Menu Malaysia: Last Supper in Tapah

Where? Wha’? How?

We’d never heard of it, either, until we learned in Tanah Rata (Cameron Highlands) that we had to go there to get a bus direct to Singapore. A fascinating, winding scenic ride descending the Highlands in the local rattler, during which the expert driver frequently hung out over sheer precipices when negotiating sharp turns in the terraced road, passed by small hut villages and fruit stalls attended by ragged Orang Asli (the indigenous people of the Highlands). This memorable journey – worth taking in its own right – terminated in the small, unremarkable town of Tapah with dusk approaching.

Our Singapore bus was not due until 8.30pm, so we strolled up and down the main street of Tapah, which could have been any main street in any small Malaysian town. Probably the most interesting sight in Tapah was the river, the waters of which are pale and green and uncommonly swift, driven – I assume – by momentum gathered as they tumble down from the Highlands. Bellies rumbling, we spied a Malay hawker restaurant right next to the prominent town mosque, which radiated sung prayers from a loudspeaker into the softly settling gloom of the sweaty tropical evening.

Restoran Kuality, near town mosque, Tapah
We chose a table, noting some impressive-looking Kampong dishes being walked from the kitchen area to seated clientele. Everyone – staff and patrons – was in Muslim dress. I’m sure we were the only foreigners in town.

It soon became evident that tourists were novelties at this restaurant; within moments, the owner and a local family had seated themselves at our table, and engaged us in chat in halting but determined English. Where were we from, where had we been in Malaysia, what were our impressions, are the Australian Aborigines like the Orang Asli people, do we play football in Australia…

We ordered with the assistance of our new friends, who departed the table abruptly soon after our meals arrived, leaving us to eat without intrusion.

The quality of the food was stunning. It speaks volumes of the general standard of Malaysian cuisine that an ordinary hawker restaurant in a nondescript small town should as a matter of course serve up wonderful dishes like those we supped on that night. We ordered Nasi Goreng Pattaya, a spiced-up variation of fried rice capped snugly with a domed omelette covering – beautifully presented – and Nasi Ayam (chicken rice, which is a staple throughout Malaysia). The iced limau (fresh lime juice with casturi limes floating in the glasses) cut through the chilli perfectly. We finished with hot kopi, a thick dark brew of Malaysian blended coffee with condensed milk. Smirk all you want – if you bring an open mind to the local coffee and forget about comparisons with Starbucks and the like, perhaps you’ll come to our realisation that the Malaysian coffee is a different beast altogether, and one that actually better suits the hot tropical clime out of which it developed.
Price: 13RM for everything – $4.50 AUD. That’s right – $2.25 each.

As we paid for our meals, we complimented the owner, who thanked us graciously. He proudly whipped out a cutting from a national newspaper of a review of his restaurant, which applauded the quality of his food and the variety – the daily repertoire exceeds 100 dishes! The dizzy choice of delectables arranged seductively, abundantly, in the kitchen area – a veritable extravaganza to us, but merely standard fare at the local eatery for the good citizens of Tapah – summarised our food tour of Malaysia with an eloquence I won’t try to match here.

So that’s it. I’m confined to bland declarations that superlatives won’t bolster. Right then, I’ll keep it simple:

Malaysia’s food far exceeded our most extravagant expectations. If you know of anywhere else that can offer better quality and diversity of food at prices to compare with those I have detailed throughout this series of blogs, let me know. I’ll believe it when I see – and taste – it.

4 thoughts on “Menu Malaysia: Last Supper in Tapah”

  1. I grew up in Tapah, I now live in London, England. Your story makes me want to go back there right now. Glad you enjoyed the food in my small town of Tapah

  2. Nice to receive your post, John. I’m only sorry that we were not more adventurous in our food choices at that wonderful Restoran Kuality in Tapah. We should have had a good look at what was on offer before ordering.

    I can imagine you miss the food, and the sense of community that must be part of life in Tapah. Paradoxically, one can feel so isolated and anonymous in a metropolis of many millions. OTOH, I’d love to revisit London…

    All the best to you!

  3. Hi Yusuf/Martin. Thanks for your post. I would have been most interested to have had the benefits of your local knowledge. You’ll know from reading my posts on Malaysia that I sought information from locals wherever possible during my terrific time in Malaysia.

    We’re planning another visit some time next year. Maybe I could catch up with you then?


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