I’ll forgive you for calling me “crazy” for what I am about to say.
If you’re not familiar with the Malaysian condiment of ‘Tempoyak,‘ then “crazy” is how it will seem.
Scroll down now, and learn how life-changing experience through flavor may be as simple as a lunch table full of local food in Malaysia.
Malaysia’s Reason to Celebrate
Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world that not only welcome the durian fruit – they celebrate it.
Whether its a mild curiosity, or raging and unceasing hunger, Malaysia is a country where any and all durian lovers can go to truly let their passions run wild.
Dreaming about a trip to visit Malaysia? Allow me to introduce to you a condiment so amazing, it is worth an entire day of eating on its own.
Use the link (watch Mark’s video on YouTube), then scroll down to get the full details on this entire amazing meal.
Tempoyak is a South East Asian dish that needs only two ingredients to make, and I’ll go ahead and clue you in right now – durian is one of those two ingredients.
It was a few years ago that the word ‘Tempoyak’ first came to our attention. Tempoyak is eaten only in a very short list of places though, and so we were simply left to count the days until this new flavor could be a reality!
Temerloh, Malaysia for Tempoyak
The town’s name is Temerloh, a central town in Malaysia that locals know as one of the homes of ‘Tempoyak.’
Obviously, arriving in Malaysia this time, there was nothing else to do but make a direct line out of the airport, and start the trip for Temerloh.
Tip: Renting a car in KL is simple and fast (rental using Europcar), and the drive is less than 2 hours from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia’s capital).
Such an obvious town-wide addiction only builds excitement to eat, and we understand each other well if you also find yourself wondering, “is just one day going to be enough?”
First Stop – Gobang Maju Restaurant
Upon arrival, the first restaurant you need to find in Temerloh is ‘Gobang Maju’.
Its location is right along the riverside, just past the main roundabouts of the town.
Look for the giant sign, and let your excitement carry you – the lunch that awaits is likely going to make your entire trip worthwhile.
What to Order
You might choose the pais bakar (fermenting durian and chili jam cover a fish straight from the grill), or the same catfish as sections in a local favorite asam soup (sour soup).
*Of course, I recommend you try both. The full name on the menu by the way, is Gulai Tempoyak Ikan Patin.
You’re probably going to need at least one bowl for each person at the table – after just one taste, you may not be willing to share. The atmosphere here is perfect for going overboard on flavor, losing yourself completely in a morning-long epic mealtime.
There are tons of different choices here, and you can even choose between a la carte items, or standing in line at the takeout counter up front.
I’ll give you more details on all that in a minute, for now I just can’t wait to get right to the main event.
Get Ready for ‘Tears of Joy’
After such a build-up this entire morning, we can’t possibly wait any longer – the dish arrives to the table, and we just have to dive in spoon-first.
You can get a sense almost immediately, that you’re reaching a new precipice of food experience. You’ve taken a bite, there’s no going back, a sheer wave of flavor energy comes dancing across the tongue.
The First Bite May Bring Tears…
Nothing can possibly match the experience of tasting this – Tempoyak bridges far beyond our ‘comfort zone’ of flavor territory.
Literally leaving the eater speechless, the first spoonful of this rich broth will have any foodie sitting in simple fascination – it is true and total mouth-numbing joy.
So Much More than just Durian…
For those of us who know durian, of course there’s that first comfort of the recognizable sweet/bitter flavor. The funky tingling feeling begins, following a stinky sweet thinly creamy mess of flavor… But this is not just durian – Tempoyak is so much more!
The tongue and nose awake with a jolt, as a deep fermentation factor becomes clear.
Diving in head over heels by this point, you may actually become speechless, and that’s totally ok!
I think at first for me, its a state of flavor over all else, the brain in near total confusion. As if standing outside one’s own body, the taste wave finally subsides, and all those around the table sit grinning, sweating, hopelessly happy, and asking “is enlightenment possible in a lunchtime?… was that experience all happening, just from food?!”
Sambal Tempoyak (Durian and Chili Jam)
As the near out-of-body experience starts to fade (and the newly devout Tempoyak fan slowly sinks back down to earth), I urge you to go and relive the amazement a second time.
Start by finding the next dish for lunch, a tin-foil wrapper that encloses the dish of pais bakar Tempoyak.
If there’s anything that can match a raw fermenting durian, its the genius move of cooking with the same durian ingredient. Turning it into a sambal, include a mash of chili peppers, salt, and fresh garlic, and you have yet another trophy-worthy taste from these wonderfully simple ingredients.
Pais Bakar Tempoyak
Thick gobs of the fermented durian mix with a mash of chili peppers, salt, and something sour (most common fruit for this is bilimbi, a relative of starfruit). This creates even another level of the Tempoyak-led train of flavors, another genius creation of Malaysia’s local food tradition.
**Incredibly, the grilling method actually tones down the highest peaks of flavor possible in Sambal Tempoyak, so for an absolute finale of flavor, read the note below.
Veteran Durian Lover’s Tip
Not for the faint of heart, this restaurant also has small containers of pure, raw Sambal Tempoyak (2RM each), you can find them on the shelf in the middle of the restaurant.
Have some with the fresh veggies, then have some on your finger, and finally, please resist the urge to smuggle too many home in your checked baggage (I mean, of course that’s what we did, but I still have to warn you).
The dust settles… You Order More
In the aftermath of your mouth’s newest love-discovery there are actually many other delicious foods served at Gobang Maju.
Incredibly, if not for the Tempoyak haze my brain is still wading through, I could even write home about this cili padi beef on its own.
Masak Lemak Cili Padi
The first small bowl you have to try has to be masak lemak cili padi, another amazing creation of local Malay cuisine.
The smokiness in the beef is stunning, the layers of flavor that come from cooking with dry meat like this is unreal. You have to order at least one bowl of this to go with your lunch while you’re here.
Note: We had just been blown away a few days previously over an immensely tasty morning meal (smoked duck and smoked beef) at Itik Salai Masthar in Kuala Lumpur.
Malay Kerabu (Coconut and Chili Salad)
A small bowl of kerabu (mixed salad) contains wonderfully bright flavors, and provides a nice crunch as well. Honestly, its nice to have one dish on the table not leaving you falling over intoxicated with powerful flavors, so you should probably get a few of these salads as well.
Crunchy textures and crisp aroma come from shreds of culantro, crunchy bean sprouts and carrots, and a few peppers. There’s also some purple shallots, and finally, they dust the entire salad in fine shreds of coconut.
This is all stirred together with just a bit of coconut oil in the dish as well, and while some recipes even include chicken or goat with the kerabu as well (amazing recipe in Northern Malaysia right here), Gobang Maju’s version here is vegetarian.
Fresh Vegetable Selection
From the self-service line in front, you can also make a plate of these local herbs and fresh vegetables.
I see that almost every local visitor to the restaurant piles up a small plate with these three vegetables. The first one I know to be the leaf from a Cashew tree, and I think the second is young leaves from a Mango tree. The next two I am not sure of, but they have a sour initial taste, slightly fruity, and then a very gently sweet and bitter aftertaste – almost like a type of jungle-y basil.
These were wonderful to dip into the Sambal Tempoyak, and also nice to use as miniature mops to wipe your plate clean.
The one with all the smaller leaves works great to hold that durian jam from the pais bakar tempoyak (the grilled fish with durian jam), and I just could not get enough of this combination.
Wonderful Meal at Gobang Maju, and don’t forget Dessert!
This was definitely a meal that I didn’t want to end. The soups were amazing, the grilled and boiled fish meat so tender, and a lovely layer of Tempoyak covered everything.
Before asking for the bill however, don’t forget, these restaurant offers an amazing food for dessert!
A creation that is somewhat their own, this Durian Cendol is magnificent! (see photo below)
Beginning with a local type of red sugar on the bottom, the bowl is built on durian and coconut ice cream, pandan sweet noodles, red kidney beans, then a layer of crushed ice, and finally a layer of coconut cream. To top it all off, the ice cream creator adds two gorgeously creamy chunks of D24 durian (a very popular local species).
The dessert was yet another blessing in the form of durian, and what a way to end the meal here today. A huge thank you to the owner of Gobang Maju as well, who gave us this entire meal free of charge.
Name: Gobang Maju Patin Tempoyak
Location: Google Maps (link)
Hours: 11am to 10pm (Closed Thursday)
Price: They so kindly gave us this meal complimentary, Thank You!
There’s Durian, but then there’s LOCAL Durian
As its already been made clear, no foodie on this planet can think they’ve ‘tried it all,’ until they have Tempoyak in Western/Central Malaysia.
Just as it seems worthwhile to dedicate an entire morning to traveling for Tempoyak, now it seems only right that we also give ourselves some room for comparison.
Just as there’s durian, there’s also local durian – therefore there must also be Tempoyak, and then local Tempoyak.
It is clearly just a mandatory progression.
Mandatory, but the next move still feels great… and now, on to round two!
Round Two (Tempoyak at Home)
From the Gobang Maju Restaurant its only a 5-10 minute drive onwards to a second destination, Selera Patin Bangau Restaurant.
But I would say you can’t miss this one either.
While Gobang Maju serves a truly amazing meal, it is a rather large and well-known restaurant. We also wanted to experience on our day of Tempoyak, the difference in a home-cooked version of this Western Malaysia delicacy.
The drive was through jungle and local scenes this time, no main roads. Although Temerloh itself is already full of feelings of relaxation, it now feels like you are driving directly to some hidden tropical beach.
Passing people sitting along the riverside, there are fisherman, cows, and single-home fruit farms. It reminds me of trips long ago, the wonderful life and pure and local Central Malaysian living.
Nasi Campur and Patin Tempoyak
The options here for dishes containing Tempoyak here are quite similar to those available at Gobang Maju Restaurant.
There are obvious differences in flavor, but the first thing you will notice here is the style in which everything is prepared.
Start by ordering at least one more of each of the Patin Tempoyak (the sour soup made with catfish), and the Bakar Tempoyak as well (durian chili jam grilled fish).
The home-style restaurant and the home-cooked flavors are obvious, this restaurant emits just such a wonderful and relaxing countryside vibe. I was just as excited arriving here as I was for the first meal, and we were very happy to see what else Tempoyak had in store for us today.
Note: Nasi Campur is the main food that locals are coming here to eat – a mix of cooked veggies, fried meats, and curries over rice – and so actually there are even many more options for food than just those with Tempoyak when eating here at Selera Patin Bangau.
Mixed Foods with Rice
Ever since first visiting Malaysia in 2009, I have been an addict of Nasi Campur.
Not only is it just a gorgeous meal to put together, it also gives an eater a small view of any of a dozen local ingredients and flavor combinations.
There’s even a bit of textural attraction here that is only present in culture’s that use their hands to eat. The rice’s position under all the food gives the additional benefit of allowing your fingers to mix in, mash, and blend even more flavor into every bite.
Today I chose one of my all-time favorite nasi campur combinations including a huge purple eggplant, which cooks until its almost a mush of oils and flavor inside, a fish cake that’s mashed so fine its almost the consistency of bean curd, and finally a delicious side of beef spleen, cooking with a mild curry sauce, and wonderfully fiery local chilies.
While it was honestly even exciting just to start the same meal all over again, our tempoyak patin spicy and sour soup here was totally different than the one served at Gobang Maju.
Wanting to really compare the flavor, you have to go in spooning right from the serving bowl itself. Don’t worry, the thing that feels right to do here, is also the culturally appropriate thing to do as well (I asked).
Gulai Tempoyak Ikan Patin
This version was so much less sweet, a little less spicy as well, but I think they may have included just more pure salted durian flesh on its own to get such a taste.
It is remarkable, so different and yet so recognizably Tempoyak-ey, it was truly a pleasure to eat this dish again, even if it was just a few hours later.
To just sat back and enjoy yet again the nearly endless supply of flavors in this golden and sour fish soup, so generously flavored with durian, I think there were several kings and other country leaders who ate nowhere near as good as we did this day.
Finally, if you are curious to make this yourself by the way, I found an article here that looks great.
Note:* You may recognize this fish by another name, as it is eaten in many countries around the world. Served as ‘swai,’ in the USA, and ‘pangas‘ (like the species name) across Europe. Feel free to leave other local names from your home in the ‘comments’ section below.
Home-fermented Durian Jam – Tempoyak 2.0
For those who truly have that raging, uncontrollable urge to consume as much flavor as a mouth could ever feel – this wonderful local restaurant also stocks their own recipe of fresh and undiluted tempoyak with chili (sambal tempoyak)
Adjectives become a bit harder to come by when describing a taste that is this bold.
I can’t believe I could say it, but durian itself is actually somewhat tame when comparing it to the powers of Tempoyak.
My mouth has honestly only danced around edges ’til now, and while it’s hard to believe, its also obviously true – after a few dozen glorious dips into this new paradise of flavor, I admit that my mind has been further opened to what tastebuds can do.
An adventure like none other awaits you here, venture to ascend the lofty and pungent peaks for flavor treasure, flavor only possible with this local delicacy of ‘Tempoyak.’
The Back Story
Research before this trip to Malaysia eventually led to meeting up with several local people while there.
Traveling to a new place (or even country) is one of the privileges of life, especially when you’re going there to explore it through food.
When you have a friend on the inside however, a local contact who offers to show you around, then its even more than a privilege – that situation is a real blessing.
In this case we pretty much hit the jackpot, meeting up with Mr. Sufian (local food blogger), as he is not only knowledgable about the things we all need to know, but this guy is literally just as crazy about food as we are.
Ultimately it was one of the better days of our entire trip, but in this situation too we had an added bonus! We were safe from an all-time foodie-traveler’s fear, never once needing to ask – “is this restaurant going to be as good as it looks online?”
We were lucky to meet up, hang out with, and now call this cool local blogger our friend, online he goes by the name Padu Beb!, and you can check out his great channel here.
The King of Fruits has a Side-Kick
Durian is well-known throughout SouthEast Asia as one of the more (entertaining? one-of-a-kind?) things that a human mouth could ever experience. How then could one imagine a taste more potent out there, something that could actually top a Durian, THE King of Fruits?
Its a Malaysian local food, and for all who have been enlightened to the taste, its one that will not allow a tongue to ever, ever go back.
Do you often find yourself obsessing over Durian?
If you find yourself obsessing occasionally (or even daily during Durian season) then we clearly have something in common.
However, even if this fruit holds no attraction for you, I would still highly recommend both of these restaurants. They have plenty of other foods as well that will just blow your tastebuds through the roof – Malaysia’s food is just that amazing.
So – when you are making travel plans to visit this beautiful country of Malaysia, be sure not to forget to leave a space on your calendar, mark it out in yellow, and devote (at least one) entire day to Tempoyak.
Happy eating everyone, and we wish you a great trip to Malaysia. Catch you next time.
Name: Selera Patin Bangau
Location: Google Maps (link)
Hours: 12pm to 4pm (closed Monday)
Price: Our Home-cooking-style Tempoyak meal was 67RM (4 people, US$16.40)