MALAYSIANS will travel far and wide in search of a great meal. We head for a riverside town for some freshly cooked seafood.

CONNOISSEURS of seafood will tell you that sometimes the really good restaurants are hidden from sight. It is true as far as the Kuala Sungai Restaurant in Pasir Penambang, Selangor, is concerned.

The place has given new meaning to the phrase “down by the river”. It sounds like a song but at Pasir Penambang, just across the river from Kuala Selangor town, the busiest activities are concentrated at the river banks.

Pasir Penambang is an unsophisticated fishing village but it is verdant with gifts from Mother Nature. It is actually a Chinese fishing village which has gained fame over the years for its seafood. With each passing year, the prices of meals also climb a little higher.

But KL and PJ residents still firmly believe that it is worth the 50-minute trip to dine at the numerous seafood restaurants standing on stilts along the river.

Impromptu discovery

My favourite restaurant, a recent discovery, is Kuala Sungai restaurant. Its proper name is Kedai Makanan Laut Kuala Sungai. It is not easily spotted along the main road that cuts through Pasir Penambang town because it is partially hidden behind some bushes.

Several months ago, my favourite pit-stop was a restaurant in Kuala Selangor town but on the day of my arrival, it was closed because of some major Chinese festival. I was compelled to look for an alternative and Pasir Penambang at that time seemed to be a logical choice.

Then I noticed Kuala Sungai restaurant from afar. On an impulse, I wandered in and found the restaurant half-filled with local residents. It was a sure sign that this particular place had a good reputation. Otherwise, the folks staying in the area won´t be eating there. On my first visit, the service was swift and the dishes were splendidly cooked.

Meals worth waiting for

Now, I am here again but this time, a foreigner is part of the entourage.

I now know that going to this Kuala Sungai restaurant on a public holiday is ill-advised. First, there are no tables available. The ones that are unoccupied have “Reserved” signs on them.

Second, the cook or cooks in the kitchen are overworked. When we finally find a table, but we wait an hour before we get our dishes.

Fortunately, all five of us have eaten a late breakfast.

We´re blessed as the sea breeze is constant. We don´t really mind that that there is a delay on the food.

One of our companions buys a giant-sized packet of prawn crackers and it serves as a prelude to the main course.

Meanwhile, the tide is rapidly rising. At 3pm, the water has already covered the muddy banks that was exposed only half an hour ago.

We are not the only people waiting patiently for our food but there are no displays of impatience from the customers. We reckon the people here understand the situation. After all, on the day after public holiday, people are pouring in from PJ, KL, maybe even Singapore.

When our dishes finally show up, they look extra delicious. We have waited for the better part of an hour. We have six dishes on our table – deep-fried fish with tomyam sauce, yam cake with special fillings, a plate of greens, bitter gourd soup and mantis prawns fried with dried chilli.

My overseas guest is quick to add that the meal seems worth the wait. He agrees wholeheartedly with us that this restaurant can easily rival the more popular ones up the river.

The restaurant

Kuala Sungai restaurant is tastefully decked out with hurricane lamps, exotic bottles of alcoholic beverages and coconut shells turned into flower pots.

It has views that will boost an ebbing spirit and gladden your heart. The river that leads to the coast is wide and deep. Fishing boasts sail up and down the river at all hours, either going out to sea or returning to unload their catch.

This restaurant has a pleasant atmosphere enjoyed by all its customers. Sometimes, an egret is sighted, taking a slow turn across the river, looking for food.

The marshy environment exudes a congenial aura that local residents have long taken for granted. We city folk crave such an ambience.

A few short steps from the restaurant, about seven women are sorting out little mountains of prawn on the wooden floor.

Perhaps they are making sure the quality ones are packaged and sold as packets of dried shrimp later on. The inferior ones could be kept aside for makers of prawn crackers.

The scene

The mangrove swamp and the small trawlers provide a backwoods ambience that can only be experienced in these coastal areas of Pasir Penambang.

All along the coast, from Sekinchan to Sabak Bernam and further north, the scenery is about the same with slight variations, depending on the communities who inhabit those areas.

Great seafood, cool sea breezes, friendly people and lovely riverine scenes all add up to one unforgettable experience. Even the bill is very respectable. In other words, very much cheaper than what we will pay for in our own backyard.

Parking is an issue at the Kuala Sungai restaurant because space is limited. You may want to park further along the road.

However, a word of caution, there are some unfriendly and unchained dogs which don´t take kindly to strangers. You may have to hasten your walking pace.