King prawn, beef and squid cooked Negeri Sembilan wayIt is possible to enjoy the best of Malaysian culinary in remote destinations where the noisiest thing heard is the call of the rooster. One such place is Aunty Aini Café located in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan where you have to be mindful of where you alight – watch out for those cow dung blobs on roadsides.
The couple that runs Aunty Aini in the idyllic village setting is an enlightened pair who chooses to go back to the basics in putting good food on the table. A funky woman in her forties, Aini believes in choosing fresh produce, natural herbs (some grow in her garden) and fresh catch of the day to keep things downright simple and tasty. And downright traditional.
The couple's house stands behind the restaurant, kampong style “We are really into tradition and totally into weird things, like brains,” says Aini who helps me to some gulai lemak tempoyak. Thank goodness these weren’t cerebral matter, but tiger prawns cooked in coconut gravy enriched with fermented durians. For those who can’t stomach the smell of the king of fruits, well, this could throw you off your seats. It kept me glued to mine however, as the pungent and sour sauce I scooped into my mouth with steamed rice just rocked my senses. And I helped myself to more.
“I make this just like my grandma did – preserving the durian flesh in a container with salt for weeks. It’s so delicious that even the locals come here to eat,” laughs Aini. Not just this dish, but also the range of food such as daging salai (smoked beef) in gulai lemak cili padi (spicy slosh), soup ekor (ox tail soup), ikan jenahak asam pedas (hot and sour fish) and ayam kampung goreng (fried country chicken) are downright delicious. Here’s why.
“Everything we use in our food is from natural source. We don’t use sugar, artificial food enhancers, preservatives or monosodium glutamate. Our coconut milk is freshly squeezed; chicken is caught off the kampong lanes and slaughtered according to demand, and our prawns are handpicked from the farming pond,” she says.
“Just like our ancestors, we cook what we can source from around here, especially from local farms and gardens,” she adds, revealing that if she had money and time, she would spend them both on nurturing a garden.
Wondrous pungent tempoyak, to me at least For dessert we had tapai, which is steamed fermented rice with vanilla ice-cream, once again, a rewarding venture for bravehearts only.
In a quaint village and serene setting away from city glare, Aunty Aini has shown what’s it like to preserve age-old traditions that are a delight to all - even to Anthony Bourdain who slurped their spicy gravy in 2005. It’s definitely a celebration of Negeri Sembilan heritage.
Contact: Aunty Aini’s Café
Batu 16, Jalan Sepang, Kampung Chelet, 71800 Nilai, Negeri Sembilan
Open for lunch and dinner, closed on Sundays (rightfully so).