Culinary charmer feels the love

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:46pm


Norman Musa is a self-taught Malaysian chef who has created a successful restaurant career in Britain based on forays to his home country. His Ning restaurants in Manchester and York specialise in Malay cuisine, with a little Thai, Chinese and Indian influence.

Musa has quite a following of female fans on Facebook, and they share recipes and swap restaurant recommendations. He recently hosted a dinner in Kuala Lumpur for 20 fans (chosen from hundreds who took part in a contest), who did not leave him alone for a moment.

His friendly manner and passion for Malaysian food play a key role in attracting this following. When he is not talking about food or cooking, he is eating. On a recent trip to Malaysia, he documented his food forays from his hometown of Penang to the isle of Redang on Facebook.

The 38-year-old's curiosity about food reflects a wider curiosity about life. In the many cooking classes and food festival demonstrations he conducts (his weekends are booked until October) he draws on the history, diversity and culture of Malaysian food.

'The more I learn about our food, the more passionate I get, and I learn about my roots,' he says.

He also tells the story of each dish, such the one about Kapitan Curry, a dish favoured by ships' captains who sailed into Melaka centuries ago.

Even after 17 years in Britain, Musa still misses the ambience of eating in his home country. 'Although I can wake up in Manchester and cook myself a roti canai in the morning, I will never get the stall or coffee shop atmosphere that is such a slice of Malaysian life.'

His favourite dish is sambal hati ayam (chicken liver in chilli sauce), but his favourite comfort food is Maggi instant noodles.

He will return to Malaysia in January to gather material for his third cookbook, which will focus on street food: 'I suffer from a serious case of middle-child syndrome, so it's through food and friends that I seek the love I need.'

Here are Musa's five top places to eat in Peninsular Malaysia.

The Bird Restaurant

A home-style Nyonya restaurant with authentic food and excellent hospitality. The owners always get feedback from customers. They serve a wonderful fish-head curry with tofu that's very different and - even though I hate Marmite - I love their Marmite prawns.

5 Jalan 3/62D, Medan Putra Business Centre, Bandar Menjalara, Kepong, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: +60 (3) 6277 1453

Aunty Aini's Garden Cafe

I have fallen in love with food from Negeri Sembilan. The cooking style is very different from what I know, although the ingredients are similar. Every time I'm back, I go to her cafe for her masak lemak chilli padi (chicken in coconut cream with bird's-eye chillies) and the rendang is very good, too, as well as the sambal udang petai (shrimps and petai in chilli sauce). But I love the masak lemak telur itik (duck eggs in coconut cream), which must come with loads of cholesterol.

Batu 16, Jalan Sepang, Kampung Chelet, Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Tel: +60 (6) 799 1276

Lai Po Heen, Mandarin Oriental Hotel

One of my friends brought me here as he knows I am a huge fan of dim sum. The place was heaving with customers and the dim sum is almost as good as the ones in Manchester. Of course, he loves the chicken feet and scallops and prawns. I loved the bamboo shoots and ginger. It's always about quantity here, and I fill my stomach.

Kuala Lumpur City Centre, Kuala Lumpur. Tel:+60 (3) 2179 8885

Cucur Udang Stall

This stall brings back a lot of childhood memories for me and it has been a family favourite ever since I was a child. The prawn fritter is served in small portions at a very reasonable price, and I always make sure I eat at least two or three plates. During the school holidays, everything will be sold out by 2pm. There's ambience, too, which is the result of being there for 40 years.

Next to Chowrasta Market, near Penang Road, Penang

Bijan Bar & Restaurant

Ever since I met the sisters who own this place - which was featured in Gordon Ramsay's Great Escape in 2010 - I have become a fan and a regular at their restaurant. It's extremely popular among the tourists and expatriates of KL. The ambience here, too, reminds me of my own place, Ning. Malay food is mostly known as street food, and they do it very well here.

No 3 Jalan Ceylon, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Tel: + 60 (3) 2031 3575