Eating in Cameron Highlands

As we wanted to visit Ipoh after visiting Taman Negara, we took the road through Kuala Lipis and Gua Musang, right through the centre of Malaysia.

It was exciting for me, as I’ve driven up and down the North South Highway, the coastal roads on both the East and West coast, the East West Highway that skirts the border between Thailand and Malaysia, but never this way.

The drive was great, the roads wonderful and clear. A new road connects Gua Musang to Cameron Highlands and Ipoh. Ipoh is now only an hour or less away, depending on how fast you like to take the curves.

It’s been over 20 years since I’ve been to Cameron Highlands and the transformation has been radical and typically haphazard and sometimes, not very pretty.

Tea plantations of Cameron Highlands

Tea plantations of Cameron Highlands

Still, Cameron Highlands has much to offer to tourists who like farms, cacti, honey, strawberries and relief from the sweltering heat.

One of many strawberry farms in Cameron Highlands.

One of many strawberry farms in Cameron Highlands.

If you love strawberries, you can have strawberries in any form – fresh, with cream, with scones, as ice cream, as a smoothie, as jam, chutney, juiced, as a concentrate…

Strawberry ice cream with strawberry syrup.

Strawberry ice cream with strawberry syrup.

Besides enjoying a visual feast of flowers, there’s plenty of pure honey, fruit and vegetables to sample.

Do try the sweet fresh corn with its signature yellow and white kernels – perfectly edible even raw. Vendors sell them steamed for RM2 (or RM3 if you go to a more expensive stall), or grilled with margarine.

Detail of corn from Cameron Highlands.

Detail of corn from Cameron Highlands.

If you travel with penknife, do get a melon or two and enjoy the fruit in your hotel room after dinner. There are many varieties and in a small convenient size that one can finish easily.

In the town of Brinchang, where arguably, there are the most restaurants in Cameron Highlands, there are plenty of restaurants offering steamboat, perfect for the cool and often rainy nights of Cameron Highlands.

Signboard of Kwan Kee Restaurant.

Signboard of Kwan Kee Restaurant.

The steamboats are charged by person and they can cost anywhere from RM10 – 15. I tried the steamboat at Kwan Kee Restaurant for RM12 a person. The ingredients were pretty standard, but of generous portions. I had pork, chicken, fish, fishballs, prawn, 4 types of vegetables, 2 types of noodles and an egg each.

The main platter of ingredients for three people.

The main platter of ingredients for three people.

Two types of noodles and an egg for each diner

Two types of noodles and an egg for each diner

Excellent tasting fishballs

Excellent tasting fishballs

You can choose from a variety of soups and I had the herbal one.

Close up of herbal soup.

Close up of herbal soup.

Steamboat - the everything in shot.

Steamboat - the everything in shot.

I was impressed with the amount of vegetables that came with the meal and enjoyed them all. The fishballs were very good, the prawns and vegetables very fresh. The meats were frozen – or from an overpowered refrigerator, but still tasted fresh.

The broth was not particularly spectacular, but perked up by the end of the meal after being enhanced by the flavours of cooking meat in it. It was a good tasting meal at a reasonable price.

There was nothing offensive about the meal, except for the careless food preparation. I found a bit of plastic bag in the pork – presumably it was used to pack the meat. I also found a snail in the vegetables after I had cooked it.

Although one might feel squeamish about the snail, I find the former a greater offence. Also, if a vegetable is safe enough for a snail, it’s probably safe for human consumption, just as one can be assured of a tasty durian if it is half eaten by a squirrel.

Over in Tanah Ratah, which in Malay, means “flat land”, I lunched at Kee Weng Restaurant. There were not many people there and my expectations were low. Still, the fried kway teow was not too bad. It had a good slightly burnt flavour that I think is crucial for Char Kway Teow.

Fried Kway Teow from Kee Weng Restaurant.

Fried Kway Teow from Kee Weng Restaurant.

Back in Brinchang for the night, I tried my luck at Wai Yat Restaurant.

Wai Yat Restaurant - Not the only one.

Wai Yat Restaurant - Not the only one.

Here, I tried the homemade toufu, three mushroom dish, the fried chicken in old ginger sauce and a local vegetable in sambal sauce.

When the food was served, my heart sank.

Three mushroom dish from Wai Yat.

Three mushroom dish from Wai Yat.

There was nothing visually appealing. I felt the cook had just thrown everything on the plate, and didn’t feel proud of what he did.

The mushrooms were all right, but the chicken in old ginger sauce was truly a surprise. It was exceptionally fried. Crisp outside without any addition of batter and the old ginger sauce worked really well with it.

Fried chicken with old ginger sauce - tastes much better than it looks!

Fried chicken with old ginger sauce - tastes much better than it looks!

Homemade toufu from Wai Yat.

Homemade toufu from Wai Yat.

The homemade toufu, enthusiastically recommended was a let down. It wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped.

The rather coarse texture of homemade toufu from Wai Yat.

The rather coarse texture of homemade toufu from Wai Yat.

I found the portions at Wai Yat rather small. Still hungry, we ordered one more dish – the Ma3 Lai2 Long2 Shun4 Chai4 fried in sambal and I was glad we did.

With this dish, and the fried chicken, the cook is clearly a masterful fryer. The vegetables had tender leaves and crunchy stems. The sambal was robust and spicy and even handed. It’s the one dish that makes my mouth water even now as I think about  it.

The exceptional Fried Sambal Vegetable called Ma3 Lai2 Long2 Shun4 Chai4

The exceptional Fried Sambal Vegetable called Ma3 Lai2 Long2 Shun4 Chai4

Cameron Highlands is a fun visit. The food is fresh, reasonably priced and where there are bright spots in the dining landscape, they shine with brilliance.

Kwan Kee Restaurant, Brinchang
Wai Yat Restaurant, Brinchang

Kee Weng Restaurant, Tanah Rata
GPS co-ordinates: 4.511405 N 101.428029 E

History of visits:
2010 April

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