Malaysia’s East Coast states are traditionally bastions of Muslim and Malay culture, with overwhelmingly Malay populations (95% in Kelantan, 97% in Terengganu and 70% in Pahang). In terms of attractiveness or exoticism, Kuantan (the capital of Pahang state) often pales in comparison to the other two main East Coast cities of Malaysia: Kota Bharu (state capital of Kelantan) and Kuala Terengganu (state capital of Terengganu).
I really love exploring the food scenes of Kelantan and Terengganu, which have their distinct cuisines, but am always at a loss of what to eat whilst in Pahang. Anyway, I was in Kuantan, Pahang, last weekend for a family wedding, so I took the opportunity to explore the little town (population: 470,000) and its dining scene.
Mustafa Cendol is the first eatery which my Pahang uncle took us to. It’s Malay-Muslim, serving out popular renditions of spicy rojak which is ultra-spicy here, and cendol, a cool, refreshing shaved ice dessert which is popular throughout Malaysia and Singapore.
Rojak - this is a savoury, spicy salad of julienned, matchstick-sized slivers of raw cucumber and jicama, with Indian-influenced flour fritters (Malay: “cucur”), boiled potato, fried tofu and hard-boiled egg, slathered with a spicy, peanutty-chili dressing. The Pahang version is much spicier than renditions I’d had in Kuala Lumpur, Penang or other parts of Malaysia.
The eatery also offers Rojak Ayam, basically the same composition as the above, but with the addition of fried chicken (Malay: “ayam”). I’d ordered it out of curiousity as I’d not seen rojak ayam in KL, Penang or elsewhere. Big mistake - the boneless pieces of fried chicken were cold and hard: the Malay-style of frying chicken is to do it over medium heat for an extended period, until the chicken-meat is cooked thoroughly, but rather dry & very chewy. The one here was no different - all the succulence were gone from the chicken-meat - avoid!
Cendol - the Kuantan rendition of this dessert lacked the deep, smoky richness of Gula Melaka (Malaccan palm sugar) which is popular in Malaysia’s West Coast and Singapore. Instead, the local gula nira has a more straightforward syrupy sweetness. The squiggly cendol noodles (tinted green with fragrant pandan juices) are very nice, though. The coconut milk (Malay: “santan”) here is pretty diluted compared to Malaccan or Penang renditions, but is fine by me.
The Pahangites also has Cendol Pulut - cendol with the addition of glutinous rice (Malay: “pulut”), which I first tried in Kota Bharu (Kelantan) a few year ago. The glutinous rice offered an additional (toothsome) textural dimension to the shaved ice dessert, and is pretty good, actually.
Lot 9744, Jalan Teluk Sisek, Taman Selamat
25000 Kuantan, Pahang
Tel: +6016-9398384/ +609-517 7786
Operating hours: 11am to 7pm daily