The foxy curry king of Raub

ALREADY the global centre for musang king durians, what else has the small town of Raub in Pahang to offer besides the thorny fruits? Plenty. Especially if you're hot for curries.

A visit to Raub wouldn't be complete without dropping by Ratha Raub, a restaurant known for its fish head curries and crispy fried chicken.

The joint, located along Jalan Tun Razak near the town's police station, is run by Rathakrishnan, an energetic and affable man in his 60s who had turned the banana leaf curry stall run by his dad into today's well-known eatery.

Rathakrishnan's dad used to operate from a Hainanese coffee shop, owned by Raub's local 'boy' and occasional tour guide Peter Phang's dad, in the heart of town opposite the bus terminal.

Phang remembers Rathakrishnan's dad as being slightly noisy whenever the drink in his hand got the better of him.

Credit should be given to Rathakrishnan's vision and tenacity for enlarging the business into a full-fledged two-storey restaurant in 1981. Ably assisted by his younger brother, Machianadan, the restaurant is filled with curry lovers daily.

Is Ratha Raub that good? With my tongue biased by years of Penang curries, I better let Ahmad Razi Za'b from Fraser's Hill, Pahang, do the talking.

He says: "If it's for lunch, I would go for a plate of steaming hot rice, Ratha's red snapper fish head curry (served piping hot in a steel mini wok), deep-fried chicken marinated in freshly-ground chilli paste, curry leaves, cumin, and most probably a host of other spices, which would give the dish its distinctive spicy flavour.

"The thing which I enjoy most about Ratha's fried chicken (especially the thigh) is its texture – crispy skin on the outside, hot, meaty and oh, so (drooling) tender inside.

"And just to sum it up quickly, the price on average won't burn a hole in your pocket."

Need I say more?

Being from a durian town, Rathakrishnan is also known to be knowledgable on durian prices. One of his most famous quotes is: "Durians in Raub are traded like the stock market. Prices move up and down daily."

He gave an insider's view that prices between Monday and Thursday are usually slightly cheaper, but tend to rise from Friday to Sunday, when scores of out-of-towners arrive for Raub's much-acclaimed durians.

Given that Ratha Raub's fish head curries are fixed at RM57 (small), RM79 (medium) and RM89 (large), he has been heard to quip: "If I put some musang king into my curries, maybe I can also move my prices up and down daily!"

But I don't think Rathakrishnan needs to resort to that with his roaring year-round business.

He can count royalty – the Sultan of Pahang and Sultan of Brunei, one of the richest men in the world – among those who had sampled his cuisine.

The walls of his restaurant are adorned with pictures of VIPs and famous personalities tucking in, or with that satisfied look after a great meal.

These days, Rathakrishnan has even diversified into packed curry pastes for those who are hooked on his offerings. It simply reflects his business acumen.

I don't see why Rathakrishnan shouldn't always be in a jovial mood. Things are going so well for this shrewd curry king.

In addition, a new money-spinner is being overseen by his son, Mani, who started another Ratha Raub at Damansara Utama in the Klang Valley. This one even has western cuisine.

Like in Raub, many famous personalities have been spotted at this joint, too.

Jeff Yong, after making his mark in the twisty maze of mainstream journalism, has finally decided to enjoy what he does best – observing the unusual and recounting the gleeful. He can be contacted at lifestyle.borak@gmail.com.