Menu Malaysia: A Sideserve in Lumut

Whenever I travel, I am constantly in search of the Authentic, which I suppose partly explains why we were reluctant to eat at any mid-priced or upmarket restaurants – rightly or wrongly, I suspect that these establishments are more likely to attract tourists, and to dumb down their food to cater for foreign tastes. That is doubtless very cynical of me, and unwarrantedly so. But it’s my paranoia and I’m sticking to it…

Whatever, depart from the beaten traveller track, and you can be sure you’re getting the real thing. It doesn’t get any more real than the hawker centre near the bus ticketing offices in the unremarkable and bloody hot transit town of Lumut.

We’d just spent less than 24 hours of a planned 3 days on Pangkor Island (a short ferry ride from Lumut), where we had been hoping to finish our time in Malaysia with a relaxing beach break and some feasting on local seafood. The beach turned out to be nothing special, and the place was comatose. We saw only three other tourists on the island. This was a plus if anything, but quiet is one thing – dead is another. A solitary restaurant was open at night in Teluk Nipah, reputedly the liveliest settlement on Pangkor! Worse, there was no seafood apart from a few sorry-looking fish that lay draped over a table, uncovered and crawling with flies. The menu was very basic and we settled for mee goreng, which came floating in oil. The following morning, we made a snap decision to take the next ferry back to the mainland and spend our last three days in the Cameron Highlands.

Waiting for a bus out of Lumut in withering heat, we seated ourselves at a table in the shade next to a hawker stall displaying an array of bain marie Indian dishes that were not the usual fare. I chose a tomato-based curry with whole local fish – smallish, about the size of a nice herring – and heaped the rest of my plate with some spicy vegetable accompaniments. With a stern shake of his head, the stall owner cautioned me against sampling the sauce the locals were dousing their fish with (“very very hot, sir”), but I wanted the local product, and I wasn’t settling for anything less.

It was one of the best meals we had during the trip. Plenty of chilli heat, yes, but not overpowering of the spicy elements of the dishes that worked together in glorious harmony. The fish flesh was sweet and delicious, the bulk of it easily picked off the backbone. So, by happy circumstance we had our seafood treat after all, not at Pangkor Island, but from this ordinary little hawker stall in a town whose only interest for the traveller is as a springboard to somewhere else. A meal of that quality in a restaurant in Australia wouldn’t leave you much change out of $30.
Price: for a full plate of several dishes, including the small whole fish, and a glass of iced lime juice – 5RM ($1.75 AUD).

My partner is a slow eater, and was savouring her meal, far from finished, when the surly ticket officer loomed over the table to tell us our bus (not due for another 15 minutes) was about to leave. I protested – truthfully – that I needed to find a toilet, and was granted a short extension on our departure time. And here, Lumut served up another surprise.

An extravagantly made up, pouting transvestite was seated regally outside the toilets, collecting fees from people as they came out! (S)he scolded me for not having the correct change, then dismissed me from her presence with theatrically averted falsely lashed eyes, and a mock-haughty shake of her luxuriant mane.

When I got back, my partner was ready to go, her plate empty apart from the skeleton of a fish, stripped clean, as if by a cat. “I wasn’t going to leave any of that behind, bus or no bus” she declared, as we hoisted our luggage on to our shoulders and headed for the coach that would take us and our appreciative bellies to Ipoh. From there, it was onwards to our final destination for this trip: Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands.

2 thoughts on “Menu Malaysia: A Sideserve in Lumut”

  1. Hi Sue,

    For the reasons I mentioned in this post, I would not recommend Pangkor at all. Very boring, too quiet, not particularly scenic, and the poorest food quality and choice we encountered in Malaysia (everywhere else was fantastic!).

    If you are looking for partying and lots of people, you might like it if you make sure you go during one of the crowded periods, though. During low season times, there are very few people around, most of the restaurants are closed, and there’s nothing to do at night. Also, you get much better fish and seafood in nearby Lumut, on the mainland, because most of the fish is sold there and in places other than Pangkor! That was very disappointing for me, as I was looking forward to some nice, freshly caught seafood on Pangkor. There is probably a much better choice during busy periods, I guess.

    Coming from Australia, I am used to great beaches and clean, clear water, so for me, although it all looks nice and tropical from a distance and photographs well, the narrow strip of sand that is the beach at Teluk Nipah was nothing special – much better beaches can be found in Thailand and certainly in Australia. Also, although apparently the water is clean, it is not clear. This is the case in Langkawi, also, we were told. I suppose the pollution from the enormous amount of sea traffic in the Straits over many years has clouded the waters everywhere in the vicinity.

    I believe the best beach islands in Malaysia are Tioman and the Perhentians, but I can’t recommend them personally because I have not been to either.

    Where should you go? I don’t know what you like, so it’s hard for me to answer that. I’d suggest you read through all my Malaysian blogs and see what sounds good to you.


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