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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia: Strawberries, tea plantations and charcoal steamboat

Food bloggers go wild

One should always be adventurous when it comes to eating overseas.

We found a bounty of food to savour on our Malaysia trip. Luckily for us, millipedes were not one of them, even if Billy did appear keen.

On the fourth day of our trip we found ourselves departing Kuala Lumpur and heading 214km north to the Cameron Highlands.

At 1500m (5,000 feet) above sea level, the Cameron Highlands enjoy the coolest temperatures in Malaysia, with the mercury rarely rising above 25C. This is music to our ears, having struggled with 34C temperatures in Kuala Lumpur, and humidity hovering at 97 per cent.

We leave behind the skyscrapers and overpasses and find ourselves slowly ascending a winding road that snakes its way around lush mountain slopes and past steep cliffs with jagged marble quarries. The hillsides are a vivid green, and dotted throughout the landscape are strawberry plantations covered with plastic sheeting.

You can tell that life is different here. It's slower, and work is physical. We drive past workers' shacks and makeshift lodgings, gradually reaching Brinchang, the biggest town in the Cameron Highlands.

We make an assessment of the main street of Brinchang. It's only a short stretch of shops and we all spot Starbucks immediately. Free wi-fi! It's the lifeblood of any twitching internet addict suffering from twitter and email withdrawal.

Sad but true.

We unanimously make a beeline for Restoran Sri Brinchang. It's conveniently located next door to Starbucks and definitely within wi-fi range. Yes, we may have whipped out our iPhones in a frenzy even before the menus were handed out.

Tandoori chicken in the tandoor

Mango lassi and teh tarik

Eventually even twitter addicts need food. We order a selection of dishes that arrive in a haphazard fashion straight from the kitchen.

Garlic naan RM2.50 (about AU$0.90)

Garlic naan is fresh from the tandoor, the edges slightly crispy. It's perfect for mopping up curry sauces.

Thali dishes

Chicken thali RM7 (about AU$2.50)

Billy's chicken thali has an element of ceremony, a glossy rectangle of banana leaf unfurled directly onto the table as a plate. A waiter doles out scoops of rice, chickpeas, vegetables and crackers, before returning with silver saucers of chicken curry and curry sauce. It's a feast for the eyes and the palate.

Ghee dosai RM1.80 (about AU$0.65)

Simon's ghee dosai is extra thin and crispy, whereas I've gone for the traditional paper dosai, a tunnel of delicate lentil crepe that is faintly sour from the specially fermented batter.

Paper dosai RM2 (about AU$0.70)

Mee goreng RM4 (about AU$1.40)

It's not unusual to find Malay dishes in Indian restaurants and Billy is determined to find the best mee goreng in all of Malaysia. The chewy yellow noodles are fried with a sweet soy sauce, mixed through with chicken and dressed with shallots and a squeeze of lime.

Chicken tikka RM7 (about AU$2.50)

We find room for chicken tikka, fillets of thigh that are tinged to the colour of ochre, a yoghurt marinade ensuring succulence within.

Mutton tikka RM8 (about AU$2.85)

Mutton tikka is a heavier dish, the chunks of dark meat swathed in a thick curry sauce.

Roti canai RM1 (about AU$0.35)

Minh's roti canai is a square of flaky pastry patterned with streaks of golden brown. At AU$0.35 it's ridiculously cheap too.

Restoran Sri Brinchang

On the trail for strawberries

Is there a genetic code that explains the obsession by Asians to pick their own fruit?

I know that I love the idea, thrilled by the thought of hand-selecting the very best produce straight from the source.

The Cameron Highlands are a popular destination for holiday-goers, particularly domestic tourists, and pick-your-own fruit farms can be found throughout the area. We stopped at one of the largest ones, Big Red Strawberry Farm, trailing behind a busload of Chinese tourists.

Pick-your-own tomatoes

At Big Red Strawberry Farm you can pick your own tomatoes and strawberries, admire the rows and rows of hydroponically grown lettuces, quench your thirst with a cup of neon-green butterhead lettuce juice, and feast on all kinds of cakes and ice creams festooned with strawberries.


Miniature pots of cacti are also in abundance, and up the back we discover an entire area littered with the types of coin-operated child rides you found outside supermarkets.



We shamelessly souvenir photos of ourselves posing behind giant strawberry cut-outs, and peer over the fence at the rows of strawberry pots with hopeful anticipation. The fruits are few and far between however, and with the threat of a moonsonal thunderstorm imminent, we hightail it back to the car instead.

Pick-your-own strawberries

We head to a tea plantation instead, seeking refuge from the rain by stopping at Cameron Valley Tea House for a cup of tea.

Admiring the view

The tea plantations are a sight to behold. The Bharat Tea Plantation is the second largest producer of tea in Malaysia with over 1,600 acres of planting area.

Cameron Valley Classic tea RM12
(about AU$4.30) for teapot serving 4 cups

The green maze of tea leaf bushels is mesmerising and calming. The view is spectacular, particularly when clouds of mist roll in over the valley.

Mist in the Cameron Highlands

Bharat Tea Plantations owns four tea houses in the area, and after finishing our cups of tea we make our way down the road to another Cameron Valley Tea House. From this second tea house we are able to walk down a path and explore the tea plantation itself. It's here that we find the millipede and a few Bollywood-inspired moves as well.

Tea leaves with their distinctive jagged edge

Two scones with jam and cream RM12 (about AU$4.30)

And what is tea without scones? We relax in the panoramic cafe with a Devonshire tea. The scones are a little dry and the cream is from an aerosol can, but we don't care. The view is more than enough, especially as we sip on tea that was perhaps grown in the plantation right before our eyes.

Cameron Valley Classic tea RM12
(about AU$4.30) for teapot serving 4 cups

View from the Cameron Valley Tea House

Strawberry pots

Our hunt for strawberries continues. We stop at a small farm only to discover it doesn't allow self-picking. We strike it lucky at our third stop: Kok Lim Self Plucking Strawberry Farm.


The greenhouse holds row upon row of strawberry plantings. We follow the steps to discover a seemingly neverending terrace that extends down the hillside. There's no entrance fee here but each pair that enter the plucking area must exit with at least half a kilogram of strawberries priced at RM20 (AU$7.15). Surplus strawberries are charged at RM40/kg.

The perfect strawberry?

Skips of delight turn into steps of anxiousness. We find plenty of strawberries but the quest for perfection leads to moments of deliberation over the ideal size, colour and shape that will ensure maximum flavour.

It's plenty of fun though - like an Easter Egg hunt but healthier for you!

DIY table setting

The nights are cooler in the Cameron Highlands, not cold but cool enough for the lure of steamboat.

Charcoal steamboat is the regional specialty here, and we head to Restoran Highlands, one of the few restaurants in the area to offer this dish.

Charcoal steamboat

We have barely sat down before the dishes start arriving. Platters of fish balls, tofu, crab claws, jellyfish, fish, chicken, noodles, eggs, vegetables and prawns are dispensed to our table. The centrepiece is the steamboat vessel, heated by charcoal that adds a subtle smoky flavour to the meat.

Fishballs, tofu, crab claws and egg

Fish fillets


We throw in everything all at once. The bubbling soup cooks everything quickly and we fish around with chopsticks and ladles to find our buried treasure. Vegetables rapidly turn to a vivid green, strips of chicken are juicy and a motley collection of fishballs soak up the clear sweet broth.

We throw in the noodles toward the end, curls of egg noodle and spidery lengths of rice vermicelli that provide a final burst of carbohydrate satiation. It's help-yourself, convivial, casual dining at its best.

Digging in

And later that night? Karaoke. But if you're expecting photos of that, you're livin' on a prayer.

> Read the next Malaysia 2010 post (Cameron Highlands morning markets)

View Larger Map

Restoran Sri Brinchang
25 Main Road, Tanah Rata, 39000
Cameron Highlands
Tel: +60 (05) 491 5982

Big Red Strawberry Farm
Brinchang (next to Cactus Valley), Cameron Highlands
Pahang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (05) 491 3327
Opening hours: Open 7 days 8.30am-5.30pm

Cameron Valley Tea House
15-16 Main Road, Tanah Rata 39007
Cameron Highlands, Pahano Darul Makmur, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (05) 491 1133

Kok Lim Strawberry Farm
Brinchang, 39100
Cameron Highlands, Pahang Darul Makmur, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (05) 491 4481

Restoran Highlands
29 Jalan Besar, Brinchang 39100
Cameron Highlands,‎ Tanah Rata‎ Pahang, Malaysia

Tel: +60 (05) 491 1309

> Read the next Malaysia 2010 post (Cameron Highlands morning markets)
25 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/15/2010 03:28:00 am


  • At 6/15/2010 9:20 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    Sigh... after looking at that steamboat I want more! I love how cheap everything is in Malaysia :D

  • At 6/15/2010 10:09 am, Anonymous yewenyi said…

    simply the best strawberries ever.

  • At 6/15/2010 10:47 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Love your photos of Cameron Highlands, really captures how vast the tea plantations are :) I'm curious to know where you guys found the best mee goreng!

  • At 6/15/2010 10:50 am, Anonymous Adam @ Sit Down Disco said…

    Amazing! I'd love to go to Cameron Highlands - the views look grand! I'm now longing for a roti canai for brekky...

  • At 6/15/2010 11:14 am, Anonymous Lex said…

    hahaa that's the longest steam tube I've ever seen @ a steamboat - nicee...

  • At 6/15/2010 12:58 pm, Anonymous linda said…

    hahahaha would have loved to seen a video of you guys belting out a tune or two. The cameron highlands looks absolutely gorgeous.

  • At 6/15/2010 1:22 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    I feel so lame that the only dishes I've tried from your first restaurant are the tame options - like tandoori chicken and chicken tikka. Surely somewhere in Canberra must make dosai?! I've never come across it!

    I love your shot of the tea over the green tea bushels - beautiful.

    P.S. Oooo-oooooh we're halfway there... :D

  • At 6/15/2010 1:29 pm, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    I thought I may have seen that millipede cooked uo for Billy's thali. Those tea plantations look just beautiful, how gorgeous sitting there above them sipping tea whilst nibbling on scones. Very civilised

  • At 6/15/2010 1:44 pm, Anonymous Mrs Pigflyin said…

    Stomachs (six out of) Eleven also visited a fruit farm in Thailand recently. I was slightly disappointed that it wasn't really a self-pick farm but more for seeing how things are grown on the trees, nevertheless it was fun and we had all-you-can-eat fresh fruits at the end of the tour. You think it is an Asian thing? or city dwellers wanting to know where their fruits come from?

    I have a strong fascination about rice paddies and tea plantations recently and the one you visited is amazing.

  • At 6/15/2010 2:22 pm, Anonymous Grace Lee said…

    Dave and I went to the tea plantation, and did the car ride scare the crappers out of ya?? Filled our little family full of adrenaline! LOVED it though, and found a new love for tea...for a second time. :)

  • At 6/15/2010 3:58 pm, Anonymous Forager said…

    Another great post! These are going to be a fantastic help when I finally make it to Malaysia! Love those gorgeous vivid pictures of the Cameron Highlights. So green!

  • At 6/15/2010 4:09 pm, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    LOL! Love the closing line of the post! Haven't laughed that hard for a while :)

    The steamboat would be so good right about now, considering our current temps and all.

  • At 6/15/2010 7:01 pm, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    Great photos. I don't know what to comment on. I think Billy should have eaten the millipede like a challenge in Survivor.

  • At 6/15/2010 7:42 pm, Blogger M-H said…

    We visited the Cameron Highlands a few years ago, and went to the tea plantation. We stayed at this weird faux-British place which served roast dinners!

  • At 6/16/2010 3:40 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow I didn't realise Malaysia was a tea producing nation - the tea plantations look amazing - similar to those I visited in Sri Lanka.

  • At 6/16/2010 12:45 pm, Anonymous JT @areyouhungary said…

    I love Restoran Sri Binchang, we went there multiple times on our most recent visit. Dosai....heaven!

    Sounds like everyone knows the good places to eat in Cameron!

  • At 6/16/2010 12:53 pm, Anonymous J2Kfm said…

    If the weather is good, and the place not crowded (like during wkends n public holidays) then Cameron's a good bet for a short getaway.

    The scones at those plantation type of cafes are not nice, but cheaper and you're paying for the luscious scenery.

    Go for scones at Smokehouse, Cameronian Inn, or some say Bala's Chalet. Those are better, but pricier.

  • At 6/16/2010 1:55 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Billy vs Wild! Oohh yuummm all that cheap but tasty food! That view is simply gorgeous!

  • At 6/16/2010 4:53 pm, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    The tea plantation looks gorgeous, so lush. And lol at the Asian fruit-picking gene - I remember driving for hours in Canada with my relatives, looking for a peach farm that charged 5 cents per pound - the ones we passed on charged 7 cents/lb!

  • At 6/16/2010 6:36 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    haha ive always wanted to pick my own fruit too!

  • At 6/16/2010 8:31 pm, Anonymous NADZ said…

    How lovely do ur tea plantation shots look. I honestly love them... as for the dry scones, my theory is to dunk them in the tea when they are a bit on the dry side!!!

  • At 6/16/2010 8:40 pm, Anonymous Trissa said…

    Everything looks absolutely peaceful - especially in the strawberry plantation... so beautiful - you've managed to capture the beauty of the surroundings Helen!

  • At 6/17/2010 12:40 am, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    Charcoal steamboat, now that would be a bit of fun! Does the water take longer to boil?

  • At 6/18/2010 11:43 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Awesome post, awesome food and so darn cheap! It's late and I'm hungry. Would kill for some roti right about now! :)~~

  • At 6/22/2010 2:21 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Minh - I think you shall henceforth be known as the Soup Queen. lol. The exchange rate is great but only on Australian wages of course!

    Hi yewenyi - Picking them was much fun!

    Hi Stephcookie - The tea plantations were spectacular. Very calming, just like a cup of tea. And ha, I don't think Billy ever did find an amazing mee goreng :(

    Hi Adam - The Cameron Highlands are beautiful and we certainly appreciated the cooler temperatures too :)

    Hi Lex - Ha, true. The steamboat was much fun, especially with so much FIRE.

    Hi Linda - Never ever allow video in a karaoke room. lol. The Cameron Highlands were spectacular. Definitely recommended.

    Hi Hannah - Dosai is wonderful. I hope there's a place somewhere in Canberra that sells it. You need to get to Sydney so we can have one big amazing eating tour!

    Hi John - Ha, I reckon Billy might have eaten it too. Scones and tea above a tea plantation feels very regal indeed :)

    Hi Mrs Pigflyin - Oh I'm so jealous of your all-you-can-eat fruit tour. And I definitely think it's an Asian thing. lol.

    Tea paddies and tea plantations are amazing. Makes you appreciate the amount of labour that goes into every rice grain and tea leaf.

    Hi Grace - We didn't the car ride but now I wish we did. lol!

    Hi Forager - Ahh you will have an amazing time in Malaysia. The Cameron Highlands are spectacular. Worth the trip :)

    Hi Simon - Glad you appreciated it. lol

    Hi Mark - Maybe if you offered him the chance of winning US$1 million in prize money he would have!

    Hi M-H - Sounds brilliant. lol

    Hi Gourmet Chick - I didn't realise Malaysia produced tea either. Apparently it's mainly for the local market. The Sri Lankan tea plantations would've been spectacular.

    Hi JT - I think it's more a case of not many places to eat in Cameron? lol. We chose Sri Binchang purely for wi-fi purposes but good to have our choice vindicated by you :)

    Hi J2Kfm - Billy swore that the scones he had last time were amazing but we expect he chanced upon them just coming out of the oven. Thanks for the tips - will have to remember them for next time :)

    Hi FFichiban - I think Billy would make a great candidate for Man vs Wild. lol

    Hi OohLookBel - Ha, that sounds so very Asian. Love it. lol

    Hi chocolatesuze - It's so exciting isn't it? Although the novelty quickly wears off and it soon becomes work. lol

    Hi NADZ - Tea dunking? Mon dieu. I tend to just use extra cream :)

    Hi Trissa - Aww thanks so much. I don't think you could take a bad photo of the tea plantations. They were truly stunning.

    Hi Mademoiselle Delicieuse - The water seemed to be already close to boiling when our pot arrived. The heat was maintained very well. The joys of fire!

    Hi debbii - It's always torturous writing these posts too. lol. Hope you found some roti to satiate your craving :)


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