get mine without taugeh. Surprise, surprise, instead of yelling at me and telling me to get lost, they accomodate my request. Primadonna hawker he certainly isn’t.

My noodles cooked, an assistant ladled a generous helping of sambal sotong on top and hand me my plateful of fiery-red deliciousness. Maybe they don’t yell because all their anger and aggression has been channeled into the noodles.

No time to think about that – it’s time to eat! A squeeze of lime and a quick mix, and now for some fire-eating fun!

The sambal sotong has a nice amount of heat, and an overall flavour that’s actually quite complex. The noodles are firm and tasty, with good amounts of cubed potatoes, fritters, fried shallots and various other ingredients. Mixed together, it makes for a very good plate of mee goreng that packs a great deal more kick than any other one I’ve had.

I love spicy food and have a fairly high eat tolerance, so to me it wasn’t all that spicy. But I’ve seen people turn red and sweat buckets eating this so be careful when eating this if you can’t take spicy food. Maybe have a glass of teh ais ready.

Or, if tea gives you insomnia like it does to Lady Fartsalot... a nice, refreshing glass of coconut water.

Speaking of drinks, the other stall operating at the food court is a drinks stall right next to Hameed. It’s doing really well thanks to people desperately needing something to put out the fires that Hameed started in their mouths. A lot of people recommend a coconut shake (actually, it’s coconut water and flesh with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on top) from this stall to cool the heat of the mee sotong. Sounds interesting, but since I don’t like floats, I never tried it.

I normally don’t bother with drinks, though. More room for a second plateful of mee sotong!

This is the stall, just to make sure you go to the right one.

Snack-sized review
Unique mamak mee goreng stall with very spicy sambal sotong on top. Mix well and enjoy a delicious mee goreng that’s unlike any other, with a real powerful kick. Be prepared to queue.

Hours: Noon to 8pm. Closed on Sundays.
Price: RM4 for a regular plateful of mee sotong. RM6 for extra sotong. I prefer the balance of flavours of the regular mee sotong, somehow.
Variations: They also serve a mee rebus version with the sambal sotong. Or regular mee goreng and mee rebus… but why would anyone go to Hameed’s and bother with those?
Location: I would like to point out that the correct food court is next to Fort Cornwallis. There is another, newer one at the other end of the Penang Esplanade. Don’t go to that one.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Old Siam – Tasty, porky Thai

LG325, LG Floor Oval New Wing, One Utama, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

I like chicken. There are dishes that just won’t taste quite right without it. Buffalo wings, for example.

But when a dish calls for pork, chicken is a poor substitute indeed.

So we were really happy indeed when we stumbled upon this cozy little corner shop in One Utama, that serves up one-dish Thai street food that doesn’t make compromises to get a halal status. (Oops, am I allowed to use ‘halal’? Can’t remember.)

This is all I have to say on the subject.

Old Siam apparently serves excellent fried chicken as well, but as we don’t often find Thai restaurants that serve pork, both of us immediately zeroed in on the porky selections.

Mmmm… pork…

The Thai dry noodles came with a generous portion of thick, sweet-salty, minced pork-laden sauce. The noodles themselves were quite tasty on their own, being well-coated with dark soy sauce. The noodles were quite soft. I would’ve liked them to be a bit firmer and springier, but that’s just my personal preference.

There was a very slight hint of Thai flavour in the dish. It was hard to pinpoint; our best guess is lemongrass.

The deep-fried pork with garlic is the kind of food I really love. Slightly dry, chewy slices of pork, deep-fried with garlic, served with white rice topped with a gratuitous fried egg. The garlic gave the pork a wonderful fragrance that’s even better when drizzled with the cincalok-like sauce that came with the dish.

 Proof that Thai food does not need to be spicy to pack a ton of flavour.

For dessert, sea coconut. This again had a Thai element – the syrup has a refreshing citrusy taste that nicely balances the sweetness of the sea coconut and longan.

Much better than the usual sea coconut dessert that’s sweet all the way.

Old Siam has been a very nice find indeed. I can’t wait to go back and try more of their food.

I am really loving this tiny little shop that’s dishing out all these big flavours.

Snack-sized review
A tiny corner shop in 1U that’s serving up very flavourful one-dish Thai street food. Staff seems to be all Thai so their food should be pretty authentic. Most importantly, they serve pork – no half-assed chicken versions here!

Hours: Mall hours – 10 to 10.

Price: Very good prices. About RM15 per person should get you a great meal here.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Dai Ban Noodles – And suddenly, a burger

No. 87G, Jalan SS21/1A, Damansara Utama, 47400, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

I don’t interact often with the service personnel at government agencies or government-related corporations, and I’m ashamed to say that I still expect slow, surly, somewhat incompetent service from them.

This, of course, is no longer true. And I am reminded of this fact yet again when we had to visit TMPoint at Uptown to settle some broadband-related stuff. The staff were friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. The fact that I’m still surprised to receive good service here is a flaw I have to work hard to correct.

Once we were done at TMPoint (in record time, I might add) we found another pleasant surprise just a few doors away.

From outside, Dai Ban Noodles looked like yet another Chinese pan mee shop serving up pan mee that, at best, is a poor substitute for the legendary Kin Kin Chilli Pan Mee. But then I noticed a banner that says they also serve the ‘Best Pork Burger in Town’. Really? At a pan mee shop? Well, I just had to take a closer look.

If not for the banner, we probably wouldn’t have given this place a second glance.

Once inside, my perception of the place started to change. First off, the drawings on the wall were really cool. Certainly not something you’d expect to find at a typical Cina-fied shop.

I am convinced the person who painted this had some serious art training.
I also like their reusable order sheet.

Saves cost, eco-friendly and did you notice? They have a ‘less ice’ option for their drinks. More places should do this.

So I’ve gotten some pretty good vibes up till this point. But is the food actually any good?

The crunchy prawn rolls arrived first. They were chock-full of big pieces of fresh, firm, springy prawn meat. A very good start to the meal indeed. Interestingly, it had a slightly porky taste – I’m guessing they added some pork meat paste for a little surf and turf. I also really liked the dipping sauce that came with it because it packed some serious heat.

If you have low heat tolerance, the mayo on the rolls may help a little.

The pan mee with pork chop came next. The thin noodles were nice and firm and didn’t have that typical pan mee doughyness that I don’t much care for. The pork chop was tender and juicy, with a good mixture of lean meat and fat. The fat did not melt in the mouth but rather reminded me of the fat you get on grilled steak; you chew and it squirts flavourful oil all around your mouth. Not very healthy but certainly delicious.

One of the best pan mee I’ve had. Lady Fartsalot may accuse me of blasphemy, but I’d choose this over Kin Kin.

Finally, the pork burger arrives with the name of the shop written in chilli sauce. Good penmanship; perhaps the person who painted the walls also makes the burgers. Anyway, the burger had nice and soft charcoal buns that have good flavour on their own. The pork patty was thick and juicy and well-seasoned. There was some crunch from the cucumbers, a little extra kick from raw onions and a nice bite from the mustard. Overall, very nice textures and flavours. I don’t know if it’s the best pork burger in town, but it’s certainly pretty damn good. And it’s served at a pan mee shop!

Side note: This wasn’t very easy to eat as it had huge amounts of sauce which made everything slip and slide around a lot.

And by the way, the potato wedges that came with the burger deserve special mention. I loved them: crunchy exterior and soft, creamy interior – probably the best wedges I’ve had. And it’s worth noting that they remained crunchy even though we took a long time to photograph them due to lighting difficulties.

We never expected it when we looked at the shop exterior, but Dai Ban Noodles has been a very good find. Everything we ordered had been good. If you put a gun to my head and demanded negative feedback, I guess I would say that the (very hot) chilli for the pan mee could use an extra touch of lime juice.

And maybe that our ais kosong tasted a little ‘watery’.

But all in all, we were very happy with this place and are excited to go back and try other items on their menu. Especially the pumpkin pork rib porridge which was not available at the time.

Do give this new place (we surmised this from the red cloth still hanging over their main entrance) a try. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Snack-sized review
Pan mee shop that serves pan mee, and a surprisingly excellent pork burger. We also tried the prawn rolls, which were great. A great addition to the many good restaurants in Uptown area.

Hours: Didn’t ask, but should be 10 to 10.

Price: Depends what you order. As a gauge, pork chop pan mee is RM9.90. Pork burger costs a little more at RM15.90.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Ji Kae Lobak – Best in Sungai Petani… and some even say, Malaysia

Sungai Petani Glutton Street, Sungai Petani, Kedah, Malaysia

Like many Penangites, I am very proud of my state – even more so now that it’s finally under competent management.

The hero Penang needs, wants and deserves!

But, regardless of which government is currently in power, I’ve always been proud to the point of arrogance when it comes to Penang food. It’s the best. No question. They don’t call us Malaysia’s food capital for nothing.

So I naturally scoffed when Lady Fartsalot first suggested that a lobak stall in her home town of Sungai Petani is better than any others in Malaysia… Penang included. In fact, I mentally loaded up several put-downs before I even saw the stall.

I even had this saved in my phone, ready to flash at her midway into my first bite.

But then we actually went to the stall and my confidence faltered a little when I saw the crowd in front of it. Though he opens past lunchtime, about 2-3, there’ll usually be a hungry mob waiting when the stall owner arrives. They would grab the food directly from the plastic tubs he brought them in, all before he even has a chance to finish setting up.

He will eventually take everything out of their tubs and arrange them on the stall counter.

By the time he gets his oil heated up, there’ll already be a row of plates waiting, each piled high with lobak items waiting for him fry till crispy and golden.

The first time we went, we ordered a huge selection of nearly everything available. I had expected to pay maybe RM25 for the whole platter. I was taken aback slightly when the price barely reached RM15. Okay, that’s fine… the price is lower than it would be in Penang. It’s to be expected; people in rural areas live closer to their food source.

The platter in this picture, taken more recently, was only about RM10.

But surely… surely the taste can’t measure up to the high standards we have in Penang, right? I nervously took a bite. Damn him, it was actually really good. The world fell away around me. All my putdowns forgotten. Blood pounded in my ears as I furiously racked my brain for a lobak stall in Penang that could top this… and kept coming up empty.

In the dark days following this first encounter, I obsessively sought out the best lobak in Penang. I asked everyone. I got my dad to take me to his favourite place. Time and time again I had to begrudgingly admit that we can’t decisively beat some unknown in Sungai Petani.

It’s been years now, and I am still looking. I still believe that somewhere in Penang is a lobak stall that will trump this Sungai Petani upstart in terms of variety, price and taste.

In the mean time, to my fellow Penangites, this is what we’re up against.

One of the best items at the stall doesn’t even contain meat. The beancurd is smooth and silky; a soft and creamy interior with a slightly crunchy skin. One of the best I’ve ever had.
Cha tan – Cantonese for ‘bomb’ – is a baseball-sized sphere of deliciousness. Its crunchy exterior shell is filled with what tastes like a yam-and-meat paste, and a whole salted duck egg yolk in the center. Despite its name, its flavour is quite mild. I believe this item is unique to this stall, so it’s a must-have if you eat here.

The cha tan before it’s sliced.
Lady Fartsalot’s mom’s favourite: a prawn and salted duck egg yolk combo.
Regular lobak – firm and meaty, a match for any in Penang.

Another lobak stall staple: the prawn fritter. This has very little prawn meat in it, but the batter has been infused with prawn flavour. It's nice and crunchy without feeling oily.
My favourite: lobak with seaweed. The radish and carrot are not crunchy, but rather tender and juicy… and add a touch of sweetness. The seaweed flavour is very distinct. The ‘meat’ portion seems to be the same yam-and-meat paste he uses in the cha tan.

They also offer fish balls, fish fillets, lobak stuffed with century eggs and several more. Every time we visit Sungai Petani, a visit to this stall is one of the things I look forward to.

There’s no question that this is the best lobak in Sungai Petani. But the best in Malaysia? Better than Penang? I will never give up searching for a lobak stall in Penang to prove otherwise. If you have a suggestion for me, do share it in the comments below.

Snack-sized review
Very good lobak stall in Sungai Petani with plenty of variety and low, low prices. Some items are unique to this stall. Possibly the best lobak stall in Malaysia.


Hours: Opens around 2pm to 3pm, till early evening.
Price: Two big eaters can be fed till they’re stuffed and cry for mercy… all for less than RM15.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Tange – Very good value

Metropolitan Square, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

I am happy to report that, just a few posts in, this blog is already beginning to serve its primary purpose of helping me discover new and interesting places to eat.

This hasn’t always been easy because Lady Fartsalot and I are very much creatures of habit. Most weekdays, we’d walk to either one of two coffee shops near our place for dinner. We’d eat more or less the same utilitarian food that, though cheap and decent, was nothing worth blogging about.

Our lack of new food discoveries was not helped by Lady Fartsalot’s shameless commitment to being lazy. Usually, even the thought of walking from one end of 1 Utama to another is enough to make her complain incessantly. So walking a little further to look for new places to eat was usually out of the question.

I won’t be surprised if this guy moves more meters/day than she does.

But, in pursuit of new material for the blog, she was finally willing to do some exploring at dinnertime.

That’s how we came across Tange. I believe the name is shortened from ‘tangerine’ and should therefore be pronounced ‘Tanj’. Can’t be sure, though.

Doesn’t matter. What matters most is, of course, the food.

They serve mainly western food, with some Asian and fusion thrown in. We’ve been there twice to date, and have had mostly set meals – one main course and a drink – that come up to just a little over RM10 each. They have good-sized portions and the quality of food is good for the prices they charge.

Straight-up olive oil and garlic is one of my favourite ways to prepare pasta. So the first time we were there, I just had to order their smoked salmon aglio olio. Nice firm pasta with a generous amount of salty smoked salmon made for a really nice plateful of comfort food for me.

I could probably eat this every day.

The kung poh pasta had good amount of kung poh chicken cooked with some al dente spaghetti. The flavour quite smoky, and didn’t taste very much like kung poh. Not bad, but not great either.

Be careful not to get any of this on your shirt.

On our second visit, I got the chicken parmigiana. The chicken was a little on the dry side and not very big; they added a fair amount of fried potatoes for volume. This is understandable since it only costs around RM10 and comes with a free drink. The greens on the side were light and crunchy and a refreshing change from the coleslaw I was expecting.

Nowhere near as good as the one from, say, Dave’s Deli… but nowhere near as expensive, either.

My favourite dish so far has been the pesto prawn pasta. The pesto was nice and flavourful and the prawns were great. I’ve complained before about how too many places overcook their prawns. Well, these were cooked just right – they were fresh and firm and translucent and still had a nice pop when you bite into them.

Interestingly, they garnished this with dill, which is more specifically suited to match with seafood compared with the one-size-fits-all parsley that most restaurants would use.

The shop itself has a nice neighbourhood eatery feel. Mismatched furniture and an exposed drinks station sort of let you know you won’t get posh prices. They made great use of mirrors to make the dining area feel light and airy and spacious.

This mezzanine area would have been great to put additional tables, but they’re using it as office space instead.

Another thing to note is that there is very little overlap between items on their set menu (the value meals) and their main menu… which I guess means that their value items aren’t just half-assed versions of their main menu items, but well-thought-out dishes specifically designed with a lower price range in mind.

But even on their main menu, prices are very budget-friendly: pretty much everything is below RM20.

They also have a breakfast menu with surprisingly low prices.

This is a really nice little neighbourhood eatery and a great find for me personally. Yes, not all the food is brilliant, but one tends to forgive a lot when taking the low prices into account.

I wouldn’t recommend making a special trip to eat here. But if you live nearby – as I do – Tange is a great place to have a casual, wallet-friendly weekday (or even weekend) meal.

Mirrors make the place look much larger than it actually is.

Snack-sized review
Great neighbourhood casual dining joint that offers decent food at good prices. Not worth a special trip, but if you live in Damansara Perdana, it’s a nice place you can eat at regularly without breaking the bank.

Hours: 10am to 10pm daily.

Price: Very good prices for the quality of food offered. About RM10 to RM20 per person.