Sunday July 15, 2007
Ah Lye beckons
Savour first-class fish head curry and assam prawns at Subang Jaya’s Ah Lye Curry Fish Head.
Compiled by SANGEETHA NAIR
Photo by DAVID HAGERMAN
THIS restaurant located in USJ Taipan was recommended by bloggers Robyn Eckhardt and her husband David Hagerman of Eating Asia.
The restaurant was opened seven years ago by the son of the owner of the two decades old original Ah Lye in Taiping. He manages the dining room while his wife does much of the cooking, with the help of a couple of kitchen staff.
The small kitchen is suffused with aromas emanating from two pots of curry that have been bubbling away since wee hours. An order of fish head curry starts with a few ladles of the elixir, which are transferred to a claypot.
A fish head is hacked apart and added to the curry, and the pot is set over a low flame. Mrs Ah Lye keeps watch to ensure that the curry comes to a brisk simmer but doesn’t stray into a full-on boil.
Ladies’ fingers are added before the fish is fully cooked and simmered to crisp tenderness. Curry-absorbent deep-fried tofu puffs go in last. The pot is delivered to the table with contents still bubbling, and waiting for the curry to cool while inhaling its steam is torture but it is a torture well-compensated for by the dish’s slow-burn chilli heat, creamy coconut richness, and hint of sour. We’re not at all averse to fish head, but aren’t quite the bone pickers that our Malaysian friends are. Yet we find more than enough meat on these bones, even without resorting to sucking, to satisfy.
Though named for its curry, Ah Lye is also known for its assam (sour) prawns. This is a ‘wet’ version of the dish (dry versions feature prawns marinated in tamarind and spices and then deep-fried) and it’s no less than stupendous, more noteworthy, perhaps, than even the fish head curry.
The large prawns arrive coated in a gorgeous glossy, mahogany coloured tamarind sauce that, while thick, is neither sticky nor gloppy. If its bright, strident sourness didn’t tell you that the dish is made with tamarind pulp, not concentrate, the seeds would. Lots of black pepper balance the tartness with heat, and the shellfish themselves are expertly cooked – toothsome, almost crispy, their heads oozing savoury juices.
Ah Lye seems to have a way with anything remotely fish-related. The kangkong belacan (water spinach stir-fried with chillies and shrimp paste) is fragrantly zesty and studded with yet more prawns. Taugeh (bean sprouts), stir-fried with scallion greens and small shrimp, feature lovely little nubs of salted fish.
Tucked amongst a row of shophouses on a short, out-of-the-way side street, Ah Lye is easy to miss. In fact, unless you know about the place, it’s unlikely you’ll ever have reason to visit this neighbourhood at all. But regulars find their way here for the curry, the prawns, and non-fishy specials like salt-baked chicken.
Ah Lye Curry Fish Head, 18 Jalan SS19/1G, Subang Jaya. Opening hours: 12pm-3pm and 5pm-10pm.