Swimming Swine, Rough Sea: Em Teerak redefines Thai & Vietnamese soul food in the Klang Valley
March 27, 2023
In a city that's flooded with pineapple fried rice and pho in every neighbourhood, Em Teerak channels a different perspective to Thai and Vietnamese soul food, admirable for authenticity but even more respectable for its risk-taking.
We won't find pad Thai on Em Teerak's menu: Instead, this bold new restaurant in Kota Damansara explores more distinctive dimensions of Malaysia's northern neighbours, from Northern Thai Wild Curry Chicken to Vietnamese street staples like Hu Tieu Nam Vang with Cambodian inflections.
Em Teerak's fare is vibrant in colours and flavours, robust in herbs and spices, curated by Malaysian co-founder Kenny and head chef Max, who both have familial ties in Indochina.
Max has embraced Thai and Vietnamese cooking throughout two decades of professional experience, while Kenny brings a contemporary, cosmopolitan flair to Em Teerak's food and service after years of living in Melbourne. Their team includes skilled Sabah-born chefs with specific culinary strengths, perfecting a precision in produce and processes.
Em Teerak's fresh ingredients are conscientiously sourced, spanning Malaysian probiotic-farmed tiger prawns to Australian barramundi; its recipes have been researched and refined for nearly a year before the restaurant launched; its signature creations are unmistakably unique, with playful names like Swimming Swine In Purple Lake and The Rough Sea & The Butcher.
The result: Beautiful concoctions built with honest produce, honourable effort and wholehearted inventiveness, served at sensible, suburb-friendly prices. After two visits, this is one of our favourite new kitchens of 2023.
For sharing and snacking, start with the Princess Roll Công Chúa Cuôn (RM18), a Hanoi treat with an Em Teerak twist, showcasing seafood and vegetables stuffed in a breadcrumbed wrap that evokes Japanese panko, crisp to the bite, terrifically textured and tasty to the chew.
Kai Loong Keuy (RM15) highlights Thailand's traditional son-in-law eggs, again with Em Teerak's tailored flair - these kampung eggs are poached instead of hard-boiled, yielding the creamiest yolks, then fried in high heat for a lightly crusty surface, splashed with tamarind sauce and sweet basil for an irresistible indulgence.
Thai Prawn Cakes (RM24) embody Em Teerak's commitment to shun commercially processed, mass-manufactured food. The kitchen meticulously hand-smashes a mix of tiger prawns and squid to fine-tune this temptation, thick and buoyant with briny subtleties, gently batter-fried. It's a lot of extra work and cost, but the outcome merits the move.
For main courses, the Swimming Swine in Purple Lake (RM45) is a beauty to behold - the most tender Thai-style pork ribs, double-braised first with lemongrass, coriander, ginger and young coconut spices, then with palm sugar, yielding fork-succulent flesh.
This carnivore magnet of chunky meat is laid over lovely sauce that's dark, deep and dense with a duet of Japanese and Indonesian sweet potatoes, earthy and elegantly enhanced with latte-like art, charmingly complete with boiled quail eggs.
Also alluringly lip-smacking is the Three-Flavour Fried Barramundi Fillet with Fresh Pineapple Salsa (RM45) - the fish proves firm and full-bodied, clean-tasting and crackly-skinned, brightened with sauce and salsa in a sumptuous synergy of sweet, sour and spicy, relying on the ripest MD2 pineapples and cherry tomatoes, skipping sugar additives entirely.
Prawns and clams can also be ordered in Em Teerak's latest Royal Sauce - the Royal Sauce Fried Clams (RM35) spotlights stir-fried Japanese clams in an appetising orange-hued sauce that accentuates the lusciousness of the clams without overpowering them with spicy fieriness.
Tom yum enthusiasts have two to try: The Red Tom Yum Seafood Soup (RM20 for smaller serving, RM39 for large) and Clear Tom Yum Seafood Soup (RM20 small, RM39 large), each with its own fanbase, both with made-from-scratch stocks instead of supermarket pastes.
One more pork pleasure for the road: The Crispy Fried Pork Belly (RM20) takes us straight to hog heaven, with marvellously marinated meat that's perfectly paired with Thai herb sauce.
Vegetables aren't neglected - Em Teerak makes memorable work of mani cai, Sweet Leaves in an authentic Thai preparation that reminds Kenny of his grandmother, scrumptiously stir-fried with scrambled kampung eggs and pork lard (RM20), and Fried Crispy Water Spinach, coated in fluffy tempura-style custard flour, fun to dip and dunk in seafood sauce (RM20).
Beverages bring a splash of cheer to the table - My Em Teerak is a mild palate-cleanser, layered with Manuka honey (which, coincidentally, is also used to sweeten Em Teerak's moo ping skewers), butterfly pea and hibiscus, free of syrups and sweeteners (RM13); Sour Passion is perky, puckered up with passionfruit, calamansi, asam boi, Manuka honey and butterfly pea (RM13); and the Himalayan Salt Coke is a cool quencher that's offered in lunch sets (RM4).
Open Wednesday-Monday, 12pm-3pm, 5pm-10pm. Closed Tuesday.