You could almost hear the nation cheering and feel the gloom dissipating when the government announced the resumption of interstate travel. But if it is the feeling of being abroad that you truly miss, travel through your tastebuds and relive the flavours of your favourite trips at these food and drink establishments — some of which are entirely based online — that tick the boxes for authentic fare and/or transportive ambience that will satiate your wanderlust, even if temporarily.
If you’re missing the fragrant flavours of Thailand, check out Homm Homm The Project for family meals that are truly delicious. The menu evolves each week and for RM160, you get enough food for two to three people. The week I ordered, there were five main dishes as well as jasmine rice. The starter was Miang Kum, which roughly translates to “one bite wrap”, where you put an equal measure of a range of ingredients — toasted coconut, shrimp, onion, ginger, peanuts, lime — onto a betel leaf. Top this with a little shrimp paste dressing and you have a symphony of pungent flavours that complement each other perfectly.
The Yam Prik Yuak Pao, or grilled banana chilli salad, was spicy but also refreshing because of the mint and lime. Perhaps the dish with the most complex flavours was the Lon Gapi, which was made by simmering shrimp paste in coconut cream. Thai flavours are prevalent in this dish, with hints of ginger, lemongrass and torch ginger flower.
This was followed by pork ribs steamed with bitter melon, or Dtum Mara Sii Krong Muu, which tasted like a healing herbal broth that was soothing and light. The final dish was the Plaa Meuk Pat Gui Chai, comprising of stir-fried squid with a distinct char from the wok, and flowering garlic chives. As no meal is complete without dessert, a sweet, black sticky rice with longan, taro and coconut milk rounded off the meal. — Lakshmi Sekhar
Although the menu at ChicaBonita is closer to Tex-Mex cuisine than the fare you might find further south of the US border, the visual appeal of this restaurant is indisputably Mexican. From the fluorescent-lit murals to colourful sugar skulls and lively Spanish music, ChicaBonita provides diners with a delightfully immersive experience.
Traditional Mexican fare draws from many plant-based ingredients, which makes ChicaBonita the place for anyone on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Dishes catering for both are indicated on the menu. The subtle hit of heat from the Elote (charred corn on the cob) is a great way to start, while the La Bomba Nachos is a must-try — crispy corn chips bathed in melted cheese, which is poured over at the table for a bit of drama. Soft or crispy tacos come with a variety of fillings to suit both meat-eaters and those who prefer to abstain. The pulled beef, batter-fried fish and smoked duck are popular, as are the mushroom asada, spiced pumpkin and mixed beans.
For a global take on Mexican gastronomical traditions, pasta dishes, burgers and salads celebrate the flavours of this world-famous cuisine by combining it with simple food formats. For hesitant diners who want to start slow, Mexican-style fish and chips and pizzas are gentler introductions. While we are on the topic of picky eaters, there is a menu for children as well, featuring crowd favourites such as scrambled eggs on tortilla bread and cheese quesadillas.
Desserts are aplenty at ChicaBonita, but if you’re keen to expend your calories on a cocktail instead, we’d like to direct you to the Coronaritas (Margaritas with Corona beer), Sangrias and, a personal favourite, Desperados — the world’s only tequila-flavoured beer. A full-bodied lager with a boost of tequila flavours, its light, lemon-fresh profile is the perfect match for the zing of flavours in Mexican food. — Anandhi Gopinath
Level G2, Block C5 Publika Shopping Gallery, Solaris Dutamas, KL. Daily, noon-10pm. 017 4052 279.
The home cooks behind Myat & Potatoes present an extensive menu that includes both Malaysian favourites as well as Burmese dishes. The latter include five authentic choices as well as a side of chickpea crackers, a popular Burmese snack that can be broken over noodle soups for crunch.
The Topu Thoke was one item that benefitted from the crunch of the chickpea crackers. What made this dish of protein-packed chickpea tofu and crispy garlic pop was its vibrant tamarind dressing and kaffir lime leaf. The Lahpet Thoke, meanwhile, was a refreshing salad with a diverse array of textures and flavours that reminded me of yee sang. It had fermented tea leaves, cabbage, tomatoes, peas, nuts, garlic and dried shrimp, all combined with a slightly sweet fish sauce dressing.
The other three dishes were all noodle based, with varying flavours. Mohinga is a subtle and flavourful fish soup without a pungent fish flavour. It is made up of fish floss, raw long beans for crunch, fish cake, egg and vermicelli rice noodles. While the Nan Gyi Thoke has similar condiments, instead of fish, it has a dry curry pork that flavours the loh shi fun noodles.
Finally, if you prefer clean flavours or an uncomplicated dish, try the Mot Phat Thoke, which features cold rice vermicelli noodles tossed with fish floss, beans, chickpea crackers, shallots and garlic oil. — Lakshmi Sekhar
Popular in Spain, Portugal, Latin America and the Philippines, empanadas are a delicious snack of dough filled with a colourful array of ingredients that is then fried or baked. Like our curry puffs, they are easy to eat on the go. In Argentina, empanadas are frequently available at parties and festivals. However, unlike curry puffs, which have a flaky pastry, these are more buttery.
Silvita’s Empanadas serves up the Argentine version of this baked snack. There are two varieties: chicken (RM22 for three pieces) and beef (RM24 for three pieces). The chicken empanadas are made with shredded chicken, red bell peppers, yellow onions, potato and eggs, whereas the beef version features minced beef, red bell peppers, sauteed green onions, potato and green olives. Both have a secret mix of herbs and spices, which elevate the flavours of the filling.
While Silvita’s empanadas are filling and satisfying when eaten warm, the accompanying sauces make them special. Every order comes with a whipped garlic sauce, which reminds me of Toum, the Lebanese garlic sauce (you can order more for RM2 per serving). There is also a spicy Chipotle sauce (RM4), which is a must if, like me, you prefer your snacks with some heat. — Lakshmi Sekhar
At this Japanese-style izakaya, dining pleasures are derived at the end of a bamboo stick (or two), whether you are pulling grilled meat from a yakitori skewer or lifting strands of noodles from a bowl. Decked out with glowing red lanterns hanging overhead, murals and retro posters, the casual tavern is swarmed with customers indulging in a much-loved ramen ritual wreathed in steam, or partaking in a beak-to-tail journey that is especially engineered to go with beer or shochu.
Dining here comes with a floor show. A sneak view into the open kitchen reveals chefs ladling rich broth onto springy ramen, which enthusiastic customers scarf down in audible slurps. A bowl of ramen is an infinite cradle of delicious possibilities but the uninitiated should always start with the milky, shiro (white) tonkotsu concoction, before moving up the intensity spectrum of aka (red; spicy), ki (yellow; curry), midori (green; basil) and a heartily pungent kuro (black garlic). The confident can mix up to three flavours; the courageous can up the premium quotient by swapping the regular chashu for a hefty slab of barbecued yakibuta (braised pork).
Shi Shi Do looks like an accurate replay of a scene in the backlanes of Shinjuku, right down to the fairly gentle prices and informal vibe Japanese salaryman so favour. Do not feel bad about ordering a Kirin to go with your grilled assortments even when the sun is still high in the sky — yakitori, along with a belly-warming ramen too in this case, is to be enjoyed as part of a drinking session than in the wake of one. — Kong Wai Yeng
The Gasket Alley, 15-5 Jalan 13/6, Seksyen 13, PJ. Tues-Sun, 11am-10.30pm.
This new restaurant may be a bright, modern presence on Instagram, but it hums with tradition. Our GS Special rice noodle soup arrived crowded, riddled with tender meatballs (made in-house by their Vietnamese chef), tripe, tendon and razor-thin Australian ribeye slices that were slipped raw into the bowl to be cooked en route to our table. A boutonniere’s worth of basil and coriander as well as bean sprouts lent crunch, while a generous squeeze of lime added a zippy brightness that tingled the tongue.
A clutch of Vietnamese restaurants in the city claims authenticity but only a few dole out the kind of restorative broth that can make connoisseurs leap up from their chairs with surprise. Clamorous with flavours, the heady soup at Gold Standard is drawn from a pot fortified with ingredients that have been cooked into submission and simmered for 30 hours, but you are more than encouraged to customise it. For those who prefer their pho to set off fireworks instead of nourish, pick from an arsenal of seasonings that include fish sauce and Sriracha.
Appetisers come in faithful as well as creative renditions, from traditional spring rolls stuffed with cold rice vermicelli, lettuce, shrimp and egg strips, to briefly toasted banh mi that are open (no pun intended) to wild interpretations such as an iron-grilled chicken filling with liver pate dressing. Elsewhere, a sweet tangy mango salad piques the palate with a tumult of briny dried shrimp and crushed peanuts, while an avocado drink is commemorated in the form of a creamy smoothie.
Gold Standard corrals the crowd with pho that sings notes of meaty depths, which stay immutable under all the adornments. File this away for a rainy day, or when you need a ticket to relive memories of Hanoi’s bustling street food scene. — Kong Wai Yeng
5 Jalan Sri Hartamas 7, Taman Sri Hartamas, KL. Daily, 11am-10pm. 017 352 0711.
Entering Xiao Long Kan is akin to stepping into a time warp that propels you to the Qing dynasty. Its décor presents an elaborate impression of ancient Chengdu, enhanced with dramatic wall murals, ornate Chinese doors and lanterns with the frequent appearance of dragons and lions in the form of carvings and faux statues.
When the popular chain opened its maiden outlet in Bukit Bintang a little before the pandemic, hot pot fans came in droves and queued up for at least four hours. Two years later, a reservation is still recommended to secure a table.
There are only so many ways hot pot can go about differentiating itself, but Xiao Long Kan brushes away the frills so all your attention can be on its (mostly) imported ingredients and traditional aromatic broths, whose recipes are said to be hundreds of years old.
We selected three for our cauldron: the signature mala (this is a Sichuanese restaurant, after all), the fragrant tomato and the light mushroom — all of which develop in flavour as more ingredients make their way into the pot. The spiciness of the mala soup can be adjusted, so those who can handle the heat — or numbing — can crank up the intensity while the uninitiated can give it a shot without suffering the afterburn.
The menu boasts the usual favourites, with a wider variety of innards — such as duck intestine, pork blood and pig’s aorta — than the regular hot pot restaurant offers. For protein, pork belly and Australian sliced beef are no-fails and the recommended rose meat ball, shrimp paste and sliced bamboo shoots, best sampled in a clear broth, are good as well. If you are looking to upgrade your spread, Xiao Long Kan also offers Australian A5 beef and abalone slices.
One thing to be wary of: If your table is on the fourth floor, like ours was, get ready for a sweaty climb. — Emily Yap
Lot D3, Block D, 179 Fahrenheit 88, Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL. Daily, noon-midnight. 010 220 9618.
If Korean shows make the bulk of your Netflix repertoire, then it is only fitting to have some KFC — Korean fried chicken, that is — by your side during your next binge-watching session.
Newcomer Socho joins a rising number of F&B businesses that are ditching the traditional bricks-and-mortar concept and taking root in the digital space instead. Its name, which derives from gyeongbi socho, meaning “box” in Korean, recalls the nostalgic lunch boxes Korean children used to bring to school. In the same way, all of Socho’s offerings are packed in boxes — an eye-catching bright blue one at that — with the picture of a nonchalant man (humorously called Mr So) sinking his teeth into some chicken plastered on the front.
Socho’s KFC comes in three flavours: Korean spicy BBQ, honey garlic and salted egg. While you can order one flavour on its own (eight pieces), the mixed box (24 pieces) gives you a chance to try them all and would be ideal if you have two or three curious friends or family members around. Add-ons such as drinks and sides like curly fries or mini sausages are available too.
The honey garlic and salted egg were fragrant and remained crispy despite being out for some time. The spicy BBQ had kick, but did not hold up as well because of the sauce. That said, the chicken was tender and boneless, making it much more convenient than the ones you get from the usual chains, though those who enjoy wings might disagree.
Made for sharing, Socho’s combo set is perfect for small gatherings and house parties. Just crack open a cold one and you have your own chimaek (chicken and beer) set-up good to go. — Emily Yap
This article first appeared on Oct 18, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.