Note: Food prices listed in Ringgit Malaysia
Kedai Kopi Ah Meng
Literally translating to Ah Meng’s Coffee Shop, this small, corner lot has been around for quite a while. It also happens to be a favorite go-to spot for locals and foreigners alike, made famous by the people who run the place. As I happened to be visiting my grandfather in Kulim (a nearby town), I took the opportunity to drop by and try these food treasures for myself. (Address is in this link.)
One of the two stores in the coffee shop is run by a friendly lady by the name of Stella, who has been doing this for the past 15 years. The result? A pretty darn good plate of rojak.
Cost: RM 4.00-10.00, depending on the portion
What to expect:
Rojak in Malay literally translates to a mixture. So it’s no surprise that the dish embodies the name in culinary form, containing chunks of mangoes, turnips, pineapples, cucumbers, chinese fried fritters, and prawn crackers. Then top it all off with a flood of thick, homemade prawn sauce, with varying amounts of sambal (local hot sauce), and then rain a heavy garnish of nuts to finish it off. Take a jab with your skewer, and surprise yourself. The beauty of this dish lies in the strong taste of the sweet, slightly salty, prawn sauce that takes center stage, and no matter the condiment you happen to pick, you’ll adding a slightly different twist of flavor to the performance on your tongue. Even better, the crunch from the nuts and the ingredients compliment the flavors, making for a unique culinary experience.
Stella’s personal recommendation is the spicy one, as she likes her rojak that way. 9/10 would recommend that, especially if you’re adventurous/love your spice.
Run by the folk who own the coffee shop (who deigned to be named), this popiah is the must-have food if you ever visit. Where Stella’s rojak is pretty damn good already, the popiah here is to die for, having a reputation as the best in Malaysia’s food capital, Penang.
Cost: RM 4.50 per portion
What to expect:
Yes, it’s a giant roll cut into 4 pieces. Where the rojak has an emphasis on the sauce and all its goodness derived from the combination of different ingredients, the popiah is quite the opposite. Pack chicken strips, lettuce, bean sprouts, and prawns into a wrap. Now add fried onions in it. The result is a simple, yet extremely satisfying wrap brought to life by the caramelized flavor of the fried onions, with the stuffing of the prawns and turnips bringing a subtle more mellow, flavor as well as texture to the table (literally). The hot sauce served with the dish brings another dimension to the simple combination, creating a culinary experience that is beautifully simple like no other.
Yes, the wait times can get long, expect 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the crowd. My advice is to order both the rojak, then the popiah, that way you can have the rojak while waiting for the popiah.
Kap Bung Steam Rice
A shop on it’s own, this culinary tourist attraction is the main attraction in Bukit Mertajam. Located just round the corner from Kedai Kopi Ah Meng, there is always a long queue outside the counter, and you’d be lucky to get a seat at all.
Cost: RM 5.50 per portion, RM 7.00 per large portion
What to expect:
The uniqueness of the dish lies in not in some secret magic sauce, but in the ingredients themselves. Imagine roast pork, roast duck strips, and roast chicken, packed together with nice, delicious rice, in a cup (which is where the dish got its name from; kap bung literally translates to cup rice in hokkien). Top it all off with a healthy serving of gravy and soy sauce and you have the best chicken rice in the whole of Malaysia. Only one word even comes close to embodying the taste of the Kap Bung: umami.
Come later in the afternoon, as the lunch hour crowds are a real large for both the customers and the vendors. Read up what the locals think of Kap Bung here, and if you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, the address is in the aforementioned link.