A few days ago our Chinese friend, Teh, invited us to accompany him to a large shopping complex in the big city of Johor Bahru. Michael and Linda on S/V B'Sheret joined us for what turned out to be a very enjoyable day. We weren't much in shopping mode but it was good to see more of the area. Both Teh and Bill needed new leather watch bands for their everyday watches, and each was pleased with their selection. After shopping in the large mall, Teh brought us to the Alam Seafood Restaurant. which is built out over the water on the Johor Strait. The thin tree trunks supporting the large sprawling restaurant building out over the water looked exactly like one would expect to see in this part of the world. This place was well off the beaten path and we would never have found it without the assistance of a local person as there were no signs directing traffic on those narrow country roads. There was another restaurant nearby, also built over the water. There were fish farms with float markers in straight rows all around these 2 restaurants. This was great!!!
Teh explained that these fish farms and restaurants are owned by a segment of Malaysians who refuse to convert to Islam. For that reason, they can receive no assistance from the government. I do not remember the name of this group of Malaysians; but they stick together and live in poverty and manage to eek out a survival form of living, usually along waterways. Owning a restaurant and fish farm is to be considered wealthy among these people.
It is so nice to go to these restaurants with someone who speaks the local language. We would never have been able to order so well in English. We selected the fish we wanted steamed and which size prawns we wanted from the live tanks. Teh discussed various methods of preparations with the restaurant manager, as well as what additional dishes we might enjoy. Three of us prefer spicy food so we added an extra dish of spicy calamari which turned out excellent. This soon turned into a feast. Linda was impressed with the flowers made out of food and dyed with food color that decorated our serving plates.
We were afraid that we had ordered too many dishes. Normally a group of 5 would order 5 dishes which are served the typical Asian communal style and shared by all at the table. We sort of got carried away and ordered:
1) steamed fish
2) prawns fried with rolled oat coating and also fried with normal crispy coating
3) spicy calamari
4) broccoli with oyster mushrooms
5) mangrove crab prepared typical Malaysian method in a tomato-type sauce, not spicy
6) mangrove crab prepared salt egg method
Plus we each had the normal individual bowl of steamed white rice
Thank goodness the fish we had chosen was on the smallish side, otherwise I would have filled up on that. Bill and I have discovered that we really like the steamed fish. It is steamed with the skin attached; sprinkled lightly with grated ginger and chopped coriander (cilantro) and maybe slivers of spring green onions; with a very thin sauce made of dark Chinese soy sauce, regular soy sauce and sesame oil. The sauce is poured onto a large deep platter and the steamed fish is placed on top, then sprinkled with small amount of additional thinly sliced spring onions and chopped cilantro. This is amazingly good! And very low-calorie and healthy as long as you don't need to watch your sodium intake. Regardless of the size of the fish, it never takes more than 20 minutes to steam a fish in the Asian manner in a wok. Obviously, certain fish are better than others. Strong tasting fish would not taste or smell good prepared in this manner. But it is an excellent way to prepare any mild flavored fish.
The Malaysian tomato-type sauce preparation method of the mangrove crab was okay, but extremely messy. The video at the bottom of this posting illustrates how messy it can be. Bill and I are accustomed to eating blue crabs and know how to pick them clean. I wasn't about to deal with picking a crab that was submerged in this messy sauce, and Michael and Linda did not know how to pick crabs. They are from Wisconsin/Chicago and did not have the advantage of growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast. So Bill got the job of picking the crab meat out for everyone at the table except Teh. Teh ate the crab in the Malaysian fashion, which is to just suck the meat out and break the crab shell with your teeth a little at a time. Teh calls this munching food.
The best dish of this meal was the salt egg crab. Absolutely fantastic! The mangrove crab is very large so there are large chunks of mild white crab meat. This method of preparation uses duck eggs mixed with salt. The crab is cleaned and broken into pieces, then dipped into the salted duck eggs, then quickly deep fried. The salted duck egg batter with the sweet white crab meat makes each bite pure heaven. It is now a tie which is my favorite Malaysian food -- either the steamed fish or the salt egg crab.
Every restaurant we have been into, including KFC and A&W and Pizza Hut, has had a sink for washing your hands -- right inside the restaurant. It is customary to wash your hands before eating and then again after the meal -- right inside the restaurant in front of all the other diners. This restaurant was no different; and we were glad to have that sink after eating crabs with our fingers.
There is a local custom at restaurants that tourists should learn about before traveling to this area. Very often a restaurant will serve a small plate or two of peanuts to a group of people. This is added to your bill and normally costs only 3 or 4 ringitt, which is roughly 90 cents to $1.20 USD. Westerners sometimes complain that they did not order the peanuts and don't want to pay when they get the bill, even though they usually eat the peanuts. Or they send the peanuts back because they don't want them, and then make sure the peanuts are deducted from their bill. Either action is a big faux pas. The cost of the peanuts is the tip for the server. One does not tip in restaurants here; it simply is not done. But the owner of the restaurant gives the retail price of the peanuts to server. So if the customer sends the peanuts back or refuses to pay for the peanuts, then the customer is really screwing the waiter for his tip. Of course the local people are too polite to say anything about this gross insult. So file that in the back of your mind in case you ever travel to Malaysia. For this large meal we were served 2 small plates of peanuts, one sweet and one salty. As you can see from the photo, we managed to eat them all.
Later in the week we made a dry run to Singapore for the day. Our flight home next month departs from Changi Airport in Singapore, so we wanted to figure out how to get there from our marina in Malaysia. The marina staff are wonderful about taking us wherever we need to go, which is a great thing since this marina is very isolated and a long distance from any town. Michael and Linda on S/V B'Sheret accompanied us on this day excursion so they also could learn this routine. The marina van dropped us off at the Gelang Patah Interchange (bus station) and we took the CW3 bus over the Tuas Bridge, which is localy known as the Second Link bridge. The main bridge to Singapore is the Causeway at the big city of Johor Bahru and we wanted to avoid that if at all possible because traffic on the Causeway is horrendous. There was virtually no traffic on the Second Link.
We cleared out of Malaysia; re-boarded the bus and crossed the bridge; cleared into Singapore; and re-boarded the same bus. That bus dropped us off at the Jurong East station on the green line of the MRT. Very inexpensive and easy way to get to Singapore, although it took 2 1/2 hours from the time we left the marina. The bus was standing room only, so doing this with any luggage could be a challenge. We took the MRT (subway) to Little India and ate lunch at the Tekkah Market; then walked a few blocks to the Sim Lim Tower and Sim Lim Square, which are large buildings full of electronics stores. Believe me, consumerism is alive and thriving in Singapore! There might be a recession world-wide but people are shopping and buying here.
Bill was in heaven in the Sim Lim Tower. He found numerous items that were on our shopping list for our trip home next month. Good! Less to pack and bring back on the plane! He could have stayed there an entire day. Sim Lim Square is basically a block-sized shopping mall that is at least 4 stories tall and filled with retail computer and electronics stores. You can find anything you might want in that place, but you should go there prepared with the knowledge of what you want and what the price should be. One is expected to bargain for prices at Sim Lim Square. The normal discount should be 15% from the marked price.
We reversed the MRT and bus back across the Second Link bridge and were soon back in the marina. This was a learning trip. I'm sure we will be doing this again.