I have just returned from a short visit to the three north eastern towns of peninsular Malaysia, kota baru, pasir putih and kuala besut. Kota baru and pasir putih are in the state of kelantan and kuala besut is in the oil rich state of terengganu.
It is typical of me, to go native, whenever I travel. Arriving at Kota baru airport at 11 am, my good buddy and kelantanese host, wantanamera, introduced me to what kota baru inhabitants do for breakfast. I am hooked. It was rice, duck rendang kelantan style, beef curry and salted fish served on old newspaper lined with banana leaves. You are spoilt for choice, an assortment of curries and malay “gulais”, patcheries. You know that this is a rich and affluent town, food for the noble and royals, and it is supposed to be breakfast. The duck deserved a special mention and from then on is listed on my roll of fame. The kelantan style duck is better than the roast duck I had at soho, or the duck than Karen served or the duck salad at the Hilton.
Kota baru has been declared an Islamic city. It reminds me of the Vatican and not forgetting this karaoke tv monitor with the hijab I saw at this function recently. I am just being naughty! It was not the hijab, it was just a cloth covering you may see in many houses put up by the id savvy housewife.
AS you travel outside kota baru towards pasir putih you will see houses and domiciles which serve as an excellent poverty index. The transformation was quick. There were padi fields, tobacco growing activities, fishing boats and very little sign of any industrial activities. I thought I saw an ice making and a rice mill, not like the industrial skyline of the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
I did not see any big mansions nor any beautiful malay traditional houses.
The evening I was already in Kuala Besut, a quaint, attractive, “old” seaside town. Old is not 100 years. Old means it has not been bulldozed and transformed by the black gold Terengganu is bestowed with. The new township of Besut is new, artificial and plastic. As you travel in Terengagnau you will see the new Terengganu architecture. Concrete buildings, extravagant but not beautiful. They may be the best master craftsmen with wood, but with concrete and masonary, I must say, they are beginners and novices.
At Kuala Besut, I had the best steam fish I have had for a loonnnnnng time. It was red garoupa Cantonese style. The steaming must have been precisely timed. The flesh was tender. The size was perfect as the head had all the trimmings and the cheek was the first I savoured. It was a simple seafood restaurant. I sure will come back to Kuala besut for the steam fish. We also had shark meat. thought it had a taste of chinese wine and herbs but I was told that it was a concotion of sauces.ITo those who do not take carnivorous creatures I respect the taboo that you inherit. Don’t tell me it is forbidden!
The morning breakfast I was looking for something similar to Kota baru. I ended up having rice, with two miserable fried fish and sambal.
Food is another reliable poverty index.
It was not until 5 that I had lunch. I was back in Kota baru. It was worth the wait. I had 3 servings of “itik serati” or duck rendang, barbecued beef and chicken, percik style, “kerabu “ rice, double rations of rice, and it cost me under USD 5 for two.
On the flight back, I was analyzing my poverty index. There were questions and wanderings: Kelantan could be similar to takbai, or krisik. Kelantan could have been another province of the kingdom of siam. Is it just politics that the whirlpool kelantan is in now, kota baru and pasir putih, why the contrast?
It is past 11 now. My 5 pm meal will last till tomorrow. Thank you wantanamera. You are my good buddy. I love u.