Thursday, 14 March 2013

Fritter Frenzy

My food piece submission for The Malaysian Insider before I checked myself into hospital for minor surgery; it was published three days after I went under the knife.

Reading this again afterwards, I began thinking how horrible it would be to not have memories like these, to have encounters like these and the opportunity to share them. To not be able to hear about quaint hidden corners like this stall and sample what they have to offer. We all live on borrowed time, of course, and it's absurd to think one can within his or her lifetime, unearth all the hidden gems this world has tucked away.

But one can try, while one is still able to. That's one life's goal there.

Fritter frenzy
All puffed up over treats from a neighbourhood snack hawker

first published in The Malaysian Insider, 14 March 2013

Several times I've heard Melody moan about her failed search for this banana fritter stall in Brickfields. Like it has the best in KL.

Chiam’s fritter stall
Mr Chiam at work
So when she finally got her hands on some crispy sweet goodness, she let me have it. Crunchy, sweet and not a whit of that hold-on-I'm-not-ripe-yet kind of tartness.

I have my favourite and only fritter stand, right outside the 99 Kopitiam in OUG, which sells what I say is the best cekodok in the Klang Valley. More banana than flour and they don't bounce like tennis balls when they hit the ground. They're damn oily, but nothing some paper towels can't solve.

Something was different about these Brickfields fritters, though.

"They're made with pisang raja," Melody enthused. "Not easy to get, and they don't have much in stock. They open around eleven, but all will be sold out by 3pm."

Pisang raja, hmm? As opposed to the made-with-pisang jelata stuff I've been eating? I was curious but remained non-committal when offered a chance to go there myself. C'mon, it's in Brickfields. One of the busiest parts of Brickfields, the area around the YMCA.

But wouldn't you know it, I had a vacant Saturday to fill. And Melody said they have damn good curry puffs.

Belatedly, I consulted Google. Turns out that this nondescript stall has a reputation. So famous, that they made their mobile number available for those who wanted to order in advance. Melody even called up to make sure they were open and that the banana fritters were still available.

Yes, nobles and common folk, this stall is Chiam's at Brickfields, an outfit run by a father-son team.

The man in charge looks like the younger Chiam; Chiam Sr was nowhere in sight. For a stall with so many mentions online, it didn't look like much. And not a whole lot of things to offer. It's worth remembering that these stalls are often specialists in what they do serve, and they've been doing it for years.

I gave the sesame-coated balls a pass - not my favourite. I snagged two of each: banana fritters, kuih bakul (nian gao) and the curry puffs.

banana fritters, curry puffs and deep-fried kuih bakulinsides of a fresh curry puff
Chiam's banana fritters, curry puffs and deep-fried kuih bakul (left);
lovely, delicious, glistening insides of a fresh curry puff

Okay, problem: Where to eat this?

"Go across to Old Town," Mr Chiam suggested.

Infuriatingly straitlaced ol' me was aghast. You don't do that!

"Don't worry," Chiam assured me. "The waiters are only working there; they're not going to bother you." In other words, nobody at that outlet is being paid to give a damn about the 'outside food' rule.

Eating takeaway fritters in a gussied-up kopitiam is kind of odd, but oddly appropriate - not encouraging this sort of thing, mind you. Even this outlet feels so... neighbourly. A bunch of schoolkids were having a meeting; at another table, one is doing his homework. I haven't been in such a setting in KL for a long time. Or perhaps I haven't been going out much.

Fritters are best chased down with a good kopitiam-style coffee, so we ordered one. Melody also wanted a wan tan mee, which she said was good. At this point I can't argue with her anymore. The weather was hot, and she's seldom wrong about food.

I waited until the coffee arrived before taking a bite. Nobody made a fuss, so my molars crunched down. The honeyed layer between the flesh and dough is sweet and fragrant, almost nectar-like and HOTHOTHOTOWIE WHERE'S THE ICED COFFEE?

price list and contact info
Chiam's price list and contact info

I helped myself to more banana fritter after lunch. It's easier to appreciate the taste after it cools. The dough shell can be excessive, so chuck away a little if you feel like it.

The balance among yam, sweet potato and kuih bakul - in that case, can we call it "anniversary taffy"? - in the fried kuih bakul was just right. Can't complain.

And the curry puffs... the potatoes were moist, warm and finely diced compared to most curry-puff fillings, and the chunks glistened in shades of vermillion and ochre. What was strange was that Melody found it spicy, while I didn't. We both agreed that, yes, this is a Curry Puff™, the blueprint for all (economy-class) curry puffs to come.

When I opened up another one at home, out popped a shred of chicken. How long has it been since chicken appeared in a hawker-stall curry puff? And the thing was still moist, more than two hours after we reached home.

If only I stayed near this YMCA.

Mr Chiam's Pisang Goreng
Opposite YMCA, in front of Yit Sieang Coffee Shop
Jalan Tun Sambanthan 4
Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

Daily, 12.30pm–6pm

+6012-617 2511


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