Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Malaysia & Singapore II: Eating my way around South East Asia

Holidays provide an excellent opportunity to eat. Perhaps that's why I like them so much. With buffet breakfasts, lazy three-course lunches, ice creams, afternoon cake and gourmet dinners all potentially on the cards, it's no wonder the only thing coming home lighter is our wallets.

My two-week trip to Singapore and Malaysia didn't disappoint on the food front. With a variety of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western treats on offer, those who like to tuck in are in luck. Although in Singapore it's sometimes possible to find yourself facing a bill on a par with UK restaurants, there are plenty of budget choices too. And in Malaysia, prices are lower still.

Based on palate- and wallet-governed research, here are my favourite places to eat in Singapore, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur.

Long Beach, East Coast Seafood Center, Singapore
This shellfish favourite has several branches around the island, but this outpost at the East Coast Seafood Center comes with a vista of ships off the coast of Singapore, illuminating the sea at night. Serving traditional chilli crab, salt and pepper calamari, spicy prawns, lobster and more, Long Beach offers tasty, beautifully-presented seafood dishes in belt-busting portions. Crab first-timers may want to ask a waiter to crack open their crustacean, or at least don a bib if they want to attempt solo demolition. The flaky crab meat in its sweet chilli sauce, mopped up with Chinese bread, is a holiday memory I'm still savouring.
Meal for two (including chilli crab) around $100.

 Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Skip the overly-sweet, overpriced Singapore Sling and opt for a slice of elegance: high tea in the Tiffin Room at Raffles. Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to relax with a pot of tea, a selection of cakes and sandwiches, and a buffet of sugary confections, fruit salad and Chinese delicacies. It's perhaps best to bypass the average dim sum and load your plate with old-school delights such as bread and butter pudding, battenburg and Victoria sponge. Waiters in smart white uniforms bustle around the room topping up cups of Earl Grey to the soundtrack of a harpist. Truly the most refined way to get a taste of Singapore's (post-)colonial side, darling.
High tea costs $55 per adult.

Little India, Singapore

VIP thali

As C's favourite Indian restaurant, Komala Vilas, was closed for a post-Diwali break, we took a punt on the Lonely Planet's recommendation of Madras New Woodlands instead. A no-frills diner serving South Indian dishes to both Singapore's Indian population and tourists, Madras New Woodlands is a great choice if you're looking for vegetarian food on a budget. The enthusiastic waiter steers travellers towards the VIP Thali ($8), a good way to try a variety of tastes (includes a number of curries, vegetables, rices and comes with a choice of bread). Those with a smaller appetite should try a dosa instead: a type of savoury pancake either served plain or filled with vegetables or cheese, served with dipping sauces.
Madras New Woodlands is at 12 Upper Dickinson Street. A meal for 2 costs $20 or less.

Calanthe Art Cafe, Melaka

This cosy cafe's selling point is its wide range of coffees (hot, frozen and blended), served in the styles typical of Malaysia's thirteen states. But if you keep flicking towards the back of the menu, you'll also find a selection of Malaysian dishes, such as my choice of spicy butter fish. Fried in erm, spices and butter and served with rice and salad, this dish was excellent value at approximately £2, and the cafe's terrace is a lovely place to while away an evening chatting to fellow travellers.
Calanthe Art Cafe is at 11 Jalan Hang Kasturi. Dishes cost approximately RM10. 

Saravanaa Bhavan, Kuala Lumpur

After developing a taste for dosa, I satisfied my craving two days running at Saravanaa Bhavan in Kuala Lumpur's Little India. A short walk from Masjid Jamek and Merdeka Square, this busy vegetarian restaurant has an extensive menu of South Indian dishes (as well as a few Chinese options, including naan bread, that classic Chinese choice...). Curries are served on banana leaves and portions are generous. The service is a little erratic, but I can vouch for both the vegetable and the paneer dosa: delicious, filling and potentially addictive. Follow up your meal with a digestive stroll around Little India's colourful markets and shops, selling everything from 'Dior' mascara to swathes of fabric.
Saravaana Bhavan is on Jalan Masjid India. Dishes cost from RM10-20.

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