Sunday 12 January 2014

Dancing Fish, Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur

I must confess that despite being a resident of Malaysia I don't eat a lot of 'Malay' food. This country has a unique position where it offers three national cuisines: Malay, Chinese, and Indian - I generally spend more time eating the latter two. With Malay cuisine being the most plentiful (especially outside KL), and also the most unique of the three, I should really make an effort to try more...

Why don't I eat a lot of Malay food?

The first word that spring to mind is - Sambal. Unfortunately, this is not a misspelled description of the Brazilian national is in fact a spicy, fishy paste which is found with almost every Malay dish.

The second and third words would be Belacan and Ikan Bilis, which only take silver and bronze because I find them harder to say than Sambal. The common trend amongst these three foodstuffs is a fishy taste, and although I'm a big lover of seafood, I really can't get behind fish-flavouring in cooking. The problem therefore really isn't with Malay food, which is full of interesting flavours, spices, and ingredients - the problem is with me being a picky eater.

Stubborn taste buds aside, Erin and I have found one Malay restaurant we really like - Dancing Fish. This restaurant is situated in Bangsar Shopping Centre and serves Indo-Malay cuisine.

We went to Dancing Fish on an unusually quiet Sunday afternoon, and found the place almost empty. After we took our seats, we were immediately offered fish crackers with sambal; an unfortunately generous but undesired start which we have now learned to bat away politely. 

We ordered chicken satay RM16 (approx $5) to start off - A classic Malay offering of grilled chicken skewers with a peanut-based sauce on the side. 

The charcoal-grilled and deliciously marinated chicken strips looked amazing, coupled with lime and the salty peanut sauce, what you get is a veritable explosion of flavours. 

What followed was a sequence which went something like this: first bite - great, second bite - great, third bite - gristle. 

This game of culinary Russian roulette left me a little frustrated...with more bullets of gristle seemingly being loaded in the chamber than tender chicken pieces. 

 I suppose this satay would be great if you have a high tolerance for 'pinker' chicken meat. For me, the result was unfortunate, and I didn't have Sambal to blame this time...

Overall - Great flavours, often delicious but occasionally unpleasant. A combo I'm not willing to endure - 2 / 5

 After the satay came the Java salad RM13 (approx $4).

The Java salad is a chicken salad with freshly cut cabbage and cucumber and a lime vinaigrette dressing. Now, I don't usually like cabbage (6 years of eating Kimchi in Korea has that affect) and I don't usually like cucumber, but I loved this.

There is a sourness in the dressing combined with the freshness of the vegetables that leaves a positively glowing taste in your mouth. Usually if I'm to eat a chicken salad, I want proportions where you're almost getting chicken chunks with some salad on the side. However, the chicken here is almost an afterthought, and considering these preferences, this dish is somewhat of a revelation for me. 

Next thing you know I'll be eating tomatoes, cooked in fish sauce with dried anchovies on top, and marinated in sambal....

Overall - Such a satisfying, bright salad  4 / 5

With our main course came a side order of two types of rice: white rice and yellow rice (nasi kuning). The nasi kuning deserves a special mention, not least because it moved Erin to deliver a 5 minute tribute to its deliciousness over the lunch table yesterday.

Nasi kuning is cooked in coconut milk and tumeric, giving it the yellow colour. It almost looks like a little pot of gold on the plate, and it tastes better than it looks. The texture of the rice is soft and creamy; when you put it in your mouth what you get is such a brilliant mix of flavours - before you even start chewing.

Rice is rice but both Erin and I think this is a little bit special - neither of us knew something so simple could taste so good...

I can't eulogise about a small bowl of rice any longer without questioning my own sanity and ability to talk about food...Therefore I'll talk about our main course, which was the crispy Balinese style duck RM28 (approx $9).

This duck has been marinated for 24 hours and comes with a zingy, fruity sauce on the side. The duck, although crispy on the outside, is tender and juicy on the inside. The rich flavour of the meat combined with the saltiness of the marinate results in a winning combination.

This dish is not too unlike its crispy aromatic Chinese counterpart, but comes with bolder flavours and without the pancakes. Roast duck can be heavy so when combined with the Java salad, it worked very well indeed.

Overall - a well cooked, generous helping of duck with interesting spices. 4 / 5

In summary, Dancing Fish is a great introduction to Indo-Malay cuisine, especially to those like me who have fussy and particular tastes. It's worth mentioning that the service is also almost always good, with the waiters more than happy to give recommendations on what to order.

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