Vistana

Special thanks to Vistana Penang Bukit Jambul for extending this food review invitation.

This is my first invitation to Vistana Penang Bukit Jambul, a 423-room business hotel owned and managed by the YTL Group. Today's visit is to get a preview of the hotel's Buka Puasa Ramadhan, which is themed "Tok Wan 101 Recipes".
"Tok Wan" is a colloquial term for "grandmother", which emphasizes traditional Malay dishes provided in the buffet dinner. There are exactly 101 dishes every day, including condiments.

The Grand Ballroom is filled with over 40 dining tables. Silverware and napkins are laid neatly to give a prestigious atmosphere.
Food is served at the hallway outside the Grand Ballroom. Nearly a dozen Malay woks (kawah) with various dishes give a sense of communal "kenduri" (Malay banquet) in a homely kampung (village). At the sides are various warung (stalls), each preparing a special delicacy on request basis.
One of the ubiquitous dish in Malay cooking is Daging Gulai (Beef Curry), where chunks of beef are stewed in thick curry gravy. The gravy is rich in coconut milk and various spices.
Ikan Masak Asam Pedas (Sour & Spicy Fish Curry) is a Minangkabau recipe. Mackerel (ikan kembung) is cooked in thick stew made from tamarind (asam) and chili. Okra (lady's fingers) and tomatoes are added to balance the savory flavor.
Another way to tantalize your taste buds is through the Rebung Gulai Sotong (Squid & Bamboo Shoot Curry). The main ingredients, squid and bamboo shoots, help to absorb delectable curry flavors, albeit in different ways.
Still in the seafood department, Siput Lala Masak Berlada (Spicy Braised Lala) is an appetizing dish of lala clams in savory chili gravy. The flesh in each shell is quite small, though.
As for vegetables, Kangkung Belacan (Spinach With Shrimp Paste) is prepared by braising water spinach with shrimp paste. Cooked vegetables is absent in indigenous Malay cuisine, therefore this dish is an adaptation of Chinese cooking style with local spices.
One of the most popular comfort food in Malaysia is Ayam Goreng Berempah (Spicy Fried Chicken). The chicken is marinated with various spices, coated with batter, and then deep-fried to golden perfection.
Similarly, Bawal Goreng (Fried Pomfret) is also battered, then briefly fried in hot oil. I think the amount of salt needs to be toned down.
Served over a sheet of banana leaf is Terung Bakar (Toasted Eggplant). I like the delightfully sweet taste of the soft eggplants (brinjal or aubergine).
There is also a counter which specializes in various Pembuka Selera, or Malay appetizers. Many of these appetizers, such as Acar Jelatah, consist of raw ingredients that are mixed together as salad. Spices are used liberally in Malay appetizers. Several jars of assorted keropok (crackers) are also provided.
One appetizing dish here is Tauhu Sumbat (Stuffed Bean Curd). Fried bean curd cubes are cut diagonally across and stuffed with shredded carrots, jicama (sengkuang) and cucumber.
Another delicacy is Tempeh Ikan Bilis (Anchovy Tempeh). Tempeh is a traditional bean curd product of Indonesian origin. Tempeh is slightly sour due to the use of vinegar during fermentation.
As for Kerabu Ikan Masin (Salted Fish Salad), dried fish is tossed with an assortment of fresh garden vegetables to disperse its saltiness.
Meanwhile, Kerabu Sayur (Vegetable Salad) is a long bean-based salad with minced tuna and mayonnaise dressing to enhance palatability.
The next counter features Rojak Buah (Fruit Salad), which allows guests to customize their own salad ingredients. Choices available are pineapples, rose apples (jambu air), jicama (sengkuang), guavas, starfruit, unripe papaya, unripe mango and cucumber.
Besides the default sambal belacan (spicy shrimp paste), another dressing for the fruit salad is sambal kicap limau kasturi (calamansi, soy and chili sauce).
Ulam-Ulam (raw vegetables) are also popular in Malay feasts especially in rural areas. A boat-like serving counter provides ulam ingredients such as daun kaduk (wild betel leaves), daun selom (selom leaves), petai (stink beans), kacang botol (winged beans), julienned carrots, cabbage, tomato and cucumber.
Ulam condiments are served in stone mortars for aesthetic appeal. Cincalok originates in Malacca (Melaka) and is made from shrimps fermented with rice and salt. Meanwhile, Budu hails from the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and is prepared by fermenting anchovies with salt.
Ikan Masin Goreng (Fried Salted Fish) is part-and-parcel of traditional Malay meals. The buffet provides three different types of salted fish. Salted fish is usually ate with plain rice or mixed with other vegetables as a form of kerabu.
One of the most popular dish today is Murtabak Ayam (Chicken Murtabak). Murtabak is an Indian-Muslim recipe which has made its way into mainstream Malaysian cookbooks. Besides gastronomical appeal, preparation of murtabak is also quite spectacular. The dough is toss and stretched, similar to how pizza dough is prepared.
Inside the murtabak dough are appetizing fillings such as minced chicken, egg, onion and garlic. Murtabak is grilled with palm oil on a hot griddle. Each piece is flipped occasionally to ensure uniform heating.
The chicken murtabak is quite delectable thanks to the use of seasoned minced chicken. Murtabak can be eaten directly, or enjoyed with condiments such as dhall (lentil curry), sambal bawang (onion gravy) and pickled ginger.
Asam Laksa is a signature sour-spicy dish from Penang. This dish uses a special type of white rice noodles, which is springy in texture. Asam Laksa is notable for the use of many ingredients, such as julienned pineapples, chopped lettuce, shredded cucumber, ginger flower, onion, red chili and bird's eye chili (cili padi).
Of course, the curry also plays a key role in Asam Laksa. An important ingredient in the curry is mackerel (ikan kembung), which has been stewed until the fish "dissolved" within the broth and becomes part of it. Other spices used to create this appetizing soup are tamarind (asam), lemongrass (serai), lengkuas (galangal) and red chili. Optionally, one may also add a spoonful of savory belacan (shrimp paste) for good measure.
The next stall features Sup Daging (Beef Soup), another popular street dish in the Malay community. Yellow noodles are used here. Ingredients provided are fried garlic, diced bean curd, scallion (spring onion), red chili, bird's eye chili and chili paste.
As for the soup, it is a thick stew saturated with meaty savoriness. The use of yellow noodles is meant to absorb its savory flavor thoroughly.
Shellfish-lovers will be delighted to know that there is another stall for Kerang (Cockles). Cockles are briefly boiled in hot water to allow the flesh to become soft, but not entirely cooked.
Then, each cockle is removed from its shell and dipped in spicy-sour chili sauce for consumption. This dish is meant to be eaten "for fun", but not really to fill the stomach.
Another signature dish from Penang is Pasembur Campuran (Mixed Malay Salad). This is a salad mixture of sausages, fish cakes, boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, shredded jicama (sengkuang) and cucumber.
The gravy for pasembur is similar to that of satay: sweetened peanut gravy. The gravy is slightly spicy and has very thick consistency.
Guests should also not overlook the Warung Bakar (roast station) outside the hallway. This outdoor grilling station is uses charcoal to prepare delicious grilled meats and fish.
First, meats and fish need to be marinated for several hours for the spicy flavors to penetrate the flesh thoroughly.
Then, the raw ingredients are grilled over charcoal fire. Occasionally, the tongue of flame licks the food give it a sense of toasty appeal. Excess fat is allowed to drip down and sizzle on hot charcoal below.
The kambing (mutton) is quite succulent, thanks to nice marinating. A key characteristic of mutton is its chewy texture due to tendons.
Ayam (chicken) is also acceptable, but I think it should be cut to smaller pieces to allow better marinating.
Meanwhile, keli (catfish) is well-cooked and well-flavored. However, I feel that its flesh is punctuated with numerous fine bones. The fish is still nice, though.
Finally, there is also pari (ray) which is less bony but I feel is not as appealing as catfish.
In addition, there is also an outdoor stall for Char Koay Teow. Ingredients for this Penang-style dish are flat rice noodles, shrimps, chives, garlic and chili oil. Unfortunately, I feel that too much noodles are cooked at once, which diminishes the appeal of this dish.
Moving back indoors, I am very impressed with the wide range of cakes and kuih (traditional Malay pastries). The sheer number of choices easily rivals what you can find in a Ramadhan bazaar.
Many of these delicacies use grated coconut kernel (parutan buah kelapa) quite liberally.
As for flavoring, the diversity is exemplary. There are pandan, butter, sweet corn and chocolate just to name a few.
The vibrant colors of the cakes and kuih are reminiscent of the festive spirit during Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
Another delicacy often associated to Ramadhan is pitted dates (kurma). This sweet fruit is often eaten out-of-hand, but it can also be used to prepare desserts. When Muslims break fast in the evening, it is customary to eat a date first.
For something softer, there are several fruit puddings and jellies of various flavors.
I must say that the presentation of puddings and jellies is quite commendable.
For small portions of sweet treats, there are also delicacies in petite glass containers.
Some of these treats are made from sago (sagu) and palm sugar (gula melaka).
Should you prefer iced desserts, Ais Kacang Pelangi (Rainbow Shaved Ice) is your best bet. Ingredients used are red kidney beans (kacang buah pinggang), nipa palm fruit (buah nau), red sago pearls (sagu mata ikan), cream corn, ground peanuts, cincau (grass jelly) and several types of agar-agar (jelly).
Shaved ice is sweetened using palm sugar (gula melaka) and rose syrup. Evaporated creamer is also added for the desired milky consistency.

Never missing from any Malay stall is Malaysians' favorite drink Teh Tarik. Hot milk tea is "pulled" (tarik) between metal containers to cool the drink and give it bubbly appearance. I suggest that coffee should also be provided.
While enjoying the meal, the festive atmosphere is lightened by live music by Irama Nada, a duet band. The performers use biola (violin) and rebana (Malay tambourine) to play catchy melodies throughout the evening.
Vistana's Buka Puasa Ramadhan is served every evening from 19 June 2015 to 16 July 2015. The dinner is priced at RM65.00 per adult, and RM30.00 per child between 4 and 12 years of age. These are net prices. This same buffet is also offered simultaneously in other Vistana hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Kuantan.

Name: Vistana Penang Bukit Jambul
Address: 213, Jalan Bukit Gambir, 11950, Bukit Jambul, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-646-8000
Business hours: 7:00pm-10:00pm
Website: http://www.vistanahotels.com/Penang/bukitjambul/Default.aspx
Coordinates: 5.33637 N, 100.29159 E
Directions: Driving southbound on Jalan Bukit Gambir, turn left just before Vistana and drive up to the lobby entrance. Basement parking is available from the back of the hotel. The parking fee is RM3.00 per entry for banquet guests.

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