Personally, I think a good thirty to forty percent of a travel experience depends on the food. You can go to a beach resort, get some rainy, cloudy days, but still eat well and enjoy your time. On the other hand, if your first meal in a destination gives you stomach trouble for the rest of your stay, you won't exactly write home about your adventures, except in the "you think YOU had a bad vacation?" way. Sure, some vacations, everything goes wrong (my trip to Japan with Matt was like that: things went awry from beginning to end, but we still had a fantastic time through the misadventures), and sometimes everything goes right (like my trip to Jiri Mountain and Kwangju, again, with Matt -- every single endeavour was a full-fledged success), and sometimes things fall somewhere in between, but whatever else happens, ya gotta eat well. Here are the best meals I had while in Malaysia.
1. The malaysian restaurant where sea foods were displayed with prices per 100g. All the food was fresh-caught that day, and you could point at a fish and ask for a specific way of cooking it, they'd weigh it, and barbeque (or steam, or broil) it for you. We went there one night, and they said, "we're so busy -- it'll take an hour for the food to come out". We left that night, but came back a few nights later, intent on bucking up and waiting the (this time) 45 minutes to get this food. The meal featured some redsnapper, some squid, and some noodles, and the redsnapper was the best white fish meat I think I've ever tasted. Rich, flavourful and buttery, it barely needed chewing -- just savouring.
2. A little Indian restaurant right across from our hotel on Langkawi Island, where we had our first meal (late lunch) on the island. I ordered mutton in that wonderful, long-grained rice that Indians make so well, all done up just spicy enough, and scooped onto naan bread (the soft flatbread that's probably, after lamb, my favourite Indian food).
3. A little outdoor cafe where I ordered a rice dish "in the style of the country people" with a flower cut up into it, that served both as colour and as flavour. These little pink petals were like something between a gentler ginger and a sweet lemongrass, and they made the dish (along with the other green herbs and vegetables in the brown rice) a proper rainbow. Tasty, too.
4. Laksa soup had been highly recommended to me by another woman I met on the beach, so we walked up and down the restaurant strip to find it. It's a red, mildly spicy soup with fish in it that has about the consistency (in the one I had) of eel, along with a few other vegetables. It was quite nice, and the dessert we had afterwards was a sweet bean paste in crushed-ice with coconut milk on it, which, now that I describe it that way, somewhat resembles the Korean dessert Pat Bingsu, with coconut milk instead of cream.
5. The farmer's breakfast at a place called "the Tomato Garden" right next to our motel. Big hunks of potato and onion, turkey-bacon (to stay hallal, in the Muslim country), scrambled egg and fat slices of toast, with proper drip coffee (blast that instant coffee so pervasive in Korea! Blast it all!), and, if you wanted, fresh orange juice. It wasn't Malaysian, but it sure was good, and the lady who served it to us had a great smile, and one of the most perfectly-shaped heads I've ever seen. (You wouldn't think, but a well-shaped melon can be really attractive -- right up there with perfect teeth among the kinds of things that can take a nice face and suddenly make it exceptional)
6. (ignominious mention) The restaurant where they put milk in the scrambled egg for the egg and tomato sandwich, so that it set off my allergic reaction and I couldn't eat the darn thing. They didn't charge us for it, but it sure wasn't the best Last Meal On Langkawi Island I could have had. In fact, our Last Meal Before The Flight was also pretty unimpressive: after waiting in line at this crowded place (usually crowds are a sign of a good restaurant, right?) and even after asking the waiter for chef's recommendations, the Chinese food we had just before leaving for the airport was mediocre at best, and certainly the most disappointing dish of the trip.
Everywhere we went, the spicy soup (tom yam, a great Thai staple) and the curries (an Indian staple) were fantastic -- yay for countries with diverse cultural influences! Plus, Tiger Beer (from Thailand -- kind of the fallback on-tap beer there) is much better than Cass or OB (the fallback on-tap beers in Korea).
But boy, we ate well there! Plus, because we never quite got the price scale sorted, we kept ordering way more food than we needed, thinking "it must be a small portion if it's so cheap!" and so we got chances to sample much more food than we ought to have.
Now I'm back in Korea. Maybe I'll post my forty-three favourite Korean dishes in a later post.