Asians -- and most Asian food-loving folks -- are not squeamish when it comes to fish heads, to the point that a fish arriving at table headless is suspect. And everyone knows that some of the best meat on the poor dead thing is in the head: in the cheeks and around the eyes.
Fish head (usually from a carp -- which, by the way has an enormous head that can easily feed a small group, with other dishes) is especially popular in Malaysia and Singapore, and my encounters with it to date -- in a curry and smothered in a gooey, tinglingly hot ginger sauce (more to come on ginger sauce fish head later) -- have been very pleasing. So when SW told me about a place in KL serving a fish head noodle soup enriched with milk I knew I had to give it a try.
[Warning: anyone logging onto EatingAsia for the food porn will be very disappointed by the poor quality of these photos, which can be attributed to me wielding a digital camera in poor light.]
Ampang Food House is tucked at the back of the sort of aged, dingy KL shopping plaza that --given the number of shiny new shopping malls popping up all over downtown and the suburbs -- one could be forgiven for bypassing. As I'm learning, however, these older plazas often hide treasures: the kind of restaurants and food houses that might be empty (or closed) on the weekends, when locals are pursuing their second-most-loved pasttime in KL's glitzier shrines to consumerism, but that are packed out on weekdays, when office workers hit the streets in search of a tasty noontime meal.
After 15 minutes wandering stupidly about Ampang Plaza, followed by a frantic phone call to SW to double-check the place's coordinates, we finally arrived at our destination a little after 1pm. This is well into the Malaysian lunch hour, and every seat was taken, with a line out the door. But Ampang Food House has an efficient way of dealing with a crowd of hungry customers -- while diners are supping inside a staff member is busily taking orders outside. By the time a seat has been vacated your order is nearly ready, no time wasted idling foodless at the table.
Though we were tempted by many other items on the massive menu taped to AFH's window -- a quick survey of other tables revealed "chilly sauce chicken rice" to be especially popular -- we stuck with the plan and ordered "fish head meehon". I didn't quite know what to expect, but what we ended up with was a bowl brimming over with deep-fried chunks of fish head, beehoon (thin rice noodles), pieces of tomato, soft tofu, and tender napa cabbage, all in a subtle fish (and pork?) broth flavored with spring onion, thick slices of ginger, and deep-fried shallots, and mellowed with milk. A saucer of fresh chili slices was served on the side.
(Oy, I really must apologize for that picture!) This dish falls firmly in the category of "comfort food" -- the sort of noodle soup I would crave if I were down with a cold, recovering from an too-spicy meal the night before, or shivering after sitting through a movie in an overly air-conditioned cinema. It's anything but bland-- tomatoes evince a bit of sharpness, ginger and shallot notes are clear and strong, cabbage and greaseless fried fish pieces add a bit of chew. I love chilies and added all the slices in my saucer to the broth, but then wished I hadn't -- a flavor combo this delicately balanced deserves to be respected. The beehoon did an excellent job of soaking up the milky broth ... and what was left I gladly finished off -- being too polite to lift the bowl to my lips in public -- with a spoon.
Ampang Food House, 2nd Floor Ampang Plaza, across the street from the Nikko Hotel. Public transport: take the LRT and get off at the Ampang stop. Exit the station to your right, which will put your right in front of Ampang Plaza. Head straight through to the stairs at the back to reach the 2nd floor.