The date says we’re moving into fall but the temperature outside in Philadelphia would make you think otherwise. By now, we’ve established that I’m not particularly a fan of the heat (if we haven’t – Hi I’m Jacki and I prefer temperate climates where I barely break a sweat while hiking outside because it’s so cool). When I looked at the forecast this week and it said today would be a high of the 90s, in September (a month where I generally prefer to start wearing jeans and being able to use my oven again), I wasn’t thrilled.
It made me flash back to those hot, humid, sticky days we had earlier this summer. One of those particularly hot days (it was over 95 with humidity), we met friends for dinner at Sate Kampar. I had never been, and after hearing my friend rave about the food she had while on vacation in Malaysia, I was dying to go.
The temperature inside Sate Kampar immediately reminded me of eating at the hawker markets in Singapore – it was hot, incredibly humid, and had maybe a small fan blowing hot air around at you. I was trying to remain optimistic that this would not foreshadow how the meal would go (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
If we’re going to a restaurant I haven’t been before (or if I’m ravenously hungry), I’m reading the menu well in advance of our arrival. I remember reading Sate’s online and panicking that I wouldn’t be able to try everything. It all looked delicious, how would I choose??
After our friends arrived and we got settled at the table, I could tell they were excited despite the intense heat in the restaurant – feels just like Malaysia (bonus points for recreating the atmosphere, however unintentional that was). Our waitress told us the specials and then shared what was the best news I heard all day – the tasting menu. For a reasonable $35 per person, we would get the sate, our choice of either nasi lemak bungkus (a coconut cream-soaked rice) or mee hoon goreng bungkus (stir-fried vermicelli noodles), as well as sharable dishes of the rendang daging (slow cooked braised beef in a spicy coconut sauce), ayam kurma (braised chicken and potatoes), kerabu (seasonal salad), AND a kopi (coffee) or tea with dessert. So basically, you get to try the whole menu. In unison, we instantly said yes.
Our bundles of nasi lemak bungkus and mee hoon goreng bungkus came first. They were neatly packaged in a banana leaf and brown paper. The coconut cream infused the rice, which was topped with a sambal sauce. Sambal is a chili-based sauce or paste, that includes flavors of dried shrimp, shallots, scallions, ginger, lime juice, and palm sugar. Despite its chili-base, the sauce itself was not intense in heat, but rather brought together the savoriness to the dish. The combination of the sauce with the coconut was so delicious that I had to stop myself from filling up on rice before the rest of the dishes came.
The sate, rendang daging, ayam kurma, and kerabu came next. The sate skewers were grilled to perfection, though we mostly preferred the goat and pork. I was a bit nervous about the rendang danging or slow cook braised beef as we had a similar dish in Singapore that was out of this world spicy and full of cilantro (in case it is not clear from that last statement, I’m in the cilantro = soap camp). Sate’s version was tender, easily pulled apart and clear of the devil green garnish. The sauce itself had some heat to it, but nothing overbearing.
The ayam kurma was a little lighter in taste than the beef. There was very little heat to the chicken and potato dish, which included coriander and white pepper. The kerabu salad was a combination of lightly fried carrots and zucchini sticks, tossed with toasted coconut. I would have easily eaten the entire dish and gone back for seconds.
The amount of food was a bit of a daunting challenge, though there was nothing left. I think we all forgot that kopi/tea and dessert was still to come. I had been sweating through the entire meal, due to the temperature of the food combined with the humid atmosphere in the restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised that the dessert was a light, cool coconut broth with what seemed like small tapioca balls. And while this helped to cool me down, it also made me realize how incredibly stuffed I was.
On our walk home, I thought about everything we ate and how it was more prominent in the cuisine in Singapore than I realized while we were there. It also made me start to wonder how much flights to Malaysia are and whether I could stand the intense humidity. And then I saw that Sate Kampar has kaya toast on the weekends so maybe I don’t need to suffer on a 14-16 hr plane ride after all 🙂