“In the car park…and make sure you go during lunchtime and not a minute later because the food disappears fast…oh that sambal…I could just drink it on it’s own, ” my friend Joyce replied with a distant look in her eyes.
My curiosity was peaked from this conversation and I just knew that I had to try the mysterious ikan bakar place located in the car park behind the Estana Curry House on Sultan Ismail. I’ve found in Malaysia that the places that usually taste best are in the most obscure locations.
To find this gem you have to walk through the hot dusty car park meandering past the vehicles parked in any which way. It’s the little section in the corner of the lot by the trees. A tattered tin roof along with barebones tables and chairs scattered around is the scene you’ll find once you arrive, along with a crowd lining up for food and waiting for available tables. The area that is most crowded is where the food is laid out and this is where you have to use some elbow action to be able to grab at the best dishes and pieces of fish. This is the typical nasi campur (dishes are already cooked and you just pick and choose what you'd like) style with a huge array of Malay dishes freshly prepared each day.
The specialty here is the ikan bakar (grilled fish) which is grilled right on the spot just before the lunch crowd trolls in. Different types of fish are marinated overnight and are then grilled to perfection.
My fish of choice is the ikan pari (sting ray) which is firm and absorbs the marinade well. All of the different types of fish are served topped with a fiercely spicy sambal (chilli paste) and a tamarind liquid containing chopped raw onions and sliced bird’s eye chilli. These two sauces combined can make an ordinary fish taste like a spectacular dish; so when paired with the ikan pari the taste sensation is truly out of this world.
The fish, skin charred black from the grill is sweet, sour, and spicy all at the same time. This flavour symphony is a tease to the senses urging you to take more bites. The pleasurable rise of heat from the bird’s eye chilli is subdued by the firm flesh of the fish with alternate notes of sweet tangy onions and sour tamarind. The rice then cleanses the flavour in your mouth only to go through the whole symphony again.
Along with the fish, other dishes I tend to regularly go for are the beef rendang, lady fingers sautéed in garlic and spices, beansprouts with ikan bilis, kangkung belacan, tahu sambal, and bitter gourd fritters. The rendang here is fragrant, tender, and rich with santan; just the way I like it! The veggie dishes here are fresh and don’t taste or feel like they’ve been sitting around drowning in oil and sauce; instead they are very crisp and tasty. The tofu sambal is made with Japanese tofu and is silky with a very spicy edge.
The best part is that a typical meal with grilled fish, two different types of vegetable, a portion of beef rendang and a drink will ONLY cost you RM6 (USD 1.70). These dishes will have your eyes tearing and your tummy laughing while keeping your bank account happy, the perfect combination when enjoying a typical Malay sensation.
Carpark directly behind Estana Curry House on Sultan Ismail
Only open during lunch 12 - 2:30