Eating our way home: Malaysia

In Malaysia we ate happily and we ate well. 10 days was no where near long enough to sample everything on offer.  I loved the Malay dishes like the coconut cooked rice of Nasi Lamak, and we both enjoyed the heavy influence of Chinese and Indian cuisine.

Here are just a few of our eating highlights.

Economy Rice in Johor, our first taste of Malaysian cooking. We arrived late into Singapore, and crossed over the border the same night. Arriving at our hostel well past midnight, it wasn’t until the next morning we were driven in search of food by rumbling tummies. We ate breakfast at an economy rice stand. 10 or more dishes are laid out in metal trays. A plastic plate is given a quick wipe with a damp cloth and a large spoon of rice is dumped on from an oversized thermos. From here its guess work. Digging into the dishes with huge metal spoons, trying to identify meats, fish or vegetables hidden with sauces. A few noodles perhaps, something that looks like spinach, a little curry to finish the dish, the smell of spice hitting the back of our throats.

Tandoori Chicken in Kuala Lumpur. The sheer volume of indian food to be found in Malaysia spoke to our curry loving hearts. Many nights of tandoori chicken served with naan bread, dahl and chutneys. Simple but beautiful. Outside of restaurants right across the country sit the round bellied tandoors, glowing red with heat inside, their coals white hot at the bottom. Spiced red chicken is propt inside on long metal skewers. Naans are rolled out and shaped. Picked up in a damp cloth the hand of the cook nips quickly into the heat of the tandoor. A quick flick of the wrist sticks the bread to the walls of the oven. Quickly they puff and cook. When we needed something more we gorged ourselves on banana leaf curries, all the components of a curry, laid out on a banana leaf.

tandoori chicken in Malaysia //


Roti canai eaten in the fisherman’s village on the picture perfect island of Perhentian Kecil. Blue waters lap against the sea wall nearby, the restaurant filled with salt stained divers comparing notes on the morning. Hot, flakey roti, delicious dipped into curry. At 1 Ringgit, about 19p, they are Malaysia’s cheapest meal. We saw several teenage backpackers ordering them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another time we watch as they are made. Little balls of tender dough, rolled out wafer thin, thrown up into the air like a pizza and quickly flipped over into four, creating those wonderful flakey layers.

Roti in Malaysia //

On the back of a temperamental honda bike we explored the Cameron Highlands. Tea plantations, hidden from the main road, cover rolling hills and dramatic slopes with waves of tea. Dark green bushes, broken with ripples of bright green new leaves. Hiding from the rain, we stop at Boh Tea Plantation for a cup of strong black tea. Wrapping our cold fingers around the mug, warming us up in the chill of the highland air.

cameron highlands, Boh tea plantation //

tea at the boh tea plantation, Malaysia //

Street food in George Town. Penang prides itself as being one of the street food capitals of Asia, it seemed wrong not to test out these claims. We spent a very happy evening dipping into the street hawker areas, picking food from the carts, watching it cooked and dished up. Eating it off plastic and paper plates, a cold beer in hand. Delicious, cheap and good for those like me who struggle to make food decisions when theres so many tempting choices to try. Satay skewers picked up in fat bunches and grilled over charcoals. Moist and tender, served with a paper plate brimming over with sweet, peanutty satay sauce. Sea food noodles, stir fried in a wok over a flaming burner. Crispy samosas filled with potato and peas. Spicy onion bahjis, burning our tongues.

street food in penang - sea food noodles //

street food in malaysia //

Street food in Malaysia - chicken satay //

chicken satay //

street food, Malaysia //

On the suggestion of one of my lover readers, Laura, we went to China House. She said they had one of the best cake selections you can find in Asia. Well, with a recommendation like that I made sure it worked its way into our Penang itenary. She wasn’t wrong. The cake table is heaving with a huge selection of cakes, everyone of them looking delicious and tempting. If that wasn’t enough, a separate chilled cabinet holds yet more cakes. It took me a good 15 minutes deliberating over the table before deciding what to pick. I choose passionfruit cake with coconut butter, fruity, sharp and moist; something light and suitable for the heat outside. I could happily have tried most of the selection, towering layer cakes, rich tortes, tarts, breads. I wish there was more space in my tummy for slices of the chocolate creations, the orange almond cake, or the tiramisu. For the first time on this trip I miss my oven, dream of my kitchen.

China House Cakes, George Town

China House, Penang //

china house cake collage

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Coffee Cupcakes

coffee cupcakes

As I write this I’m sat perched on a blue plastic chair in a small local cafe by the train station in the Thai railway town of Surat Thani. We left a very wet, windy and grey Koh Phi Phi this morning, and were loaded into a mini bus at the Krabi ferry pier. We’re 6 hours in to our 24 hour trip to Bangkok, and 1 hour into our 6 hour wait for the sleeper train that will take us the rest of the way to the capital.

We’re re-adjusting to the rhytmns of life on the road. The pace is slow whether we want it that way or not and, once we’ve handed over a handful of Ringgit or Baht and bought our tickets, the journey itself is taken out of our hands. We’re dropped at nameless bus stations and left pondering if and when someone else will pick us up for the next stage of the journey. Herded with groups of hungover, bleurry-eyed teenage backpackers into mini vans and driven across the country, watching unfamiliar landscapes unfold at the roadsides, watching out for road signs that give us an idea where we might be.

We’re re-learning how to sleep just about anywhere, on a 9 seat mini bus packed with 16 bodies and all their luggage, in a Phi Phi guesthouse with the walls vibrating with the beat of the party still going taking place on the beach.

coffee and sour cream cupcakes

Andy’s morning coffee, the dark 2 sugar sweetened nectar he needs to start the day, is no longer a simple kettle boil away. Our backpack has a stash of three-in-one nescafe sachets stored away; emergency rations incase the guest-houses don’t provide any. Each morning he heads down to seek out a supply of hot water, returns with an unfamiliar steaming mug, this morning’s bright pink and emblazoned with Hello Kitty.

On days when the budget looks healthy we treat ourselves to coffee with breakfast.

coffee sour cream cupcakes -

For me coffee is a drink only for lazy weekend mornings. Frothy cappuccinos with brunch, a luxury to be savoured slowly. In the thick heat of the Hong Kong summer I sip on iced coffee, ice cubes rattling in the cup; a sweet, milky ice cream substitute. Come the first cool mornings of the autumn I’ll look forward to the first Gingerbread Latte of the year, a sign Christmas is on its way.

Here I like the way coffee comes with a sticky puddle of condensed milk at the bottom of the cup. A vigorous stir turns the coffee creamy and pale. It’s sweet, sugary and rich.

coffee cupcake - scarletscorchdroppers

These little cupcakes are a delicious afternoon treat for any coffee lover.

The muscavado sugar and the coffee give them a rich, almost caramelly taste. They’re made with sour cream too making them deliciously moist, and giving them a slight tang that perfectly compliments the coffee.

They’re topped with a smooth coffee buttercream. The coffee taste is subtle, the butter, much like the condensed milk in my favourite South East Asian coffees, acting against the bitterness, keeping it smooth and light.


Coffee Cupcakes

(makes 8)


for the cakes

115g unsalted butter

115g light muscavado sugar

115g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 tablespoons sour cream

3 teaspoons instant coffee

2 tablespoons boiling water

for the coffee buttercream 

250g unsalted butter

200g icing sugar, sifted

3 teaspoons instant coffee

2 tablespoons boiling water

pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 180C/160 fan/ 350F.  Line a cupcake tin with 8 paper cases.

Cream together the butter and sugar.

Add 1 egg, along with a tablespoon of the flour. Beat to combine. Repeat with the second egg and a second tablespoon of flour.

Add the remaining flour, the baking powder, and the salt.

Stir through the sour cream.

In a small cup, dissolve the instant coffee into the boiling water.

Pour into the cake batter and mix until the coffee is evenly distributed, and the cake batter is smooth.

Divide the mixture evenly into the cupcake cases.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 18 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen, golden, and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter until soft and smooth.

Add in the sifted icing sugar and mix until combined.

In a separate cup, dissolve the instant coffee into the boiling water.

Mix the coffee and the vanilla extract into the buttercream.

If the buttercream is very soft, place in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up. Pipe onto the cupcakes.