be like a local { EATwithlocals }

5:00 AM Sian Mei Yeoh 1 Comments

my travels have almost always been food-centric

lemme count the ways: 
o1. take my summer trip to tokyo in 2o12 as an example. the base foundation of my itinerary began with a list of food places that i was dying to try before i added in the tourist-y things to do to fill in the gap.
o2. the subject of about 70% of the photos on my camera is food or food related. 
o3. on top of that, if i have learnt anything from my last trip to krabi (sadly, it was lacklustre in the food department), it would be that restaurant research before the trip is always a must-have.
o4. it has always been my mission to experience and taste authentic dishes in the region as i hunt for the most delicious of the most delicious :) 

in short: eat what and where the locals eat..
and most likely, it would be off the beaten track......

.....that is, i can find these best kept food secrets on my own.

fortunately for us, technology has made this into reality, shrinking the world into a world without borders. the best part is withlocals is the platform for just that --  the perfect collaborative site to connect locals from many asian countries (available in malaysia, singapore, thailand, vietnam, to name a few) with travelers from all over the world through food and experiences via EAT, TOUR or ACTIVITIES withlocals, either as the guest or the host. 

hosts, you get to earn some extra cash while showing off your culinary prowess or sharing your favorite hidden locales in the neighborhood.

guests, you get to see the city through the eyes of locals while learning its beautiful culture and tasting delicacies. the best part is you get to pick your host and desired experience offered (with a price tag, of course) that suits your budget and tickles your fancy then save the date via the website for a reservation fee payable via paypal.

my love for food led me to an EATwithlocals experience with st low, who promised an authentic penang nyonya dinner at her home. she has received several rave reviews for her delectable, classic interpretation of northern nyonya cuisine.. plus, anything penang pretty much always gets additional brownie points! i couldn't wait to taste what she had to offer.

my excitement was obvious when {mh} and i were at her home slightly too early. even so, her warm family and friends being such gracious hosts, welcomed us with open arms even as they were putting some finishing touches on the appetizers. a cozy and comfortable setting, i instantly felt at ease and at home :) we were given a short tour of her kitchen as i learned more about st, who happens to be a professional chef who evidently has love and passion for food!

my inner foodie gushed with appreciation at the sight of her kitchen and all the culinary equipment left me in awe as i mentally picked out things that i would love to have in my very own kitchen one day. it was not long before we were shepherded out of the kitchen and to the dining table for our meal.

we were in for a treat in the way that every malaysian family would host their guests at the dinner table -- a family style meal! as the entrees made their way to the table , we were surprised and delighted when it didn't stop at just three but instead we feasted on six mains with a side of perfectly steamed rice!

our dinner menu consisted of nyonya dishes that draws inspiration from the mixed heritage of chinese-malay fusion that imparts the familiar flavors of chinese ("hokkien" in this case) combined harmoniously with the spices from the malay cuisine.

{ appetizer }

 'pai tee' | crispy, deep fried top hats filled with 'ju hu char' (refer below) garnished with special 'sambal' 

{ main dishes }

'ju hu char' | stir fry shredded jicama and carrots with sliced shitaake mushrooms & shredded dried cuttlefish. usually served with lettuce leaves as wraps.

nyonya assam fish | promphet fish in nyonya tamarind curry with okra, garnished with mint

nyonya acar | pickled vegetables of carrots, long beans, cabbage and cucumbers as the usual suspects. 

the remaining three main dishes were narrowed down to be the top three main dishes that i enjoyed immensely.

tau yu bak | braised pork belly in soy sauce.

st's version of this familiar braised pork dish differed from what i grew up with where the former was cooked in a sweeter soy based gravy, thickened as the sauce coats the tender, succulent meat pieces. st shared that this was made two days in advance because similar to stew, this allows the flavors to meld better together and penetrate into the cubes of pork belly to give it a lovely texture -- akin to a savory meat candy.

 'loh bak' | five spice marinated minced pork rolled in soybean sheets and deep fried

the host's mastery shone in the texture of this minced pork rolls as the soysheet skin crackles under every bite yet it didn't leave a greasy trail on the lips. the pork were mildly flavored with five spice and cooked to perfection, where the meat was kept moist while cooked through.

o6. 'otak otak' | treadfin fish mousse with a mix of spices wrapped and steamed in banana leaves.

preparation of otak-otak takes a lot of effort and to execute it well is a skill. st was generous with the amount of treadfin fish, striking a balanced ratio of the paste and meat, where you can still discern the fish itself instead of having it blended with the paste completely. the flavors were slightly on the milder than i would have preferred but still managed to end with a minor punch of spicy heat.

our taste buds enjoyed the culinary roller-coaster ride as it journeyed through the peaks and valleys of flavor town -- sweet, sour, savory, tangy with a hint of heat -- as we stuffed ourselves silly with the abundance of food and variety. the condiments of two specially homemade 'sambal'  where one is made from a blend of ginger, onion and chillies and the other had a spicier disposition with the tang of freshly squeezed lime were the ideal accompaniment to enhance the flavors of the dishes.

what is undeniably special about this meal was it tasted homemade and finding an excellent restaurant that could serve it with the attention to detail would be a herculean feat. just when i thought we were stuffed to the brim with too much food, st reminded us that we still had dessert to go, which i have almost forgotten. but of course, there is always room for dessert!

as an honor to my special request for cendol, st had painstakingly made the the pandan jelly, cendol itself from scratch, where its herbaceous fragrance shone in the final product. this was the fun part -- we get to assemble our own desserts (except for the shaving of ice) taking more or less of ingredients as our hearts desired.

i am an old school kinda girl when it comes to cendol -- sticking to the basic classics: the homemade cendol, sweetened and softened red beans with palm sugar and coconut milk.

the homemade cendol (some were still a little hard) highlighted the subtle pandan fragrance while the palm sugar imparted a wholesome sweetness to accentuate softened red bean. to make the dessert complete, the rich coconut milk to bring together all the flavors into a full circle. this refreshing and satisfying bowl of goodness didn't quite top the best that i've ever had but managed to rival its counterpart.

a fanstastic meal all around but much more than that, the great company made this a very memorable experience. this EATwithlocals featured heart-warming hospitality via malaysian's favorite past time -- making friends over a delicious meal and that is exactly how the locals would do it.

withlocals sparked such a brilliant idea of bring strangers from all around the world and to connect them as friends to experience the country in the most authentic way possible. it mildly reminds me of my homestay experience in seoul where one gets to experience and learn the local culture and way of life. best part is: meet as a guests and leave as friends.

as my inner geek/nerd would quote, "be one with the force locals" & experience the country like it is meant to savored.

disclaimer this is written based on personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others



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