From langkawi to kuala lumpur

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A curated Malaysian food tour by Essential Escapes in collaboration with the newly renovated Datai Hotel Langkawi and the sustainable inner city Kuala Lumpian retreat; The Samadhi

As we attempt to cover both jungle and coastline on the incredible Malaysian island of Langkawi, we learn that the island plays home not only to an abundance of plant and wildlife but also to incredible produce and a culinary heritage that’s more than worth exploring. The first morning offers a combination of jungle tours, cookery classes and a guided walk around the hotel’s permaculture and allows us to discover the assortment of typical Malay and Asian herbs commonly found in most local dishes. We find everything from lemongrass to curry leaves, from kaffir lime leaves to chillies plus a variety of mints and richly fragrant leaves like ulam raja which add the most incredible almost eucalyptus like flavour and is commonly added to salads. We are wowed at every turn, with vast, thick green jungle providing the backdrop to the extensive garden which itself aims to respect, nurture and replenish its surroundings. As first impressions go, this isn’t bad at all and we’ve not even touched on what the coastline looks like yet!

During our cookery classes we learn of traditional techniques, spice combinations and the order in which they’re used. Malaysia’s unique food heritage draw from it’s Malay, Indian and Chinese roots and culminates with incredible results. Here we create a Karabu Sook Hoon; a spicy glass noodle salad which combines shrimp paste, chilli, lemongrass and rice noodles as well as a Gulai Udang Tumis Darat; a prawn and pineapple curry with tomatoes, tamarind paste for extra tang and Thai basil. Both dishes are fresh, vibrant dishes with intense depths of flavour. Spices aren’t lightly toasted but added to the onion mix and sautéed instead. Water and coconut milk make up the sauce to this curry. 

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And now for Kuala Lumpur

A city of extremes where Malays, Chinese and Indians come together within a humid thriving city. Each with distinct districts, all varying in wealth and development. 

We stay at Villa Samadhi just a short drive from the heart of Kuala Lumpur, a boutique hotel with sustainability at it’s core. Rooms are spacious and varied, all coming with jacuzzies situated either inside or out. The hotel boasts a large pool and has several sister properties and restaurant connected to it championing the same values. 

Shortly after arriving we meet our city guides from Samadhi Travels who catapult us into Malay street food (and chaos)! We venture to the main night market, it’s crazy humid despite their daily 4:30 downpour which ramps up into a thunderstorm with gusto! We shelter and observe the endless grumbles which come to a crescendo in both claps of lightning and the loudest thunder, we’re in the eye of the storm…and this we come to find out is a daily occurrence. 

We venture down Jalan Alor, which is an assult on the senses, in amongst the humidity, people swarm to feast their way down this long street of market vendors. 

Our first stop is for an assortment of dim sum, synthetically coloured and served with a generous side of chilli sauce, quickly devoured we venture onto the next stall, ‘Lok Lok’ ; an abundance of skewered vegetables, shellfish, octopus, meats, anything you can think of they have it and it’s on a stick! The process once you select your chosen skewers; they’re taken, deep fried, coated in a light layer of flour then finished on the griddle, vegetable are briefly blanched, coated and too finished on the hot grill. Vats of incredible satay sauce, chilli oil and a sweet plum sauce are set up on the table for us to greedily spoon on, and we do! A favourite is the bean curd wraps mushrooms, the aubergine and Chinese leaves. Enormous prawns and some very suspicious looking nondescript meat creeps it’s way into the mix, the tour resides here for quite some time as we try endless skewers, next stop is the stall which specialises in satay, this can be found right at the bottom on the left of the market. A laborious ritual of basting and turning over hot white coals is carried out before we are able to try these incredible skewers. Both chicken and beef make up the menu, two lumps of both are sandwiched around a chunk of fat which adds to the rich flavour while helps retain moisture while cooking. This is a labour of love, the same goes for the smoked then barbequed chicken legs, which I’m told too are a delicacy. There’s also various coconut sorbets and Chinese restaurants along the way. I should say that this areas is someone chaotic, the hustle and bustle is made up predominantly of tourist. We however are lucky enough to have an in with a local and get tipped off on a brilliant speak easy style cocktail bar. We bundle into taxis (Grab is their Uber) and head to PS 150, it’s a cool spot, cocktails are incredible, they know it and we’re sold, we loose several hours and head home gone 2am. If visiting this place is a must, it’s cool, there’s a vibe going on that you definitely want to be part of. 

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Part of our island experiences includes a mangrove boat tour with Junglawala (a variety of trees that grow a impressive root network, above ground and that grow in brackish waters, creating a very dynamic and highly productive ecosystem- vital in protecting the coastline and landscape from heavy tides and strong coastal winds). Junglawala provide an abundance of information on our surroundings, followed by lunch at a locals house, where we again sample many a heritage recipe, from sticky ginger, soy and lemongrass chicken, to turmeric fried aubergine, sambal pomfret fish, richly tangy and vibrant in flavour and spice. Far from the five star resort it’s a great insight into local living, cooking and generous hospitality. 

Down time at The Datai consists of a swimming, there’s two pools, one for adults only and one for everyone, beachside. There’s a plethora of watersports on off; we found ourselves out at sea on both a bobbycat and paddleboard made for four. We also took the sunset boat tour with the Naga Pelangi, The Naga Pelangi, a 30-metre, traditional wooden Malaysian junk schooner, has been crafted both for sailing and to preserve tradition. The Naga Pelangi is made from chengal wood, found only in the Malaysian Peninsula, and was built by Captain Christoph and a team of shipwrights in the famous boatyards of Duyong Island in Terengganu. With views of Thailand from the coastal line at The Langkawi, a sunset tour is one adventure not to be missed. 

The Datai also offers guest a chance to explore the culinary heritage which makes up the Malay cuisine. There’s both a typical Malay restaurant serving up incredible local and authentic style food (there’s some brilliant family recipes being shared here!) The typical Malay style Gulai house is set deep within the rainforest which further enhances the experience. There’s The Pavillion, a Thai restaurant set on stilts in amongst the tree tops, bridging the gap between rainforest and the hotel! The dining room where and incredible breakfast buffet is served daily. From roti canai (an incredible egg roti) which is freshly made for you and in front of you and sits alongside and incredible dal and spicy sambal. There a selection of dim sum, chicken congee plus endless fruits, an egg menu and then the most incredible offering of pastries which shouldn’t be bypassed, the French head chef knows exactly what he’s doing here! The Chocolate croissants were exceptional…we couldn’t resist! 

And on a side note, for anyone wanting to get creative, dine al fresco on your balcony or away from any of the restaurants you should think again… we attempted to do a breakfast shoot from the porch of our jungle villa and let me tell you…monkeys will come…and in their droves!!! A hysterical but chaotic morning ensued, the Macaque monkeys are not shy and will go to extreme length for food and mini bars! Lock doors and don’t be tempted to share food, they’ll never leave! 

Rooms and villas at the Datai are stunning, spacious and luxurious…

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The next day starts with the most incredible breakfast on Madras Lane, consisting of authentic Curry Laksa, Yong Tao Fou. Rule 1 when travelling...Always join the longest queue of locals. Whatever they’re eating you need to try it & nine times out of ten you won’t regret it!! So with that in mind I jumped into line in the dense humidity and patiently waited to try the Yong Tau Fou; tofu stuffed with fish paste, coated in flour, deep fried then sprinkled generously with white pepper! Think rustic wontons... Bitter gourd (part of the courgette family but with a bitter aftertaste and slightly more robust), aubergines, chillis and various other vegetables are also stuffed and served in a similar way however the tofu is by far the most popular (so I’m told by the very keen local ahead of me who greedily cleans out the entire fresh batch). Once fried these can also come served in a light chicken broth alongside fish balls which is what I kicked off yesterday with! Completely delicious! Needless to say there too were several big bowls of tangy chilli sauce combined with a dash of plum sauce for a little sweetness to add into the mix or simply for dunking!
We also sampled incredible egg noodle laksa, packed full of rich curried broth, green beans, aubergine, bean curd and a handful of fresh clams. Whilst sat amongst the locals slurping our way through a feast of delicacies and enjoying a real taste of Kuala Lumpur, life felt like a world away from the very modern sky scrappers we experienced just hours later! A bustling lively city, very much of two halves! China town is absolutely a must when visiting the city. 

For coffee and touch of modern Kuala Lumpur we again take the advise of Asain food writer Guan Chua who send us on our way to the definitely and progressive hip part of town. Pulp serves up a plethora of blends and speciality coffees alongside a seriously great banana bread and dark chocolate tart which perfectly peps us up ahead of the daily storming which looms. This area also houses many a modern and more design conscious restaurant a bar. 

We also hit up the tourist spot KL tower to snap a pic of the revered twin towers which are currently the highest in the world. 

We’re short of time here but it’s clear there’s so much to explore, market stalls to feast on, we were too early to try the mini pancakes or the homemade prawn crackers, hotpots and more. 

Our last night arrives and we head to the Tamarind Springs, the most impressive setting high up in the hills which houses the sustainable Thai restaurant, sprawling and reaching over several floors, all open to the elements this vast restaurant is impressive in its architecture alone. We sample many an incredible northern Thai inspired dish, cocktails using local ingredients seduce us into staying for hours.

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