There is just something special about food spots out and away from town.
Maybe it’s the change in scenery or the long drive there that helps clear the mind – and more importantly – empties the stomach.
Either way, a food trail through Selangor’s tucked-away food gems proved to be the perfect excuse to test out a range of Volkswagen vehicles.
The 250km adventure started at VW’s swanky headquarters attached to the Signature Serviced Suites in Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, where assembled media were introduced to their rides, including the Vento Highline, Passat Comfortline Plus, Tiguan Highline, Beetle Sport and the latest iteration of the Golf Sportline.
My first car of the day, the understated Vento sedan breezed through both morning city traffic and bumpy state roads towards Hulu Langat where breakfast at Nan Wah Kopitiam awaited.
The humble coffee shop is a favourite among cyclists, which explains the many riders spotted along the hilly roads there.
Sitting alongside sweaty cyclists and a handful of Chinese uncles, the shop staff recommended their homemade kaya on toast, served with kampung chicken eggs and, unconventionally, a cold barley drink. There was also the typical nasi lemak bungkus, but the rich kaya was a definite winner, the classic santan-egg-sugar-only recipe edging out the green, pandan-laced version.
Unlike most modern mall-based coffee shops that claim their kaya is homemade, visitors can see the kaya being prepared in a giant metal vat in the kitchen. A third-generation business, Nan Wah had upgraded from stirring the thick coconut curd by hand for a more consistent result with less back-breaking labour. Everything else is still done by hand, from squeezing the grated coconut for santan to preparing the eggs.
After the light breakfast, it was time to get behind the wheel of the sporty new Golf. The compact weaved briskly through winding roads, its responsive brakes often being tested around blind corners, from where motorcycles and the occasional monitor lizard would suddenly appear.
An all too brief 40km later, we arrived at Elda’s Farmhouse, a vine-covered single-storey abode that looks more like an English cottage than a Malay kampung house.
Our host, chef Noraidah Lembang, who prefers to go by Kak Elda, explained the philosophy of the restaurant ahead of the meal.
Located close to her father’s farmland, Elda’s Farmhouse serves farm-to-table produce, with the menu of the day determined by what’s in season. On this particular afternoon, that meant fried ladies fingers and long beans, banana flowers in turmeric curry (gulai), with chilli beef jerky (daging dendeng), prawn sambal and Kak Elda’s signature steamed barramundi with slowly sweated garlic.
She ended the meal with caramelised bananas with ghee, served alongside a refreshing lime sorbet.
Kak Elda later provided a cooking tutorial, showing that her recipes only depended on fresh, local ingredients rather than any special technique or cooking equipment. Banging a metal spatula against a tin wok, Elda joked that cheaper is better. That way there was no worry about how hot a non-stick pan can go or if you’d scratch it with the spatula.
Now quite stuffed, we headed to the next destination – the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS) – for something that was sure to wake us up from the impending food coma: a crash course in emergency driving manoeuvres.
There the media took turns to run the Tiguan SUV, Passat luxury sedan and the Vento through a gauntlet of challenges, from weaving through cones to evasive lane change braking. We were also given the chance to compare the handling of the cars against Volkswagen’s competitors, further highlighting their aggressive acceleration tempered by ease of control in dangerous conditions.
In contrast, the workshop to make wet popiah with the ladies behind the third-generation Lee Wah Popiah stall appeared almost too easy. This assumption was quickly dispelled, as assembling the popiah by hand was an equal exercise in control as jamming the brakes just enough during the earlier challenge.
You could almost see through the Lee Wah family’s homemade popiah skin, but it had bite and was firm enough to hold the tofu, sliced cucumber and bean sprout filling, which were glued together with a light sweet sambal and crushed peanuts.
Finally, the Volkswagen convoy headed back to town, giving me the chance to drive the iconic Beetle. Its design was truly unlike conventional boxy cars, the windscreen gently sloping for a wide open view of the road ahead, while its leather seats cradled both driver and passenger in breathable comfort, even on a sunny afternoon.
Before returning to the showroom, we had one last stop: Milky Whey, the pun-tastic brainchild of fromagère Annisa Iwan.
The constantly smiling Indonesian national exemplified the day’s theme of artisanal products, producing all her cheese out of her own home. She walked us through the process of making mozzarella, and later treated us to a huge platter of cheeses, fruits and jams. Some of the highlights were the black pepper coated Sarawak and soft goat cheeses that practically oozed when cut.
Utterly convinced by the platter, most of us bought more cheese to take home. Luckily for the borrowed Volkswagens, it was just a quick 10-minute drive back before the stink of cheese could sink into the leather upholstery.
Volkswagen may pride itself on German engineering, but there were some obvious parallels to the meals throughout the day: the passion in making the best version of their product possible, refined over generations.