This very rustic seafood eatery in the middle of an oil palm plantation was new to me, but seems pretty well-known to many folks already. It’s located in Bagan Samak, a tiny village of 2,000 mainly Teochew-Chinese that was formed in 1951 - one of the initiatives by the colonial British government then to put Chinese villagers in heavily-monitored communities at the height of the Communist insurgency in Malaya which started in 1948.
The village’s claim-to-fame is actually its salted duck’s egg industry, which exports its products to Hong Kong and other countries with large Chinese communities around the world. Virtually all of the big brand Chinese mooncakes in Malaysia use salted duck’s egg yolk that comes from this inconspicuous little village.
Bagan Samak was also popular for breeding the very expensive ornamental freshwater arowana fish 2-3 decades back, but as the fad dissipated and business in arowana fish dried up, the village turned to offering seafood to foodlovers travelling between Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh to Penang. Bagan Samak is about 1 hour’s drive south of Penang, and about 1.5 hour’s north of Ipoh. These days, serious foodies from Ipoh and Penang converge upon the village, especially on weekends for cheap, good seafood meals.
We stopped by for lunch yesterday, enroute from Taiping (another Northern town) back to Penang. Bagan Samak has about 8 restaurants these days, but we chose the oldest one - the family-run Ng Hang Kee Freshwater Seafood Restaurant which started about 12 years ago. The Ng family has been well-known as food purveyors in Bagan Samak since the grandfather ran a noodle stall in the village decades back. One of his sons subsequently decided to up the ante with a full-fledged seafood restaurant, offering freshwater seafood from the rivers surrounding the area.
Business was noticeably quiet on a weekday, and our food order came pretty quickly.
Steamed Big-head Prawns - local freshwater “tau tau her” (big-head prawns) were roe-filled and superfresh. These were topped with slivered ginger-strips, drizzled with light soysauce and steamed. Absolutely delicious.
Steamed Flower Clams - these clams, called “la la” locally, were topped with finely chopped garlic & red chilis (habaneros) and a light splash of soysauce and oil before being steamed. They were done perfectly.
Steamed Catfish - this freshwater staple was covered with ginger strips, fresh coriander leaves, chopped tomatoes and golden oil-fried minced garlic, plus a splash of soysauce before being steamed. The cooking was perfectly timed, and the sauce, although a bit on the salty side, went well with steamed white rice served on the side.
Sabah Ferns in Sambal Belacan - Crisp green ferns from Borneo, difficult to obtain in nearby Penang (where I’d not seen it anywhere) but surprisingly found here. It’s stir-fried with sambal belacan (chilis and fermented shrimp paste). Very flavoursome but not overly spicy (as the local Teochew palate favours lighter cooking).
Curried Big-head Prawns - a very spicy-looking dish, but surprisingly mild in its chili content. The dish tasted of very heavy Indian curry powder spices being used, though, and the prawns have been fried shell-on before being slathered with the thick curry sauce. Not my kind of dish here.
Stir-fried Teochew Tofu with Leeks - Soft, yellow-skinned Teochew tofu were quartered and stir-fried with chopped leeks, tiny shrimps and garlic here. The dish is very lightly flavoured with fish sauce and soysauce.
Pretty flavoursome cooking here, and with some incredible prices - the two big-head prawn dishes (each dish containing 3 large prawns) costed only RM35 (US$8.50) per dish! That’s only a third of what one has to pay in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore!
Ng Hang Kee Freshwater Seafood Restaurant (黄汉期河鲜餐馆)
3, Pekan Lama, Kampung Bagan Samak, 34950 Bandar Baharu, Kedah
Tel: +605-716 3717
Opening hours: 12noon-10pm Tue to Sun. Closed on Mondays.