[Kuala Lumpur] Malay-style grilled fish at Gerai Seri Menanti (Ikan Bakar Jalan Bellamy)

One of the most popular spots for ethnic Malay food in Kuala Lumpur is the quartet of grilled fish eateries on Jalan Bellamy (Bellamy Road). Better known in Malay as “Ikan Bakar Belakang Istana” (Grilled Fish Behind the Palace), as Jalan Bellamy is one of the roads situated at the back of the old National Palace (Istana Negara), these eateries have been pulling in the crowds daily for the past couple of decades or more.

It was our first time here, so we opted to eat at the first eatery, Gerai Seri Menanti. Founded in 1990 by the late Haji Jaafar bin Kalam, the eatery is now run by his vivacious daughter, Madam Azila Jaafar, the hostess with the mostest in many ways. Three other stalls are situated right after Gerai Seri Menanti, all opening after Gerai Seri Menanti became the biggest thing to hit town at the time. Among all 4 of them, the busiest these days seems to be Che Yeh Seri Melaka, run by another lady boss, Kamariah Dorani.

All four eateries prepare their fishes and other seafood the same way: a 2-3 hour marinade in a rempah (freshly-ground spice paste) consisting of red chillis, explosively hot cili padi (bird’s eye chillis), tomatoes, lime juice and tamarind juice; before being wrapped in banana leaves & pan-grilled.

The grilled fish/seafood will be served with a couple of dipping sauces, one with tamarind water (air asam) and one with thick dark soysauce, pepped up with chopped chillis.

Types of fishes offered here are - one needs to order in Malay, or simply point at what you want - terubuk (shad/herring), pari (stingray), kembung (mackerel), cencaru (hardtail), siakap (seabass), keli (catfish), tilapia, kerang (cockles) and sotong (squid).

One can also select from the variety of cooked Malay curries and other dishes to supplement the grilled fish dishes.

Fo our lunch, we ordered grilled siakap, sotong and pari (a must-have), plus a vegetable ulam (Malay-style spicy salad), fried eggs, pajeri nenas (sweet, spiced pineapple wedges) and a mildly-spiced tempe (fermented soybean) dish.

Gerai Seri Menanti opens from 10am till 4pm Monday to Saturday for lunch. It closes for a short break before re-opening for dinner at 7.30pm till 11pm. They only do dinner on Sundays.

If you’re doing lunch, I’d ask you to come around 11am, the place can get pretty busy by noon. The clientele are almost exclusively ethnic-Malay, which is a testimony to the authenticity of the food flavours on offer here.

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Luscious looking food spread!

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And very spicy, too! It’s Malay-style cooking so the spice mixes are very light on aromatic spices like coriander, cumin, cardamom, etc., but with more emphasis on chillis, tamarind, lime juice and fresh herbs.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold