Malay street food: Nasi dagang (Kelantan fish curry & rice breakfast)

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Nasi dagang, like nasi kerabu is a speciality rice dish from the North Eastern Muslim states of Kelantan & Terengganu & the southern states of Thailand.

The main components are rice, curried fish and loads of optional sides. The word Dagang translates as trade, making this dish ‘traders rice’ in English. Nasi dagang is a north-eastern breakfast equivalent to nasi lemak, a popular breakfast on the west coast and southern states.

nasi dagang in Kota Bharu
The rice is thick and creamy, a mixture of jasmine and glutinous rice steamed with coconut and various spices including fungreek and black peppercorns.
The fish, a meaty fish like tuna is mixed with a conventional spice mix, a paste of the usual suspects – ginger, garlic, shallot, galangal, chillies, palm sugar,  coconut milk & fish stock.

The fish and rice is served with pickled vegetables, sambal, boiled egg and fried shaved coconut.

Overall, It’s a really delicious breakfast which we sought out every day in Kota Bharu, the mixture of flavours are typically South East Asian, sour pickle from the veggies, spicy from the sambal and a slight sweetness in the rice that is prevelant in Kelantan, Terrenganu & southern Thai states.

We (repeatedly) enjoyed eating nasi dagang in Restoran Capital, on Jalan Post Office. It’s a very low key muslim place (dress respectfully) wonderful eats with a little coffee shop, too. order directly with the lady at the front who puts it all together in brown paper (no plates!) for a very reasonable price, little english spoken.

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Malaysian street food : Nasi kerabu (ketalanese blue rice)

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In North Eastern Malaysia, the states of Kelantan and Terengganu are staunch Muslim areas, with far fewer Indian and Chinese citizens than other, more touristy areas, like Penang. It’s a fairly interesting area that few travellers take time to explore, often only overnighting on the way across the Thai border or on their way back from the Perehentian Islands.

Being a predominantly Muslim area the food culture is quite a lot different from  the typical Malaysian tourist destinations, obviously there’s no pork  (aside from the tiny Chinese enclave – which coincidently is the only place you’ll find a beer, too.) and plenty of locally treasures, one of which is Nasi Kerabu.

kelantan nasi kerabu kota bharu

Rice is such a staple of the region, and nasi kerabu is a great showcase of Kelantanese cuisine, visually it’s unusual as the rice is a bright blue colour, having been dyed using the leaves of a peaflower (although, I’m sure many shortcuts are taken and  food colouring is more than likely used in its place)  The rice is then a centrepiece of a sort of salad – including salted egg, coconut, beansprouts, ground fish, sambal, fresh herbs and Keropok (a type of prawn cracker).  Additionally,  a bit of grilled chicken, or another local specialty, Ayam Percik can be added with chillies stuffed with ground fish and coconut.

Kota Bharu's famous central market showcasing Kelantan produce.

Kota Bharu’s famous central market showcasing Kelantan produce.

The flavours balance between spicy, sour and sweet – the Ketalanese are known for having a sweet palate. It’s one of my absolute favourite rice dishes, and the area of Kelantan has some other dishes well worth seeking out – Ayam percik & nasi dagang.

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Malaysian street food : Pulut panggang (roasted glutinous rice)

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One of the best things about travelling around Malaysia is the ability to graze. It’s the same in Vietnam, with the entrepreneurial spirit of people who set-up on street corners and cook up something delicious. A business model based on word of mouth, the skill of execution and more often than not I expect, not having any sort of qualification or license to be there.

Pulut panggang is a Terengganu state snack worth finding, the shape is often like a small sausage, wrapped in banana leaf but they can be flat also.

When you see them on the street wrapped up in a charred banana leaf, much like otak-otak, you might be forgiven for walking straight past because it doesn’t look like anything worth stopping for.  But inside is a glutinous rice and dried, slightly spiced fish floss filling. The rice is steamed with coconut milk, which is a much used ingredient in the states of Kuala Terengganu & Kelantan.

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It’s a long, time consuming process to make these as they need to be steamed to make the rice glutinous and chewy, cooled and then barbecued to create a smoky, charred taste, it’s a lot of effort for a very small reward as they sell for little more than one ringgit a piece.

In a linguistic sense, the name means roasted glutinous rice, pulut being the glutinous rice portion and panggang being roasted, although it’s technically slowly grilled on a barbecue.
I asked a friend the distinction between panggang and bakar, which is used in the context of grilling fish (ikan bakar) and making toast (roti bakar)
It’s as simple as panggang is cooking over embers, and bakar refers to cooking over flames.

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Thai street food : Yam Naem Khao tod (fried rice ball salad)

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Nam khao tod is something we discovered in Vientiane, Laos entirely by accident, I ordered out of curiousity, with an “I want what he’s having” kind of mentality. I had no idea what I was about to eat, but drawn in by the arancini like rice balls on the shelf of the street cart.

It’s something I’ve since seen in Laos, and also in the north eastern Thai province of Isaan and made myself a tonne of times because it’s awesome.

The arancini-like rice balls are flavoured with curry paste and deep fried and left to cool before being used to order.

When you order a serve, the lady will take one of the precooked balls, and smash it up, mixing it with raw red onion, fresh chilli, lime juice, fish sauce, green beans, coriander, scallions or spring onions, peanuts and naem – fermented sour pork – in her mixing bowl. In Laos we found it included shredded coconut and mint.

The end product is essentially a cold rice salad, with flecks of crunchy, crispy rice that became golden from the fryer and spicy, sour flavours.

In the Isaan region it’s customary to serve spicy dishes with some raw cabbage and a few herby leaves to help offset the chilli. I like to eat this with a couple of sticks of carmelised barbecued pork sticks known as muu ping. The sweetness works really well with the spicy sour flavours of the rice.

In Laos, nam khao is often eaten as an appetiser, with the rice wrapped up in a lettuce leaf cup.

Useful words

Neung – one
Sawng – two
mai phet – not spicy
phet nit nawy’  – a little bit spicy.
Phet mak – very spicy
Aroy – delicious
Mai Sai Prik Khap/khaa – no chilli (M/F)
Sai tung – take away (put in a bag)
Pai sed – special, as in the large size in at a foodcourt.
Tow rai? – how much. 

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Thai streetfood : Khai Jeow muu (thai style omelette with pork)

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A Thai omelette is a curious thing.

A mix of eggs, pork mince and a splash of soy sauce are poured into boiling hot oil, a ‘thai style’ omelette is different in appearance, ingredients and flavour.

Whereas a European omelette is a slow cooked even texture, the signs of a good Thai omelette are the variations in texture – Crispy dark edges with a light and fluffy middle, it can look more like a poppadum with blistered, glossy skin.

Khai Jeow muu

Khai Jeow muu

Khai jeow is served on top a mound of jasmine rice, with chilli sauce on the side, the thai condiment, sriracha – a tomato sauce, heavy with chilli and garlic – is perfect. If the flavours aren’t quite right for you, use the caddy of flavours on the restaurant table, called kreung prung. It’s not salty, or spicy enough a few spoons of prik nam pla (fish sauce with chilli) will round off the flavours. Aroy!

It’s the Thai comfort food, and although I like it for breakfast it works just as well any time of the day.

Phrases worth knowing

mai phet – not spicy
phet nit nawy – a little bit spicy.
Phet mak – very spicy
Mai sai prik/sriracha/muu Khap – no chilli/chilli sauce/pork please (khap is only for males, females use ‘khaa’
Sai tung – take away  (literally means put in bag)
Pai sed –  when ordering it means the large size, or special – the difference is often around 10 baht on a street cart.
Tow rai? – how much.
Arroy! – delicious  

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Thai street food : Khao tom muu (rice soup with pork)

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Our Asian breakfasts usually consist of noodle soup, but sometimes if I’m just not feeling It in Thailand, I hunt down some delicious khao tom. (pronounced a bit like cow-tum)

Khao tom is a rice soup, the grains are cooked out with stock until they are soft – it’s often served with pork (muu) or chicken (gai) The pork is my favourite because balls of mince are poached in the soup and it gives a really nice meaty taste to the rice stock.

kreung prung

kreung prung

The meal is topped with chopped spring onions, coriander and fried garlic and you can have the usual caddy of flavour enhancing condiments – crushed chillies, sugar, chillies in vinegar and fish sauce; I like to add a little crushed chilli to mine.  This tray is known as kreung prung.

One additional ingredient which turns this into a breakfast of champions is the addition of an egg (khai) into the soup.

The above pictures are sourced from Flickr via a creative commons license, thanks Yasuo Kida

A relative of khao tom is jok, which is cooked out to a porridge-like consistency also known as congee which is prevalent all over the region; for example in Vietnam it’s known as cháo, bubur in Indonesia and khào piak in Laos..

Useful words

Nueng – one
Sawng – two
Muu – pork
Gai – chicken
khai – egg
Tow rai?  – how much
Aroy – delicious  

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