We have no quarrel with competitors who charge less. After all, they know what their food is worth.
So declares a sign posted by the cash register at PJ (Petaling Jaya) Indian banana leaf hotspot Raju. Dave and I ended up here on the recommendation of - once again - this KL food blogger. Though we planned to eat large (as usual), we came to sample ikan bulus, a small fish rumored to go so crispy in the deep-fryer that it can be eaten bones and all.
On this day the display case fronting Raju's indoor seating area, and flanked on one side by an outdoor cooker topped by 3 blackened pots of bubbling oil, offered - in addition to ikan bulus (middle row, furthest left) - pomfret, mackerel, red mullet, thick slabs of something resembling sea bass, fish maw, crab, squid ... and chicken. All had been wallowing for a period in a thick, orange-red paste (in the white tub) of chili, turmeric, tamarind, and other unknown ingredients. Ordering the ikan bulus was a given; squid was an add-on.
Large squares of banana leaf materialized in front of us almost almost immediately after we sat ourselves at one of the Raju's communal outdoor tables, and were soon covered with a heap of vittles, starting with steamed white rice. A choice of fragrant gravies (fish, chicken, or dhal),
a mound of silky sauteed spinach,
a spoonful of cooling cucumber and pineapple salad, a dab of tender turmeric-spiced gourd, and a couple of pappadum followed in quick succession. When our fish arrived a couple of moments later, it seemed only fitting that it be given pride of place atop each of our bounteous banana leaf feasts.
Our ikan bulus turned out to be too large to down bones and all - but that's a commentary on the size of these particular specimens rather than on Raju's fry job, which was exemplary. Many of the smaller bones, shattering at the nudge of a fork, were indeed edible, and the skin was deliciously spicy with a hint of sour and, notably, grease-free. Ikan bulus itself has exceptionally tasty and sweet snowy-white flesh; we both finished our portions wishing for more.
Notable also are Raju's fish gravy (pungently piscene with a nice curry edge),
dhal (packed with black mustard seeds, cumin-y, mild, and comforting), and a lip-searing sour and bitter mango pickle that must be hunted down because it isn't automatically offered with other banana leaf toppers.
Haven't had enough heat? Don't forget these beauties that turn up (if you ask for them) at just about every Indian food house in town:
Dried red chilies with a massive dose of fire power, deep fried and heavily salted. A little pressure with the convex side of a spoon reduces them to an almost powdery mass, perfect for sprinkling on bland rice and perking up neutral vegetables; their extreme salinity is oddly addictive.
I couldn't close without praising the squid which, though not quite as expertly fried as that at Muhibbah (a bit of grease clung to these pieces) - and that may be a function of the marinade, which could be an oil-absorber - nonetheless begged to be eaten, one piece right after another.
Raju Restaurant, Jalan Chantek 5/13 (off Jalan Gasing), Petaling Jaya.