Malaysia is supposed to be a food lover's favourite haunt but sometimes, I am so disappointed with the quality of the food especially when I feel ripped off by sub-standard stuff.
For example, if you are in George Town, Penang, do avoid the nameless char koay teow stall that operates one or two steps away from the duck meat porridge stall along New Lane. Also, do avoid the over-rated Sisters char koay teow at MacAlister Road. Seriously, they are not worth the money that you'd spend on them. There are more appealing char koay teow stalls anywhere else in the city!
But the above comment comes only as a "by the way" because my real grouse is about the Ole Sayang Nyonya Restaurant in Melaka Raya, Malacca. Yes, this is a very popular restaurant and you'll be hard put to find empty tables unless you arrive early or are prepared to wait.
They have a reputation from various recommendations in the Internet -- that's how I got to know about this place, anyway -- but what I'm suggesting is that we shouldn't accept totally the good reviews that we read. We thought that they would serve good Nyonya food but it turned out that their versions of otak-otak and fried mixed vegetables weren't up to my family's expectations. The lady taking our orders didn't even recommend the jiew hoo char to us and when I asked her about the chicken buah keluak curry, she said the kitchen wasn't cooking the dish that evening. Moreover, the cendol was quite miserable. What a letdown indeed!
On the other hand, the Kocik Kitchen in Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock was a good find. Maybe it was because I was so excited over their buah keluak dish that I forgot about everything else!
The buah keluak is actually the nut (some say it is a fruit and yet others call it a seed) of the kepayang tree that grows wild in Malaysia and Indonesia. People say that the nut is poisonous and the hydrogen cyanide contained therein must be cleaned off properly. When properly prepared, the black kernel of this nut imparts a dark colour to the curry. Plus, you'll need to have an acquired taste for it because its distinctive bitterness will put off many people.
In Malacca, my aunt didn't like it, my in-laws didn't like it, my wife didn't like it and my son didn't like it. In the end, I finished off all five or six of the nut in the chicken buah keluak curry. I can only say "yum yum".
It's been a very long time since I ate this delicacy, mainly because it's almost impossible to buy the nut in Penang. I hear that you may possibly find the buah keluak from the Indonesian traders at the Chow Kit wet market in Kuala Lumpur but I don't have any detail, not having tried searching for it myself.
Anyway, my mother used to cook buah keluak curry when I was small and still living in Seang Tek Road, George Town. I don't know where she bought the nuts from in Penang. You don't ask that sort of question when you are a six-year-old, do you? The norm in Malacca was to cook the nut in a chicken curry but I remember my mother cooking the buah keluak with fish. She would prepare the nuts by burying them with ash and then soaking them in water for a week, presumably to neutralise the poison. That's how much preparation going into the nuts. Ah....the good old days.