By growing up in Malaysia doesn’t always guaranteed that I am an expert in all Malaysian cuisine, actually no where close. Coming from a Chinese background, my daily diet was still mainly revolved around Chinese food. I barely skimmed the surface of Malay and Indian cuisines and knew nothing more than the usual satay sticks, nasi lemak, roti canai, mee goreng and rendang.
My recent trip back to Malaysia has brought me a step closer and learned more about the food of my home country. Tonight, I am dining with the Royal Selangor team at the highly acclaimed Malay restaurant, Bijan, for a traditional Malay meal but in a very modern surroundings.
Bijan, meaning ‘sesame‘ in Malay, a restaurant named after the tiny seed is actually packed with big bold flavours when come to food. Tucked away up on the hill in the suburb not far from Jalan Alor, Bijan is a fine dining restaurant that specialises in traditional and modern Malay cuisine. The dimly-lit space with opulent decor of rich dark wooden furniture in contrast with dashes of vivid orange decorations here and there, is a nice change from the typical local mamak stalls of pull up chairs, wonky tables glowing in fluorescent lighting.
Locals are usually skeptical about fancy restaurants serving traditional Malaysian cuisine and consider them as tourist traps by charging high prices for mediocre local cuisines. Even my friend laughed at me when I told her where I will be dining tonight and said I am a sucker for going to a fancy restaurant catered for ‘gwai los’. But in this occasion, I disagree.
Bijan’s menu is an exciting mix of old and new, consists of many Malay halal dishes originated from the northern region in Malaysia that I have actually never heard of. So I am quite looking forward to try new things and leave the ordering to my dining companions.
Succulent ayam goreng berempah first arrive at our table. This Malay-style fried chicken is never about the crunch, but the bold spicy flavours. Marinated overnight in rempah paste somehow makes the chicken extremely juicy, and then deep fried to intensify the flavours of the spices, predominantly turmeric. Serve with a tub of curry sauce on the side, you simply can’t stop at one piece.
I think almost every single South East Asia country has its own version of green papaya salad. The kerabu mangga is totally different from the Thai version of Som Tum and not as spicy. It is a mix of shredded green mango, shallots and torch ginger, coated in a sour sambal dressing. It is a refreshing salad to break from the richness of coconut milk in curry dishes.
As black as ebony, this Bijan’s signature rusuk panggang is a must try. These unidentified blackened objects are BBQ beef ribs smothered in dark soy sauce, they are sweet, salty, meaty but on the verge of being tough. Best to eat with fingers and some strong teeth to yank the meat off the bone, the barbarian way. It comes with two dipping sauces of chopped bird’s eye in kecap manis and sambal chilli.
More dishes arrive at our table one after another. Rendang Kambing, the slow stew dry mutton curry is just as good as the more common beef version but with a stronger gamey flavour and leaner meat. The masak lemak udang nanas reflects the beauty of Nyonya cooking, Chinese influence dish by using Malay spices. The tiger prawns are sweet and tender, swimming in tangy pineapple curry infused with kaffir lime leaves.
Never judge the book by its cover. Opor Rusuk, in fact is the highlight of the night. An Indonesian influence dish, slow-cooked in a thick rich gravy of aromatic spices and coconut milk, meaty beef ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender. It is so good that we simply have to order another round of the ribs to satisfy one’s gratuitous gluttony. Terung goreng bercili, is a simple dish of fried long eggplants smeared with chilli sauce. The eggplants are still bit firm and can use a little bit more of cooking time, and also a tad on the greasy side.
I am rather excited about this dish, stir fried fern tips is one of my favourite and I haven’t had it for ages! These fern tips are stir fried in tahi minyak, directly translated as ‘Oil Poo‘, but is actually the burned milk solids from frying coconut milk until it splits. The crunchy fern tips are tossed together with perfectly cooked prawns in an aromatic burned coconut solids that gives the dish a nutty flavour.
Sotong cili gajus, this stir fried chilli squid with cashew nuts is a first for me. The squid is usually overcooked and firmer as expected, because most Asians do find the chewy texture a pleasurable eating sensation. It has a pleasant spicy heat but not overpowering with crunchy cashew nuts for texture.
Bijan’s stir fried belacan kangkung is one of the best I’ve had. A whiff of pungent smell of belacan shrimp paste hits the nose as the dish arrives at the table. They are definitely not going easy on the chilli, it is hot enough to give you a numbing tongue and a sweaty forehead, just how I like it.
There were food aplenty but it is amazing how we still able to fit a few more desserts in after the meal. The dessert menu is impressive with many sweets that I’d love to try, but instead moaning at the limited stomach space. The Bijan’s beach holiday cake, as one of my dining companions claims ‘it’s a summer holiday on a plate’, it is a soft pandan sponge coated with buttercream and toasted coconut, then topped with sweet mango compote.
Pandan cendol ice cream is a another hit. Hidden underneath the squiggly green pandan cendol noodles is a scoop of fragrant pandan ice cream doused in coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. Every spoonful is a satisfying molasses of sweetness.
And then we go for the most intriguing dessert of them all…
…a chocolate durian cake.
I was skeptical about the cake as I couldn’t smell any durian aroma at all when it arrives at the table. But my doubts soon out of the window as soon as I take my first bite. The intoxicating durian taste hits the palate follow by the pungent aroma up the nostril, I think a sex bomb just exploded inside my mouth. Bijan promises to use the best quality ingredients and there is no shortcut in this dessert either by using the premium grade D24 durians. I can still see the yellow fibrous durian flesh inside the cake as I cut it open.
Well durian haters, you are missing out!
Overall, I am impressed with the food at Bijan, a beautiful surroundings just make the dining experience a lot more memorable. So much so, I have even included this restaurant as part of my Malaysia Culinary Tour.
A Table For Two dined at Bijan courtesy of Royal Selangor. Thank you.
Bijan 3, Jalan Ceylon, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia P: +60 3-2031 3575 Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday from 4:30pm to 11pm